Ole Miss has made its first NCAA Tournament in a while, but it got some bad news with its seeding. Sure, it's a 12-seed, and 12-5 upsets happen at least once basically every year.
However, Wisconsin is just a bad matchup for the Rebels. The Badgers are Ken Pomeroy's No. 9 overall team and his No. 3 defensive team. Those ranks are pretty high up there for a 5-seed. Furthermore, Bo Ryan is about as good as they get in the first round of the tournament. He's infamous for not living up to his seed line, but he's 10-1 in his initial tournament games. The one loss was as a 9-seed, so he's undefeated as the better seed in a game.
For a team that climbed a high mountain in Nashville just to make it this far, especially with a coach who has struggled to get into the Big Dance in the past, it's going to be difficult for Ole Miss not to feel like it accomplished something simply by securing a bid. The team's floor in the tournament is that it arrives in
Salt Lake City Kansas City just happy to be there, and it loses to Wisconsin by a very Big Ten-like 59-43 score.
That's not to say that Wisconsin is invulnerable or anything. The team has lost 11 games, after all. In fact, there is hope in a game that Wisconsin already lost this year.
Ole Miss is a team with a gifted scorer in Marshall Henderson with players around him who complement his skills. Creighton is a team like that, with Doug McDermott as the centerpiece. Back in November, Creighton took down Wisconsin 84-74 on a neutral floor in Las Vegas with McDermott going for 30 points and eight rebounds.
Now, caveats do apply. Henderson is not a carbon copy of McDermott (the former doesn't have a post game like the latter does, for starters), and Creighton is a better team than Ole Miss is. That contest was also a few months ago, and teams change over time. However if Henderson goes off, there is a chance that the Badgers could fall in
SLC KC just like they did in Sin City.
Looking ahead, the next round will feature either Kansas State or an 11-seeded mid-major playing its third game in five days. Either one of those scenarios provides a chance at another win. The Sweet 16 is problematic, as that game would likely come against a 1-seeded Gonzaga team that doesn't have glaring weaknesses. That's probably about where the run will come to an end.
So, the ceiling for this team is a surprise Sweet 16 run that only stops because the team faces a 1-seed. Not too shabby for a team that experts saw as being on the wrong side of the bubble heading into the SEC Tournament a week ago.
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Henderson has another quiet first half as Wisconsin builds about a 10- or 12-point lead at the half. He comes alive in the second half, but Wisconsin does just enough to escape with a one or two-score win.