The NCAA Tournament field was announced on Sunday and both the Marquette Golden Eagles and Wisconsin Badgers will be playing for a National Championship. Granted, the likelihood of either team actually winning the title is very close to zero. But hey! Stranger things have happened. Let’s take a look at each team’s road to cutting down the nets in Phoenix.
I’ll start with Wisconsin. If you previously thought the Selection Committee has an anti-Wisconsin bias, you probably REALLY believe they have it out for UW after the Badgers received an 8-seed in the East Region. This is perplexing for a couple of reasons.
First, the Badgers finished 2nd in the Big Ten and advanced to the Big Ten Tournament championship game. Historically that should be enough to earn at least a 5-seed.
Second, the Minnesota Golden Gophers – whom the Badgers beat twice – earned a 5-seed in the South Region. Moreover, the Maryland Terrapins also lost to the Badgers, yet they received a 6-seed in the West region. I’m not apoplectic about the Badgers receiving an 8-seed because UW scuffled down the stretch and – let’s face it – are not a great team. At the same time, it’s odd that they would receive a worse seed than teams they beat in the regular season.
Griping about seeding aside, it will be an incredible accomplishment if the Badgers survive the first weekend. Their first game is on Thursday against the #9-seed Virginia Tech Hokies and former Marquette coach Buzz Williams. Should Wisconsin survive Virginia Tech they’ll have the #1 overall seed Villanova Wildcats waiting for them. The Wildcats are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, which presents a problem for a Badger team prone to stretches of offensive futility.
This is the last ride for Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter, and Vitto Brown. This group of seniors got a rough draw for their final hoorah, but it would be a hoorah for the ages if they can advance past Villanova.
Elsewhere in the East Region you’ll find the 10-seed Golden Eagles. That’s right: Marquette and Wisconsin could meet in the Elite Eight! In order of this to happen Marquette will also have to survive a daunting first weekend. Their first game is on Friday against the #7-seed South Carolina Gamecocks. Their next game would be against the red-hot #2 seed Duke Blue Devils. Though unlikely, it’s easy to imagine how Marquette could make the Sweet Sixteen.
Marquette is far and away the best three-point shooting team in the Tournament. They collectively shoot 43% from behind the arc, which is better than the best qualified player on North Carolina. Because of their three-point shooting they are capable of beating any team in the country. As you recall, a late three-point barrage is what allowed Marquette to shock Villanova in January.
Unsurprisingly, the best three-point shooter in the nation plays for the Golden Eagles. Freshman Markus Howard shot a ridiculous 55% from behind the arc this season and improved as a player throughout the season. If he does a Steph Curry impression the Golden Eagles will be a nightmare for opponents.
Just as Marquette can beat anyone with three-point shooting, they can lose to anyone because of their iffy defense. A team like Duke could eat them alive, which is why Marquette’s return to the Tournament will likely be short-lived. Speaking of Duke, think a second round coaching match-up between Coach Wojo – who played and coached at Duke – and Coach K would get some national media attention?
My prediction: Wisconsin will beat Virginia Tech and then lose a spirited battle against Villanova. Marquette will build a big lead against South Carolina, blow most of it, and barely hang on for a victory. They’ll subsequently get handled by a deep and talented Duke team. I hope I’m wrong on both counts. After all, a Marquette-Wisconsin match-up in the regional final would be something else.