GREENVILLE, N.C. — The moral of our story is: No team corners the market on winning close games. Villanova seized the 2016 national championship with the most perfect full-court inbounds play ever run. (Called “Nova,” of all things. The Wildcats worked on it in every practice.) A year later, Villanova just lost to Wisconsin because the No. 1 overall seed didn’t get a shot on three of its last four possessions.
To be precise, Villanova didn’t take a shot on its final four possessions. Its only point over the final 1:39 came when Donte DiVincenzo was fouled by Nigel Hayes after a midcourt deflection of Bronson Koenig’s pass. DiVincenzo made one of two, leaving the game tied. Hayes untied it with a baseline drive, the same Hayes whose putback was the second-biggest basket of Wisconsin’s Final Four upset of then-undefeated Kentucky in April 2015. (Sam Dekker’s trey over Karl-Anthony Towns was the biggest.)
Back to what I said about nobody having a patent on late-game execution/luck. Here are Wisconsin’s past four NCAA runs: Final Four, title game loss, Sweet 16 loss and now another Sweet 16. The Badgers are really good this time of year, except for that time last March against Notre Dame when they weren’t.
Wisconsin led the Irish by a point with 16 seconds remaining and had the ball. Then they didn’t have it. Demetrius Jackson stole it from Hayes and dropped home the go-ahead layup. Then Koenig missed a shot. Then, after Notre Dame free throws, Koenig was stripped by Jackson, the same Koenig who’d hit the 3-pointer to beat No. 2 seed Xavier in the Round of 32.
Koenig and Hayes are demonstrably great NCAA tournament players, but they erred that night in Philadelphia. It happens. This is basketball, and not basketball as played by millionaires whose job it is to practice and play basketball. This is basketball as played by collegians, which makes it doubly unpredictable and exponentially more fun.
Here — not one full year after Kris Jenkins inbounded to Ryan Archidiacano, who flashed upcourt and fed a trailing Jenkins for the championship-winning shot — was what happened the final three times Villanova had the ball in its hands Saturday. Josh Hart drove, fell and was called for traveling. Hart drove and was stripped by Vito Brown. DiVincenzo rebounded a missed Brown free throw but was double-teamed 90 feet from the basket by Brown and Hayes, leaving him with no workable wonder.
It’s basketball. It’s March. It happens.
It has even happened to Wisconsin, though not often. The two worst underseeds in this field were Wichita State at No. 10 and Wisconsin at No. 8. Wisconsin is headed to the Sweet 16 and Villanova isn’t. Wichita State plays Kentucky tomorrow. Just sayin’.
Blueblood blowouts: Duke wins big; North Carolina wins bigger.