BY JOHN MARSHALL
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Villanova’s unexpected loss to Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament could send shockwaves across the March Madness field.
Wisconsin’s 65-62 win over the defending national champions in Buffalo not only sends the Badgers back to the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season, it creates all kinds of opportunities in the East Regional — and possibly beyond.
With Villanova out, Duke becomes the de facto No. 1 in the East. The Blue Devils play South Carolina on Sunday, then the winner between Baylor and USC if they get past the Gamecocks.
The Wildcats’ loss also could benefit Florida on the top half of the bracket after its blowout over Virginia, leaving Wisconsin and a team that’s not the defending national champion between them and the Final Four.
But it goes beyond the East.
Villanova was the tournament’s top overall seed, so each of the other three No. 1 seeds essentially move up a spot. West Region top seed Gonzaga had to hold on to beat Northwestern in its second-round game on Saturday, while Kansas (Midwest) and North Carolina (South) play on Sunday.
The last time a No. 1 seed lost in the round of 32 was in 2015, when Villanova lost to North Carolina State. The Wolfpack didn’t turn that into a trip to the Final Four, but it did pave the way for Michigan State to reach the Final Four as a No. 7 seed.
The year before, Wichita State lost to Kentucky in the second round as a No. 1 seed, a game that cleared the way for the eighth-seeded Wildcats to reach the national title game against eventual champion Connecticut.
A similar scenario played out in 2013, when Wichita State reached the Final Four as a No. 9 seed after knocking off No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the second round.
There’s still plenty of games to be played, but the door is open — particularly in the East — for a low-seeded team to make a run.
That could be Wisconsin. The eighth-seeded Badgers played well down the stretch against Villanova and are 2 for 2 in Sweet 16 appearances under coach Greg Gard.
“We didn’t play perfectly, but we played well enough and we had enough perseverance to be able to get things done in the amount of time we had,” Gard said.
Villanova’s loss also spotlighted the difficulties in defending a national championship.
The Wildcats’ early exit marked the 10th straight season the defending champion has failed to reach the Sweet 16. The last team to do it was the last team to repeat as champion, Florida in 2007. The previous repeat champion before that was Duke in 1991-92.
It also was the 11th time in 14 years the No. 1 overall seed failed to win the national champion and the sixth time since 2010 that a No. 1 seed lost in the round of 32.
“I say this every year at Villanova, we can’t take it for granted,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “It’s so special to be a part of it. Every time you win and you get a chance to advance, cherish it. You’re playing the best teams in the country.”
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