Wisconsin takes huge step toward punching ticket to NCAA tournament

Wisconsin's turnaround under Greg Gard has been one of the best stories in college basketball. And Wednesday night might be the cherry on top of their stunning reversal of fortune.

The Badgers went into Carver Hawkeye Arena and defeated No. 6 Iowa 67-59 behind a tough defensive performance that saw them only allow the No. 10 offense in the country to score .922 points per possession. The Hawkeyes shot just 2 of 16 from the field to end the game and missed their final eight shots from the field. Bronson Koenig led the offense with 15 points and four assists, but it was truly a team effort that saw eight players score at least five points.

That number, eight players with at least five points, goes to show the biggest turnaround in this team since Gard took over from Bo Ryan in December. Under Ryan, the Badgers were only going six or seven deep every night and were getting very little production from their bench. Now though, guys like Charlie Thomas, Jordan Hill and Khalil Iverson can be counted on to provide production nightly, including momentum-turning dunks like the one Iverson gave us late in this one:

The win at Iowa clinched the Badgers' 16th straight winning season in conference play, but more than that, it may have sewn up an 18th-straight NCAA tournament bid for the school, which would tie it for the fourth-longest streak in history. Of course, the Badgers can't go out and drop their next two to Michigan and Minnesota. But assuming this level of play continues, it would be tough to leave Gard's group out based on their quality of wins.

Simply put, the Badgers' resume is tough to deny. Having won nine of their last 10 games, Wisconsin has defeated Michigan State, Indiana, Maryland and now Iowa in that run, with two of those victories coming on the road. Yeah, they still have a few ugly losses to Western Illinois, Milwaukee and Marquette at home. Those don't get erased from memory. But other bubble teams around the country simply cannot match their level of quality wins coming down the stretch. 

This is a completely remarkable turnaround from Gard and the Badgers given where they were early in the season, and they deserve an awful lot of credit for not packing it in after all of the tough moments early in the year. 

Jordan Hill and Wisconsin hang around at Iowa then surge late for the upset. (USATSI)
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