NCAA Tournament 2017: Wisconsin supports label as 'greatest 8 seed ever' with win over Villanova

A deep look at the numbers confirms Villanova was the victim of a severely underseeded Wisconsin team on Saturday.

It might have sounded like Villanova coach Jay Wright wasspeaking in hyperbole on Friday in reference to Wisconsin, the day before his team fell 65-62 in a Saturday thriller.

"This is the greatest 8 seed I've ever seen."

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He wason to something.

On the surface it's obvious. Wisconsin is vastly underseededand wasa brutal draw for the No. 1 Wildcatsin the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

It doesn't take an expertto arrive atthe same conclusion, considering the Badgers were ranked ninth in the preseason AP Poll and were in the top 10 as recently as a month ago.They spent 10 weeks in the top 15 of the poll and made the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament.

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Look just a little closer, though,and you'll see a stingy defense that led the Big Ten in fewest opponents' points per game (61.1) and ranked 22nd nationally in defensive efficiency (93.4 points allowed per 100 possessions). That defense was on full display Saturday, holding Nova to 15 points below their season average.

But to really drive this point home and show you just how underseeded Greg Gard's team is, we've dug quite deep.

Sporting News developed a statistical model to help forecast tournament success, using the elements of basketball commonly identified as most closely correlated with winning. Advocates of hoops analytics call these the Four Factors of Basketball Success — shooting, turnovers, rebounding and free throw proficiency, which are statistically quantified both on offense and defense (so eight stats total).With a formula that measures these factors, we’ve unofficially created a "Four Factors Score" for each team in the country. You can read more about it here and see how these scores affect 2017 tournament projections.

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What this model tells us is that only four major-conference teams — Kentucky, Villanova, Oregon and Arizona — performed betteroverall than Wisconsin prior to the tournament in the areas most strongly associated with winning. They were ninth in the country with aFour Factors Score of 540.


Boosted most significantly bystrong rebounding (17th in percentage of total rebounds grabbed), good ballhandling (34th in turnovers per 100 possessions) and the ability to keep opponents from getting to the free throw line (42nd in opponents' free throws made per field-goal attempt), Wisconsin is not elite in anythingbut strong in everything.

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It's hard to imagine many No. 8 seeds from a major conference stacking upthat well statistically with the country's elite schools, especially one that was highly ranked throughout the year.

One that does come to mind is the 2014 Kentucky squad, which, coincidentally, beat Wisconsin, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig in the Final Four. Those Wildcats probablyhad more talent than this year's Wisconsin's team, and observers were calling them the best No. 8 seed of all time, but when comparing the performances of the two, Kentucky'sFour Factors score of 476was63points, or 13 percent,worse than that of the 2017 Badgers.

Four other No. 8 seeds in the expanded bracket era (since 1985) have reached the Final Four. Butler in 2011 had a Four Factors score of 462, or almost 17 percent worse than 2017 Wisconsin, and against primarily weaker competition. Another Wisconsin team did it along with North Carolina in 2000, but all the necessary advanced stats don’t go back far enough to calculate their scores.

Wisconsin'sSaturday victim, in fact, boasts the undisputed best No. 8 seed ever. The 1985 Villanova squad shocked the world and won it all, beating Georgetown in the final.

Clearly, these two schools have an unusual relationship with No. 8 seeds. It just got a little more interesting.

This article was first published March 17, 2017. It has been updated with Wisconsin beating Villanova.

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