As March Madness is almost here, we take a trip down memory lane and look back at some of the best viral moments in NCAA tournament history. Here is Bucky’s 5th Quarter’s take on the epic NCAA tournament moment from 2016:
The 2015-2016 season was not a smooth one for the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team. Coming off of the best season in school history, which saw senior big man Frank Kaminsky win every award out there and UW finish as the national runner-up in their second straight Final Four appearance, there was a lot of change in Madison.
Kaminsky was off to the NBA, as was star junior Sam Dekker, and stalwarts Josh Gasser, Duje Dukan and Traevon Jackson all graduated. The 2015-16 team had eight freshmen on the roster, the most in the country, and had scant few players with any NCAA Tournament experience.
Oh yeah...there is also the important note that Wisconsin SWITCHED COACHES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SEASON!
On December 15, 2015, long-time head coach Bo Ryan announced he would retire effective immediately leaving associate head coach Greg Gard as interim head coach. Ryan had been giving mixed signals about the 15-16 being his final one, but no one expected a decision to come midseason.
After a home win over Texas A&M Corpus Christi, which pushed the Badgers to a still disappointing 7-5 record, Ryan retired. UW had already lost three home games to a dreadful Western Illinois team (in the first game of the year) and to in-state rivals Marquette and UW-Milwaukee, neither of whom had a good season.
Needless to say, heading in their annual finals break the Badgers were thinking about getting back on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, not making any sort of deep run in March. Gard’s tenure started with a win over UW-Green Bay and then a disastrous 1-4 start in Big Ten play.
The Badgers were 9-9 on the season and staring down the barrel of a home game with No. 4 Michigan State. After having lost its four Big Ten games by an average of less than four points already, a close loss to the Spartans could maybe be seen as a moral victory. Instead, Ethan Happ hit a last second shot to propel the Badgers to a huge upset and kick start a seven-game winning streak.
UW ended up winning 11 of their final 13 regular season games before losing to Nebraska (who had to beat a pathetic Rutgers team on Wednesday to even play Wisconsin) on Thursday of the Big Ten Tournament. That gross result aside, the Badgers had rebounded from a tumultuous beginning of the season and entered the NCAA Tournament as a 7-seed.
The young Badgers had grown up a bunch since the beginning of the season, but the Tournament is a different beast than an early February game at Illinois. “I try not to make too big a deal of it, not make it bigger than what it is,” Gard said when asked about his team’s inexperience.
And so, Wisconsin traveled to St. Louis for their first round game against 10-seed Pitt. The Panthers were a deep, veteran, tough-rebounding team and their game against Wisconsin was...well, it was exactly what you probably expected. Pitt was in the lead for basically the entire game but Wisconsin pulled it out in the end, winning an ugly game, 47-43.
“I guarantee Twitter is probably complaining about Wisconsin basketball,” guard Zak Showalter said. “But, hey, we’re advancing. That’s all that matters.”
The Xavier Musketeers came into the NCAA Tournament as the 2-seed in the East Region after going 27-5 in the regular season and Big East Tournament. They had a young, talented team that was led by JP Macura, Myles Davis and Trevon Bluiett. They split their season series with eventual national champion Villanova and came into March with high expectations.
“I had a lot of confidence that that Xavier team could make a deep run,” said X super-fan, and one of my good friends, Paul Moeller when I asked him recently about the game.
They steamrolled Weber State in the first round by 18 points, shooting 50% from three and scoring 1.11 points per possession. The Musketeers entered their second round game against UW as 4.5 point favorites and, somewhat predictably, the game was close throughout.
Wisconsin got off to a strong start and was leading 17-8 after 10 minutes of game time and were up 25-19 with five minutes to go in the first half. Then Happ picked up his second foul and X ended the half on a 14-5 run to go into the locker room leading by three, 33-30.
The second half saw the Badgers take a couple of brief leads but quickly lose them as Xavier battled back. With the score tied at 49, the Musketeers went on a 9-0 run and held that lead with under six minutes to play.
“I would say the thing I remember from that game is Xavier had it. They were up nine with, like, six minutes to go or something,” said Nick Madine, another Musketeers super-fan friend I am somehow still cordial with after this game. The Badgers hit their lowest win probability of the game, a lowly 6.0%, when Xavier went up 58-49.
“It was only a three-possession game,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said. “And that’s when I thought if we could get to where it was within five, we could chip four off of that, that within the last minute and a half or so, we would have a chance.”
Well, “chip away” they did. Happ made a pair of free throws. Bronson Koenig made a pair. Showalter made a layup. All of a sudden, the Badgers were down just four with 4:30 left. With 1:34 left in the game, Hayes made one of two free throws and Xavier had a 61-60 lead. Edmund Sumner blew by Hayes and made a layup with 34 seconds left to push the lead to three, but Koenig answered with a three pointer to tie it up with 13 seconds left. Xavier had the ball and the chance to hold for a final shot to win the game and move on to the Sweet 16. Sumner, an explosive guard, brought the ball up the court, guarded by Showalter.
“That dude is so fast,” Wisconsin guard Jordan Hill, who was tasked with simulating Sumner in practice, said. “It’s hard to believe that he’s that quick.”
Sumner ran into Showalter’s chest and the officials called a charge with 4.3 seconds to go. Wisconsin ball. My pal Nick noted in our text exchange that the charge call was “bullshit” but he holds “no grudges from that game.”
“I was saying, I haven’t gotten a charge call in weeks,” Showalter said. “I don’t know the last game I got a charge call. But luckily I knew he was trying to go right hand, jumped it, anticipated it and got the call. I was in a charge slump.”
UW inbounded the ball, hurried it across half-court and called timeout. There were exactly two seconds left. During the timeout, the inbounder Happ was given multiple options of who to pass it to. Hayes and Koenig were the top two. Coming out of the huddle, both players told Happ they wanted the ball if they were open.
“That’s something special,” Happ said, “to have two leaders that want the ball when it’s crunch time.”
Koenig started on the far side of the court from where Happ was inbounding. He curled around the top of the key, received the ball from Happ on the wing, took one dribble towards the corner with Xavier’s Remy Abell attached to his hip and rose up to shoot.
“I kind of pre-set what I was going to do in my head,” Koenig said. “Just a step-back corner three. That’s something I practice quite a bit. It felt great coming off my hands and I knew it was going in.”
In what is one of the prettiest buzzer beaters in NCAA Tournament history, Koenig’s high-arcing shot splashed through the net as time expired and sent the Badgers to the Sweet 16 with a 66-63 win. The crowd was part ecstatic, part stunned and all not quite sure if what they just saw was real. Bill Murray, whose son Luke was a Xavier assistant coach, became an instant meme after the game as the TNT cameras caught him after the shot went in.
Bill Murray is shocked. Wisconsin stuns Xavier. pic.twitter.com/o0kxt1cNii— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) March 21, 2016
You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a Crying Jordan meme after your team loses a big game. “It isn’t very often that you see your team’s season extinguished on a single shot — so the immediate shock lingered for a while,” my buddy Paul told me.
Kaminsky, at this point well into his rookie season as a Charlotte Hornets big man, had the best reaction from a Wisconsin point of view.
Wisconsin was a national story, as all big time March buzzer beaters are, and Koenig’s shot got a prime spot in One Shining Moment after the Tournament ended. It would probably have been the best shot of the whole thing if, ya know, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hadn’t hit a buzzer beater himself to beat North Carolina and win the national title a few weeks later.
OOOOOOHHHH!!!! Bronson Koenig hits a buzzer-beating 3 to send 7 Wisconsin into the Sweet 16 over 2 Xavier. pic.twitter.com/QG8HWWdAjD— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 21, 2016
The Badgers lost their Sweet 16 matchup with Notre Dame in disheartening fashion. In this game, UW had the lead for most of the game and saw the win probability graph shift wildly in their opponent’s favor at the end of the game. The Badgers led 56-55 with just under 20 seconds to go before Hayes was trapped in the corner following the inbounds. He tried to dribble through the double team but ended up turning the ball over and the Fighting Irish turned that into a layup and eventually a win. Was Hayes fouled? Yeah, probably. But if you live by the late game heroics in March you also will probably die by them at some point.
Former B5Q staffer Curt Hogg wrote the “Morning After” post for the Sweet 16 game. The ending of his post spoke to me:
2015-16 was supposed to be a transition year. Turns out, the Badgers didn’t miss a beat.
You will always remember the feeling when Bronson Koenig beat second-seeded Xavier at the buzzer.
Unfortunately, it will also be difficult to erase the memories of the finish on Friday.
But that’s sports. And it will keep us coming back. Again and again.
Koenig’s shot is undoubtedly one of the greatest shots in program history and one of the best shots in NCAA Tournament history. I’m sure we’ll see it replayed during Wisconsin’s tourney games this year and probably will every year until we have perfected our Brian Anderson imitation and can do his call with our eyes closed.
“Here we go. Two to go. Trip to the Sweet 16...Koenig’s got it...rises up...the shot...aaaaand IT’S GOOOOOOD! IT’S GOOOOOOOOD! WISCONSIN HAS WON IT!”