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Wisconsin Badgers win ESPN's simulated NCAA tournament
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Wisconsin Badgers win ESPN's simulated NCAA tournament

Big Ten takes bruising battles to conference tournament

Wisconsin forward Micah Potter, right, hugs Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard after defeating Indiana 60-56 in the regular-season finale March 7. While the Badgers and the rest of the NCAA didn't get to play a national championship tournament, ESPN's simulated tourney has UW winning the national title.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic forced the NCAA to cancel the men’s basketball national championship tournament and the excitement that March Madness brings each spring.

But that didn’t stop media outlets from using projection models to predict how the NCAA would have gone had it been played.

In ESPN’s single-run model — using the final bracket produced by Joe Lunardi and the company’s Basketball Power Index metric — the University of Wisconsin won its first national championship since 1941.

ESPN’S BPI takes into account the relative strength of the two teams and the location of the game to generate one team’s probability of a win. Then in simulating the tournament, the model rolls a 100-sided die with each team probability of a win representing one side of that die. The winner advances, and the same process repeats for every game.

The Badgers — who were ranked No. 17 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll, released Wednesday — were the No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region in Lunardi’s final bracket, matching up with 13-seed North Texas in the first round. 

ESPN’S BPI doesn’t give a score prediction, but in a matchup of two of the slowest teams in terms of offensive pace in the country, UW prevailed.

In the second round, the Badgers ended the run of Liberty, the 12 seed that knocked off fifth-seeded Auburn in the first round.

It was an all-Wisconsin matchup in the Sweet 16, where UW defeated eighth-seeded Marquette. The Golden Eagles beat No. 1 overall seed Kansas in the second round to advance to the second weekend.

UW — who made the Final Four in 2014 and 2015, and lost to Duke in the 2015 title game — punched its ticket to the Final Four with a win over 3 seed Duke, setting up an All-Big Ten semifinal against Maryland, winner of the East Region. The Badgers beat Maryland for the second time this season to earn a spot in the national championship game, where they play West Region six seed BYU.

UW defeats BYU in the championship after entering the tournament with less than a 1% chance of winning the national title.

Before Badgers fans hang any banners — NBC’s model using NCAA Game Sim has the Badgers losing in the first round to North Texas.

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