It's curious to think that a team coming off an NCAA championship could still carry around a reputation for getting bumped off early in the tournament. But there was still a lingering question about Villanova entering Saturday's second-round meeting with Wisconsin.
After all, the Wildcats were the only No. 1 seed from a power league to lose before the Sweet 16 in the previous five tourneys. There were also ghosts of 2014 inside the KeyBank Center, where Villanova had been knocked off in the second game by a UConn team that rode the upset all the way to a national championship.
So yes, there were questions about Jay Wright's team. Until last year's title, he had been seen as a coach who couldn't win the big one. Could Villanova, the overall top seed in the Big Dance, win the small one? Could Jay Wright's club survive and get to the regionals in Madison Square Garden?
Wisconsin had other plans. The Badgers, after all, had won more games than any other team in the nation over the last three years. They had reached two Final Fours, upset two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2's along the way. They were a dangerous foe and proved it Saturday, rallying from seven points behind in the second half to stun the Wildcats, 65-62, and move on to the Sweet 16.
Wisconsin had lost five of six late in the Big Ten season, which affected their seed. In reality, they were better than an eighth seed in the Big Dance. Wright conceded as much when he agreed it was a draw as Villanova could have expected.
He was correct. It was evident from the start that Wisconsin would be a tough out. They shot 54 percent in the first half to take a four-point lead into intermission. Star point guard Jalen Brunson was scoreless and Kris Jenkins, who hit the last second shot to win the 2016 title, was still struggling to find his shot.
Villanova found itself in the second half and led, 57-50. But seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who were playing in their 16th NCAA tourney game (they're the tourney's top two active scorers), don't melt in those moments. They willed the Badgers back into the game. Koenig, who had sat for a spell with four fouls, hit a three-pointer to put them up, 62-59.
The Wildcats battled back to tie it, 62-all. But Hayes, who led the winners with 19 points, scored on a pretty reverse to give the Badgers the lead, 64-62. Josh Hart was stopped on a drive to the basket and the Badgers held on for the upset -- the best game so far in what has been a so-so NCAA Tournament.
Wisconsin now has five wins over No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the last four years, the most in the country.