The Badgers have done it, they have pulled off one of the greatest turnarounds in college basketball history. The Big Ten Coach of the Year, Greg Gard, led his Badgers through the gauntlet of the Big Ten Conference and on one of the most improbable runs through the NCAA Tournament, all to be crowned National Champions. The Basketball Power Index’s simulated National Champions, that is. A comeback story that started with grit and hustle on the hardwood and ended with calculations on a computer.
The 2019-2020 season of college basketball will forever go down as the year the NCAA Tournament didn’t happen.
The simulation started by taking Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology and the BPI rankings to create a virtual tournament field. The top teams in the field of 68 featured Kansas with an 18% chance to win it all, Duke with a 17% chance and Gonzaga with a 15% chance. The Ohio State University, San Diego State and Louisville all held a 3% chance of winning the tournament.
The process was simple. The BPI first assessed the win probabilities based on the relative strength between the two teams, while also factoring in the location of the game. ESPN used the Baylor-Winthrop matchup as an example for how it works. The assessment gave Baylor a 93% chance to win and Winthrop a 7% chance to win, meaning Baylor wins in 93% of the simulated matchups.
The process is the same for every game. In the spirit of the already wild 2020 thus far, the ESPN analytics crew decided to select the teams for the 2020 simulation and simulate the entire tournament. So how did it turn out for the Badgers? Phenomenal.
The No. 4 seeded Badgers scored a date with No. 13 North Texas in the first round. The Badgers dominated through the entirety of the game as scoring contributions off the bench from Micah Potter and Tyler Wahl allowed the Badgers to build a big lead right from the start. The Badgers advanced to the second round where they matched up with No. 12 Liberty. The Liberty Flames scored one of the first major upsets in the tournament when they took out No. 5 Auburn.
Despite a magical first game for the Flames, they ran out of luck when they ran into the Badgers. The second round featured a classic low-scoring Wisconsin style game where the defense shined by holding the Flames to just 43 points. Wisconsin advanced to the Sweet 16 for a matchup with their in-state rival, No. 9 Marquette.
Marquette rolled through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Eagles took down No. 8 Houston in a high-scoring matchup that left Markus Howard with 38 points in the game. The magic continued when Marquette upset No. 1 Kansas in just the second round of the tournament.
In the Sweet 16, Howard did not find the same success against the Badgers. Wisconsin’s pesky defense shined again as the length of Wahl and the strong help-defense of Nate Reuvers and Potter in the lane threw Howard off his game. Howard finished with just nine points despite his team only losing by single digits to the Badgers. Reuvers had back-to-back blocks on Howard to put a dagger in the game and send the Badgers to the Elite Eight.
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In the Elite Eight, Wisconsin faced the Duke Blue Devils, a familiar foe in the month of March. The Badgers last saw the Blue Devils in the 2015 National Championship Game, when the Blue Devils came out victorious by just five points. It was a different story this time around, as D’Mitrik Trice dribbled down the court, pulled up for three from the right-wing and knocked down the shot at the buzzer to send the Blue Devils packing and the Wisconsin Badgers off to the Final Four!
The Final Four featured a clash between Co-Big Ten Champions, No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 4 Maryland. The Badgers played well all game but struggled to score in the final six minutes of the game. The Terrapins went on a 17–2 run to erase a 13-point deficit and take a two-point lead against the Badgers with just 5.2 seconds left to play.
But, just like at the Kohl Center in January, Brad Davison came around a screen and knocked down a corner three as time expired to keep the Badgers’ magical run alive. Off to the National Championship!
The Badgers took full advantage of the opportunity ahead of them and played their most well-rounded game of the season in the 2020 NCAA National Championship Game. The Badgers defeated No. 6 BYU to be crowned the simulated champions of college basketball. Glory to the great city of Madison, it’s time to rush State Street and begin the celebration. Actually, let’s just stick to practicing social distancing for now and enjoy this one from our own home.