So that was fun, huh?
Bronson Koenig put the team on his back and the Wisconsin Badgers live to see the Sweet 16. It's definitely a moment that will be remembered years from now like some kind of Freddie Owens jump shot, but the fact remains that the Badgers are moving to the Sweet 16. I know it's old hat by now, but considering this team was .500 at one point, the fact that the ride continues is awesome. What else can we take away?
1. The Badgers are going to be a tough out for anyone.
Yes, that includes a potential Elite Eight matchup with top seed North Carolina. It goes without saying that the Badgers are a resilient team. Pittsburgh was waxing them on the boards and had a double-digit lead going into the final TV timeout of the first half. The Badgers managed to get the lead with just under 16 minutes to go, and before Nigel Hayes hit the free throws in the final seconds to finally put the Panthers away, there were eight lead changes and Pitt held the lead from a Cameron Johnson layup at the 14:18 mark to the Vitto Brown three-pointer at the 5:19 mark.
Playing at the same time as the Northern Iowa-Texas A&M game is going to limit the notice of Wisconsin's' rally, but the Badgers were a missed Kaiser Gates free throw from being down 10 at the 6-minute mark. They didn't panic; they just chipped away. Even when Jalen Reynolds got away with something highly questionable on Ethan Happ with under a minute to go, the Badgers kept their cool.
2. The Badgers' defense is currently Final Four-worthy.
The sheer, simple reason why Wisconsin can say they didn't get lucky against Pittsburgh boils down to two things. One, the Badgers made a stellar comeback on the glass and ended up winning that battle. Two, James Robinson, Jamel Artis and Michael Young beared the majority of the scoring load for the Panthers all year. The Badgers held them to a combined 10-of-32 and 3-of-9 from beyond the arc -- you do that, and your offense can have a bad day.
The fun fact about Xavier is that when the Musketeers work the glass, they do it as well as anyone nationally. They're good for 41 rebounds per game, and are 14th in the nation. The Badgers were able to beat them on the glass 38-36. Two more offensive rebounds proved to be the difference. And if you can win the battle against a team that calls it a strength? Few teams left will likely impose their offensive will.
3. The offense? Not so much.
If I told you that Wisconsin's offense has been the worst of the 16 teams still alive in the tournament, would you be surprised? In fact, if not for a stylistically similar performance from Gonzaga in its first-round win over Seton Hall, the Badgers would have the 31st and 32nd best offensive performances in victories among Sweet 16 teams. One would assume that the Badgers are going to have a bounce-back offensive performance against a team that isn't as defensively stout as Xavier, but offensive heroics have waxed and waned, and haven't been around for a full game.
4. If the perception of Sam Dekker's March last season made Nigel Hayes feel ready for the NBA, this March has to give him pause.
Yes, it's the "Nigel Hayes has caught the struggle bug" section. We're going to compliment-sandwich this, because in every aspect but his shot, he's still the same all-conference-worthy player he's been. But since he put up 30 against Purdue, he's shot 28 percent on his twos, an under-his-season-average 67 percent from the line and you likely have made exactly as many threes as he has during March Madness. He's 0-for-his-last-17.
That said, the Badgers' tournament continues. There's a new opportunity for heroics on Friday. It hasn't been a good tournament so far for Hayes, but he's been the hero plenty of times for Wisconsin. His day will come again.
5. Wisconsin has made the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in the last six seasons, but the journey doesn't have to end.
If there's one way for Wisconsin to get offensively healthy, Notre Dame's allowing 37 percent from the three-point line is a big way to help the Badgers get good. The Fighting Irish go into the week a slight Vegas favorite after becoming the team that killed the dreams of Stephen F. Austin, but if the Badgers can hold off Demetrius Jackson and keep up the work on the glass, they can get to the Elite Eight. Even if their offense is subpar
And then? One game until it's three straight Final Fours for Wisconsin. And then? Onto an even a more promising 2017.
Pretty great, huh?