In a strange, unofficial end to the 2020 Wisconsin men’s basketball season, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index christened the Badgers as national champions of Joe Lunardi’s final projected bracket standings. This is all fine and dandy and yes, we should absolutely hang a banner from the rafters of the Kohl. But the question remains — could the Badgers really have won this tournament?
I mean, don’t get me wrong, they were catching fire at just the right time and captured their first regular season title since 2015. Yet, with a plethora of talented teams waiting for them in the Big Ten Tournament and an even larger set of challengers awaiting in the greater tournament, their chances were slim to say the least.
We’ve done a deep dive into how exactly the Badgers ended up on top according to ESPN’s BPI, but let’s introduce a little anarchy into the system.
It stands to reason the best case scenario for the Badgers — as unlikely as it may have been — is the Big Ten tournament was cancelled due to Covid-19 but the NCAA tournament was not. This would effectively allow them to claim at least a share of the Big Ten title without having to relitigate their wins over Michigan State, Maryland, Michigan and other potential competitors.
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To continue with our theme of bracket anarchy, let’s use Andy Katz’s projections for tournament seedings instead of those by ESPN.
Now, Katz had the Badgers sitting at a five seed behind both Michigan State at No. 4 and Maryland at No. 2 in their respective sides of the bracket. Assuming chaos reigns supreme and the Badgers have an equal share of the Big Ten title going into the tournament, we can split the difference and declare them as the No. 3 seed in their side of the bracket.
This would demote Kentucky to the four seed and Oregon to the five seed — we’ll call this retribution for their 2019 tournament upset over the Badgers. With the Badgers now sitting even more primed for a deep tournament run, could they really have taken the title as predicted by ESPN’s closed door, papal white-smoke simulation?
Assuming they would defeat No. 13 seed Belmont in the first round of the tournament, the Badgers would then move on to play No. 6 seed BYU. Oddly enough, this was the matchup that ESPN’s simulation had as the tournament’s championship game. If we can borrow some BPI wisdom, maybe all the Badgers would have to do is take down BYU in the second round before coasting to a title — who am I to say?
Moving forward, just to get out of their bracket they would most likely — barring any extreme upsets of top seeds — have to take down No. 2 seed Seton Hall and either No. 1 or No. 4 seeds Gonzaga and Oregon.
Seton Hall would be the toughest test for the Badgers in this endeavor to complete one of the greatest season turnarounds of all time. Their senior duo of Myles Powell and Quincy McKnight would have the potential to wreak havoc on the Badgers’ frontcourt as the Badgers were known to give up their fair share of deep balls throughout the season.
Their backcourt combo of Pritzl, Potter and Reuvers would be better fit to lock down the Pirates. Even if the Badgers managed to squeeze their way past this game, difficult competitions are anything but scarce during March Madness.
Outside of hoping all the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds get upset to lighten the on-paper talent they have to face, there is not much the Badgers could’ve done to lighten their load on the road to the finals. So when considering whether or not the Badgers could have actually captured the title, I have to lean towards no.
Now, it is certainly a possibility as is nearly any outcome in the NCAA tournament. No. 1 seed Virginia lost to No. 16 seed UMBC by 20 points. No. 8 seed Villanova captured the title against all odds in 1985. Anything is certainly possible.
The real success of this team isn’t being handed the national title by a robot. Instead, it’s demonstrating that they had the chops to go toe to toe with the best their conference had to offer even after a rocky start to the season. The Badgers return nearly every single key contributor for next season and also have an incredible recruiting class coming in. All of these factors also seem to have ensured Greg Gard is no longer on the hotseat.
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No, the Badgers did not capture a national title and they most likely would not have been able to if the tournament did occur as planned. Yet, their future is bright, and perhaps more than just a ESPN-BPI national title is on the horizon.