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NCAA tournament bracket 2017: Breaking down Wisconsin’s low seed; East region preview

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Our staff convenes for a March Madness roundtable.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Final-Michigan vs Wisconsin Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the bracket is out, how do you feel about the Wisconsin Badgers’ seeding and the first weekend of matchups?

Jon Beidelschies: How do I feel? Confused. I am legitimately surprised that UW slid below the No. 7-seed line. It’s a very tough (but winnable) first weekend. I have no idea how the committee found Minnesota to be 11 spots better on the seeding list considering Wisconsin beat the Gophers twice, finished ahead of them in the conference tournament AND in the regular season.

Neal Olson: Of course there are plenty of angry and confused expressions that immediately jump to mind. However, this should really come as no surprise. On Feb. 11, the 20-win, three-loss, top seven-ranked Badgers were left out of the NCAA selection committee’s initial top 16 teams. “WHAT OUTRAGE!!” we proclaimed. But we really should have been thinking, “Uh oh”. Whether Wisconsin got the draw it deserved or was grossly misseeded is irrelevant at this point.

The game against Virginia Tech is favorable for Wisconsin. Greg Gard and his coaches will be familiar with a Buzz Williams-coached team from his time at Marquette and should be adequately prepared. A tough matchup with defending national champion Villanova awaits in round two. ‘Nova is a guard-oriented, sharp-shooting team—not exactly an ideal matchup for Wisconsin’s perimeter defense (or lack thereof), but jump-shooting teams can run into cold nights. Maybe, just maybe, Wisconsin can finally catch a break on teams exceeding their season three-point averages in a game?

Opposing 3pt % vs. Wisconsin

Date/Opponent Season 3pt % 3pt % vs. Wisconsin
Date/Opponent Season 3pt % 3pt % vs. Wisconsin
Feb. 9 - Nebraska 33.8 42.9
Feb. 12 - Northwestern 30.9 41.2
Feb. 16 - Michigan 39.2 39.1
Feb. 19 - Maryland 38 44.4
Feb. 23 - Ohio State 38.3 62.5
Feb. 26 - Michigan State 38.7 41.2
March 2 - Iowa 37.4 47.4
March 5 - Minnesota 34.3 23.1
March 10 - Indiana 36.8 40.9
March 11 - Northwestern 30.9 21.4
March 12 - Michigan 39.2 43.5
Above-average 3pt % games in italics.

Dylan Deich: Imagine you’re a kid and you’re SUPER excited for Christmas. You were relatively good all year, no major slip-ups, and you’re thinking there’s a good chance your cool aunt is gonna get you something awesome that your parents wouldn’t get you. On Christmas morning, you rush down to the tree and see a big box with your name on it. Heart racing, you rip it open and... it’s empty. Before you can look up, your cool aunt punches you in the stomach and tells you to get a job.

Drew Hamm: I was mad online and in real life when Wisconsin’s seed was announced. There is no earthly reason that Minnesota or Northwestern should be seeded higher than the Badgers in any tournament other than the fabled “Claims of Hockey Superiority Despite Having Fewer National Titles, And None Since 2003, Than You Invitational” and the “Hours Spent in the Library Without Hooking Up With Your Significant Other Classic” respectively. I know Wisconsin is not a favorably-viewed basketball team nationally because of the “slow, plodding, boring, white guys” narrative that has been around since Andy Kowske and Dave Mader patrolled (??) the paint for UW, but this disrespect is mind-boggling for a team that has made the Sweet 16 in five of the last six years and the Final Four in two of the last three. AND MOST OF THESE PLAYERS (INCLUDING 80 PERCENT OF THE STARTING LINEUP) FEATURED PROMINENTLY ON THOSE TEAMS!

I was cooling on this team as recently as a week ago because I’m a coward and don’t like to be hurt by my favorite sports teams, but I’m all in now. I hope this lights a fire under everybody’s ass and Wisconsin comes out and steamrolls Virginia Tech and stupid Buzz Williams. It seems this team will always have to #MakeEmBelieve and Lord willing, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig will dial up one last March run. Let’s do this.

Going broader, based on their region and the teams announced in it, how far do you feel the Badgers can go?

Jon: If you told me that Wisconsin was one-and-done, I would not be surprised. If you told me Wisconsin made it to the regional finals (at Madison Square Garden, the place where Wisconsin’s bizarre mid-season swoon began) to play Duke for a trip to the Final Four, I would not be surprised. This is a weird season and anything’s in play.

Neal: Jon is exactly right. This team is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Anything from a 2000-like run to the Final Four as a No. 8 seed to Buzz Williams drives his Escalade onto the court, running over Ethan Happ and being assessed a player-control foul (refs conclude he shouldn’t have been standing there after a 10-minute replay review). Personally I’m hoping for a Sweet 16 matchup with Virginia so confused commentators will have to figure which team is forcing the slow pace on the other.

Dylan: Copy and paste from Jon and Neal—nothing is off the table. Come out and lay an egg against the Hokies? Sure. Stuff Buzz Williams in a locker and force us all to sweat through a close game against Jay Wright and his pinstripes? Of course. Make it to the second weekend? SIGN ME UP.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I think option two is what I’d put my money on—they’ll beat Virginia Tech and put in a performance against ‘Nova that falls short but leaves us all full of Badger pride.

Drew: SWEET 16 OR BUST! After that, anything can happen. The Badgers will pound Virginia Tech and then beat Villanova in the Schools Drew Hamm Attended Bowl brought to you by Bad Freshman-Year Grades at Wisconsin on a Zak Showalter (THAT’S RIGHT, I’M CALLING IT NOW) game-winner. A Loser Leaves Town Match with Tony Bennett and Virginia in the Sweet 16 would be a lovable slog, and I am very much here for it. A vengeance game against Duke to get to the Final Four would be amazing and is honestly something I want desperately.

Could they also lose to Va. Tech by eight after going scoreless for 14 minutes in the second half? Oh yeah, for sure... but shut up, I’m all fired up now and convincing myself this team has a huge run left in it.

Throughout the bracket and its four regions, which teams could be primed for an upset or surprise run?

Jon: Minnesota will be picked to be upset by Middle Tennessee in more brackets than it is picked to advance—book it. I think the first and second-round games in Buffalo (East and West Regions) are going to be weird. I predict that at least one of Wisconsin, Princeton and Bucknell will advance to the Sweet 16.

Neal: Purdue has a nice draw in the top half of the Midwest Region. Not many teams will be able to defend Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas—even the rough-and-tumble Big Ten struggled. If officiating is lax, those two could run roughshod over the region.

Minnesota will be a popular upset, especially on this website, but I think Maryland is also primed to get beat. Maryland has sort of been a slightly-upgraded Illinois under John Groce. Let a ball-dominant guard shoot with impunity and hope he gets hot. Melo Trimble can certainly singlehandedly win games, but Xavier is an experienced, well-coached team with plenty of sharpshooters itself.

Dylan: Are you asking who is ready to #MakeSomeNoise? I don’t hate it.

Like Jon said, I think it’ll be easy and, dare I say, sexy to pick MTSU over Minnesota after what the Blue Raiders did to Michigan State last March. PS. Am I the only one that can’t see Richard Pitino without thinking of Pete Campbell?

Branching off of that, I don’t have a good feeling about the Big Ten teams—is it completely impossible that none are left by Monday? Perennial mid-major powerhouses (oxymoron, I know) VCU and Wichita State will get a lot of love as lower-seeds picked to advance.

Elsewhere, I typically like to pick one No. 1 seed that doesn’t make it through the first weekend (‘sup, ‘Nova?) and one play-in game winner to start a run.

Drew: Minnesota should probably just forfeit to save themselves the national TV embarrassment that is sure to befall them. I was texted this stat by my friend Andriy this morning: From 2004-16, 23 teams made the tournament after going undefeated in conference play. Twenty-two of them won at least one game in the tournament. Vermont and Princeton both went undefeated in conference play this year. So, uh, I suppose one of those teams will upset their higher-seeded opponent.

First run of Final Four predictions: Who ya got?

Jon: I am not sharing that here—I’m saving it for the Bucky’s Fifth Quarter bracket challenge, which I intend to win. Or at least finish better than Drew Hamm.

Neal: Duke (I hate myself), Purdue, Kentucky and West Virginia

Dylan: This is March, and March really just comes down to good guard play, senior leadership, getting hot at the right time and who has the coaching to get it done. People forget that defense wins championships and a true Final Four team needs one player to take the big shot. Also, KenPom and RPI.

Anyways...

East: Duke. Why? Something about this kid’s face (see: annoying) tells me he won’t get off our televisions all month.

West: Arizona, since the committee decided to not put Wisconsin in their way (real question: who is there to like in this region?)

Midwest: Oregon. (Don’t feel good about this.)

South: UNC. If we don’t already see enough of this sequence throughout March, a UNC Final Four berth will certainly hammer it home.

Drew: My Final Four predictions are going to be based on Jon’s Elite Eight matchups. I will be picking the opposite of whomever he selects. Turn your location on, Jon. *Googles how to not get beat up in a fight too badly*