Not many teams are more battle-tested than Wisconsin. Despite losing legendary head coach Bo Ryan, they continue to play at a high level and surpass expectations. Greg Gard replaced Ryan in December 2015 during a difficult time period for the program. Losing Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker appeared to have damaged their status as a Big Ten powerhouse.

Gard managed to keep them afloat and push them to a surprising Sweet 16 appearance that included an upset over number two seed Xavier last season.

This isn’t a supremely talented squad like past Wisconsin teams. They thrive off smart shot selection and stout defense. It was evident against Villanova, which secured a third straight Sweet 16 appearance.

Outstanding team defense

There are several unusual traits about this Wisconsin team. They haven’t played great defense in 2017. Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State torched them in conference play.

During long stretches, Virginia Tech brutalized them using pick and roll concepts. It didn’t look like your standard disciplined Wisconsin team.

Those previous shortcomings didn’t occur against one of the most efficient teams in the country. Villanova only shot 41 percent from the field, along with converting only five out of 16 three-point attempts. They forced Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart into five turnovers.

Hart looked rattled in the final three minutes by making uncharacteristic mistakes. To force a veteran group like Villanova into taking poor shots and desperate drives is a testament to Wisconsin’s terrific defense.

Top players deal with foul trouble

What made this upset even more impressive is their resilience. Ethan Happ and Bronson Koenig were hampered with foul trouble. Both players didn’t play over 27 minutes.

That is pretty remarkable, considering how Wisconsin is so reliant on them. Koenig scored 28 points against Virginia Tech on Thursday, which included eight three-pointers. The senior point guard looked like Stephen Curry based on his quick release and poise in narrow areas.

Happ is the focal point of their offense. His silky post moves and passing ability makes him a unique threat. Although foul trouble plagued him, Happ was still efficient against Villanova’s undersized frontcourt.

He filled the stat sheet with 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks, and two steals. The best players usually deliver in a massive upset. Happ stayed composed and moved his feet against an onrushing Hart on the final possession. It forced Hart to lose the ball, which secured the victory.

Senior moment

Without having their top two leading scorers during long stretches, Wisconsin’s third leading scorer Nigel Hayes needed to be more aggressive.

The dynamic power forward is one of those classic seniors. He has played in so many big games at this stage of his career. It was another vintage performance, as Hayes delivered with 19 points and eight rebounds. His versatility to overpower smaller forwards in the paint and hit mid-range jumpers makes him a matchup nightmare.

Providing second chance opportunities was a significant part to Wisconsin’s success. It stalled Villanova’s preference to play at a faster pace. Hayes contributed with five offensive rebounds. Using the shot clock and taking smart shots put Villanova in an unfamiliar situation. They couldn’t dictate the flow of the game, which rarely happened to them in the Big East. Hayes’ beautiful head fake and spin move on Mikal Bridges put Wisconsin ahead for the final time. In an era of one-and-done freshman taking over the headlines, it was great to see a senior deliver on the national stage.

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