Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, we’ll never know how Wisconsin’s basketball season would have played out in March. The Big Ten canceled its conference tournament last Thursday and the NCAA followed suit later in the day in canceling March Madness.
It was an especially tough blow for a Badgers squad that had caught fire late in the season, winning eight-straight games and earning a share of the Big Ten title. It left them as one of the hottest teams in the country and likely would have had them as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. How they would have fared will be one of the biggest what-if moments in school history.
However, ESPN provided a glimpse Wednesday into what might have played out if the tournament had been played and it went quite well for Wisconsin. Using the final bracket from Joe Lunardi and its own Basketball Power Index, the World Wide Leader simulated the tournament.
Here’s how it played out for the Badgers:
First round | No. 4 Wisconsin over No. 13 North Texas
Both of these teams are among the 16-slowest pace squads in the country, but Wisconsin’s decent offense is a mismatch against a weak North Texas offense. The Badgers gradually extend their lead over the course of the game, which is never really in doubt.
Second round — No. 4 Wisconsin over No. 12 Liberty
The Flames had their moment, but they won’t reach the second weekend. They hung tough with the Badgers and kept the scoring margin within single digits, but Greg Gard’s defense helped keep Liberty from ever making a late charge.
Sweet 16 — No. 4 Wisconsin over No. 9 Marquette
Wouldn’t this be something: an all-Wisconsin showdown in the Sweet 16. Wisconsin is favored and … just like that, Markus Howard and Marquette’s Cinderella run comes to a screeching halt. Nate Reuvers records a couple of key blocks down the stretch as Wisconsin’s defense comes through again.
Elite 8 — No. 4 Wisconsin over No. 3 Duke
D’Mitrik Trice knocks down a 3 at the horn to put the Badgers over the top and win by one … they’re going to the Final Four! They took down Mike Krzyzewski, Carey, Tre Jones and the rest of the Blue Devils … just barely. But they’re through.
Final 4 — No. 4 Wisconsin over No. 4 Maryland
Maryland falls behind early but makes a late run and pulls ahead in the final minute. But in the final seconds, history repeats itself: Brad Davison knocks down a 3 to put the Badgers up at the very end, just as he did when these two schools played in January. A half-court heave from the Terps is off the mark, and Wisconsin, improbably, is headed to the national championship.
National Title — No. 4 Wisconsin over No. 6 BYU
The Badgers have done it! In the college basketball season that made no sense, Wisconsin has come out of (relatively) nowhere to take the national championship. The Badgers had less than a 1% chance to pull off this feat entering the tourney. It’s a team effort, but Nate Reuvers leads Wisconsin with 16 points. Gard is lauded for getting his group to play their best when it mattered the most. This is a team that did not begin the season in the AP’s Top 25 and only barely cracked it in the last set of rankings. Not that any of that matters, because the Badgers are now (simulated) champions!
As you’d imagine, Wisconsin fans, players and former players were more than happy to claim the national title for the Badgers on social media.
— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) March 18, 2020
Guess we need to make room for another banner in the Kohl Center 🤷♂️https://t.co/cabMfdKjr3
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) March 18, 2020
— Sam Dekker (@dekker) March 18, 2020