For the first time since 2013 the Final Four will not involve a team named the Wisconsin Badgers. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish eliminated Wisconsin on Friday night, ending UW’s unexpected run in a 61-56 thriller. Of course, the absence of remaining Wisconsin teams does not imply the absence of Wisconsin-centric thoughts about the second weekend of games:
-As I mentioned last week, spectacular finishes tend to even out. Just as Wisconsin shocked Xavier in the Round of 32, the Fighting Irish delivered an eerily similar gut-punch to the Badgers on Friday. Wisconsin was on the brink of their third consecutive Elite Eight when Vitto Brown hit a three-point shot that gave UW a 56-53 lead with 28 seconds left in the second half. Notre Dame promptly cut the deficit to one and subsequently forced a Nigel Hayes turnover that led to the game-winning basket. It was one of those “Wait, what just happened?” sequences that Wisconsin sports fans are all-too familiar with.
-Nigel Hayes had a tournament to forget. Altogether he shot 18.7% and averaged only 9.7 points per game. There is speculation about whether Hayes will return next season, but you have to believe he will. In addition to his post-season struggles, Hayes only shot 36.8% for the season. He would be well served to spend another year in Madison working on his jump shot. This would also have the added bonus of making the Badgers a better team.
-The Marquette Golden Eagles are indirect beneficiaries of the Villanova Wildcats making the Final Four. The Big East Conference re-aligned for the 2013-2014 Men’s Basketball season and since then it’s been in an awkward position. With Louisville, Syracuse, UConn, and Pitt no longer members, the Big East exists in a limbo between the Power 5 conferences and mid-major conferences. Considering that the new Big East has sent – on average – 50% of its teams to the NCAA Tournament, it’s safe to say the conference is doing just fine. But having a team in the Final Four for the first time since re-alignment goes a long way towards cementing the long-term viability of the Big East. This is a good thing for Marquette as they attempt to build their program.
-I would not be upset of the Milwaukee Bucks lose the rest of their games. The higher their draft pick, the better chance they have of drafting Buddy Hield from the Oklahoma Sooners. Hield did a convincing impression of Steph Curry this weekend, scoring 54 points and draining 10 three-point shots. The Bucks desperately need a shooter and Buddy Hield is arguable the best shooter in the draft. He would be a perfect fit in Milwaukee.
–Northern Iowa’s meltdown last weekend was as spectacular as it gets, but Virginia’s collapse versus Syracuse might have been more shocking. The Cavaliers led the Orange 56-43 with 8:23 left and found themselves trailing 59-58 less than three minutes later. Tony Bennett’s teams play a suffocating brand of defense that essentially renders a two-score lead impenetrable. Simply put, it’s a miracle Syracuse won that game. It’s only a matter of time before the Bennett leads Virginia to a Final Four, but until that happens the sting of this loss will linger.