Badgers Move On To Sweet Sixteen

What a difference a couple of days can make for the NCAA tournament and for the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team.

Just as the first day of March Madness was ho-hum, with only two upsets and just one game that came down to the final seconds, so was Wisconsin’s first round victory hard to get too excited about. Sure Bucky prevailed against Cal State Fullerton, but it wasn’t what you’d call impressive, especially considering the Titans were eleven seeds below them and they hadn’t been in a tournament game since the days when The Blues Brothers were opening for Steve Martin.

Though it was Saturday that the Badgers posted a much more resounding victory against presumably a tougher opponent in Kansas State, the Madness truly started on Friday:

Six upsets, including all four games played in Tampa in which no team seeded higher than 12 won, the first time that had ever happened in NCAA tournament history. Two overtime thrillers. Impressive come-from-behind victories for Davidson (their 23rd straight victory), Villanova, and Mississippi State. The 100-point total, rare in college, reached by two teams. The tournament’s first 40-point performance in Davidson’s Stephen Curry. Friday restored March Madness to its place as sports’ greatest spectacle.

Saturday, the first day of the second round, saw fewer games but hardly fewer thrills. CBS lucked out by having its early national game be a exhilarating battle that wound up as a bracket buster and another early tournament exit for (former?) powerhouse — and second-seeded — Duke. Then the Stanford/Marquette contest not only came down to the last second of overtime, but featured a bizarre turn of events in the first half which resulted in Stanford coach Trent Johnson being ejected for arguing with an official. That was followed up by two of the best games of the tournament: First Michigan State out-muscled Pittsburgh 65-54 in a very physical game not unlike the Spartans’ Big Ten tournament scrum with the Badgers, then UCLA — a number-one seed that many pegged to win this year’s championship — needed a late rally to survive Texas A&M 53-49 in what would have been undoubtedly the upset of the tournament so far.

Wait, 53-49? Sure that low score wasn’t from a Wisconsin game?

Speaking of Wisconsin and Duke, the Blue Devils’ early exit was evidence for some that Wisconsin deserved the two seed that went to Mike Krzyzewski’s over-ranked team. That’s still debatable, but what can’t be debated is how well the Badgers played in their second round 72-55 victory over Kansas State on Saturday.

Though the first half was close, Wisconsin was physical and aggressive for pretty much the entire forty minutes, never looking as lackadaisical as they had at times during Thursday’s game. Sure, freshman superstar Michael Beasley played well and got his numbers — 23 points and 13 rebounds — but Wisconsin’s defense limited Beasley to six points after halftime, clearly frustrating him and his teammates as the Wildcats made futile attempts to keep the game from getting away from them. Heck, Beasley wasn’t even the game’s leading scorer — that honor belonged to Wisconsin’s Trevon Hughes who matched his career high with 25 points in the biggest game he’s ever played in (well, until the next one). And most amazingly of all, Wisconsin made nine three-point shots, holding Kansas State to zero threes for the first time in 349 games, all the while while keeping the Wildcats to their lowest point total of the season.

It was the second straight tournament game that Wisconsin’s defense held their opponent to their lowest point total of the season. That could be the most impressive stat anywhere so far in this year’s tournament.

So what’s next for the Badgers? A Friday Sweet Sixteen date in Detroit with either Davidson or Georgetown. The tenth-seeded Wildcats (yes, another Wildcats) take on the two-seed Georgetown Hoyas on Sunday. It’s an interesting match-up that pits the Hoyas’ stingy defense against a fine offense led by the aforementioned Stephen Curry. I’d assume that the Hoyas will prevail, but after Friday’s and Saturday’s surprises, I’m not so sure that Wisconsin won’t be dancing with Davidson come next weekend.

The Madness is back.

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