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Wisconsin Takes Down The Champs

So much for one of the most uneventful NCAA tournaments ever. After a quiet first round that saw the better seed win 26 of 32 games, Villanova — the defending tourney champion — became the first No. 1 seed to fall with a 65-62 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday.

The Wildcats didn’t play their best game. They shot just 41 percent from the floor with an offensive efficiency of 107 points per 100 possessions, both well below their season averages, and they allowed an extremely uncharacteristic 111 points per 100 possessions at the other end of the floor. For a team that consistently played above its averages during its championship run last season (particularly on offense), this was a callback to previous tournament disappointments by Jay Wright-led Villanova teams.

FiveThirtyEight: How the Villanova and Duke losses shook the bracket

But this wasn’t just a case of Villanova playing poorly. Wisconsin also played a great game. The Badgers had one of their best 2-point shooting performances of the season (65 percent from inside the arc), and they outworked ‘Nova on the glass as well. Just as importantly, Wisconsin held the nation’s fourth-best offense to one of its weakest games of the year, in part by taking the air out of the ball and denying opportunities to one of the nation’s top fast-break offenses.1

So Wisconsin was good, and Villanova bad. There was a third character in the making of this upset, however: the NCAA selection committee, which did Villanova no favors as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. As part of the most difficult region in the bracket, Wisconsin was an 8 seed with a rating similar to others seeded as high as fourth (Butler), third (Florida State) and even second (Arizona) in other regions. From the Round of 32 on, Villanova was staring down a tough slate of opponents, and that would have been true whether they held on against Wisconsin or not.

Now, our model has a new favorite in the East, with a 37 percent chance of making the Final Four: Yep, it’s the No. 2-seeded Duke Blue Devils. But this might not be the last we see of the Badgers either — the model gives them the second-best odds of winning the region (in part because they’re already in the Sweet 16), with a 21 percent probability of earning the school’s third Final Four berth in four seasons.

Check out our March Madness predictions.


  1. Wisconsin wasn’t perfect — the Badgers made the upset more difficult than it had to be with 14 turnovers and some truly abysmal foul shooting.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.