College basketball will not have a its third two-time national champion since 1992. Villanova lost to Wisconsin, 65-62 on Saturday afternoon in the second round of the NCAA tournament, falling five wins short in its quest to join Florida (2006-07) and Duke (1991-92).
Wisconsin’s victory was the 11th time a No. 8 or No. 9 seed defeated a No. 1 seed since the 2000 NCAA tournament, but it is no ordinary Cinderella. According to College Basketball Reference’s Simple Rating System, which measures a team’s relative quality based on its average point differential and strength of schedule, the Wildcats and Badgers were separated by only 4.89 points. As the chart below shows, that’s one of the smaller margins of any 8-1 upset since 2000.
These particular second-round games shouldn’t be close — part of the advantage afforded top seeds is that they’ll likely remain alive until the second weekend. The first-round game pitting the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds is typically reserved for teams that sneak into March Madness on the strength of their conference tournaments. But that wasn’t the case with the Badgers, who tied for second place in the Big Ten regular season standings and were the NCAA tournament’s strongest No. 8 or No. 9 seed, according to the selection committee’s ranking of the field. The Badgers might have stumbled into the postseason, losing six of their last 10 games, but they shouldn’t have faced a No. 1 seed before the Sweet 16.
Does the upset make Wisconsin a threat moving forward in the tournament? Before a dreadful February, the Badgers were ranked squarely in the top 25, and the combination of Bronson Koenig, Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes had Wisconsin atop the Big Ten standings. None of the other 8-9s in the field were close to contending for their conference title.
Historically, however, the path has been less clear, as the chart indicates. Five of the 11 upset winners danced until the Final Four; four were bounced in their following game.
Wisconsin, which will face either No. 4 seed Florida or Virginia on Thursday in New York, could fall into the former category. If the Badgers face Virginia, whichever team reaches 50-plus possessions could emerge with the win. If they match up with Florida, though, it will be a test of the team’s defensive fortitude as the Badgers attempt to contain Kasey Hill, Chris Chiozza and the rest of the Gators’ penetrating backcourt. But it’s unwise to doubt the Big Ten’s most consistent postseason squad—Koenig and Hayes are senior leaders headed to their fourth consecutive Sweet 16. They have proved again and again how difficult it is to end their season.