For a second straight year, I've composed "68 Degrees of Separation," forging a connection between the state of Wisconsin and every team in the NCAA Tournament, officially getting under way March 14 but beginning in earnest March 16. Some connections are obvious, and some are ridiculous, and you can see all of them at LakeCountryNow.com.
Here's a sample of what you'll find:
VILLANOVA – Bradley Center bombshell. On Jan. 24, Villanova was ranked No. 1 in the nation, and the Wildcats were up 15 points in the second half against Marquette at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. But the Golden Eagles stormed back, and Katin Reinhardt’s free throws with 11.6 seconds left helped Marquette stage a 74-72, court-storming victory – the second time the program had beaten the team ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll (matching the 2003 Elite Eight win over Kentucky). Nova had been ranked No. 2 in the coaches poll at the time. It was a great moment for Marquette, which scraped together enough wins to make the tournament. Nova, meanwhile, finished 31-3 and wound up as a No. 1 seed.
Tourney trip: 37th (five straight years). Tourney record: 57-35. Facing Wisconsin teams: Defeated the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2014 first round, 73-53; Defeated Marquette in 1980 first round, 77-59. Leading scorer: Josh Hart (18.6). Best name: Donte DiVincenzo
BAYLOR – The Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. Baylor University shares history with Mary-Hardin Baylor in nearby Belton (roughly 45 miles from Waco), once considered the “Baylor Female College” before spinning off into its own operation. Baylor itself is named for Judge R.E.B. Baylor, and his remains are on the Mary-Hardin Baylor campus (the school is named for Mary and John Hardin, while still keeping Baylor as part of its name). Mary-Hardin Baylor won the NCAA Division III championship in football in December, edging the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh by a 10-7 score in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. It was Oshkosh’s first trip to the title game (Mount Union of Ohio and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater usually have standing reservations for the title game).
Tourney trip: 11th (four straight years). Tourney record: 11-12. Facing Wisconsin teams: Lost to Wisconsin in 2014 Sweet 16, 69-52. Leading scorer: Johnathan Motley (17.3). Best name: Jo Lual-Acuil Jr.
NEW MEXICO STATE – One (sort of) shining moment. Kettle Moraine High School boys basketball coach Brad Bestor can be seen briefly in the 1999 "One Shining Moment" montage, wearing his New Mexico State jersey as future Milwaukee Bucks center Jamaal Magloire of Kentucky blows by for a dunk. It's a fun relic from Bestor's brief trip to the NCAA Tournament as a member of the Aggies program, and today he can also say one of his former players has made the trip to the Dance as well. Paul Miller, who just finished his junior season at North Dakota State, appeared as a freshman two years ago.
Tourney trip: 23rd (last in 2015). Tourney record: 10-24. Facing Wisconsin teams: Never. Leading scorer: Ian Baker (16.6). Best name: Jemerrio Jones
DUKE – Wojo. For the first time in three years, Marquette is headed to the NCAA Tournament, coached by Steve Wojciechowski, whose connections to Duke run deep. Wojo was a point guard at Duke from 1994-98, then an assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski before joining the Golden Eagles two seasons ago. Top Marquette assistant Chris Carrawell graduated from Duke in 2000 and also was a top player in the program. Wojo's troops have had an interesting season, going 5-1 against presumed Big East heavyweights Villanova, Xavier and Creighton, but still barely getting into the dance.
Tourney trip: 41st (22 straight years). Tourney record: 107-35. Facing Wisconsin teams: Defeated Wisconsin in 2015 National Championship Game, 68-63; Defeated Marquette in 1994 Sweet 16, 59-49. Leading scorer: Luke Kennard (20.2). Best name: Antonio Vrankovic
IOWA STATE – Deonte Burton and many more. As was the case last year, Iowa State has as prominent a Wisconsin presence as any out-of-state program in the nation. It starts with seniors Deonte Burton (Milwaukee Vincent) and Matt Thomas (Onalaska), both of whom have started every game this season. Burton has been huge at times, averaging 14.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, leading the team in the latter category. Burton began his college career at Marquette before transferring. Thomas averages 12.0 points per game and shoots 46 percent from 3-point range. Senior Darrell Bowie (Tosa East) became a graduate transfer for the Cyclones after playing for Northern Illinois, and he averages 5.7 points with nine starts this year. Junior Donovan Jackson, formerly of Milwaukee Pius, is new to the team after transferring from Iowa Western Community College. He’s played in all 32 games and is the top option off the bench at 6.3 points per game.
Tourney trip: 19th (six straight years). Tourney record: 18-18. Facing Wisconsin teams: Never. Leading scorer: Monte Morris (16.3). Best name: Nazareth Mitrou-Long
NEVADA – Belvedere goes to college. The University of Nevada campus in Reno was the filming location for the 1949 American comedy "Mr. Belvedere Goes to College," following genius Lynn Belvedere as he enrolls in pursuit of a four-year degree in just one year. Initially arising in the book "Belvedere" by Gwen Davenport, the character was part of several movies and, of course, a sitcom that ran from 1985 to 1990, where Christopher Hewitt plays the title role and serves as a butler for the Owens family. The patriarch of that family, George, was played by none other than Bob Uecker, the famous radio voice of the Milwaukee Brewers. Uecker maintained his full-time gig with the Brewers during the filming of the series. Nevada graduate assistant coach Peter Herman is a graduate of Arcadia High School.
Tourney trip: 7th (last in 2011). Tourney record: 4-6. Facing Wisconsin teams: Never. Leading scorer: Marcus Marshall (19.8). Best name: Devearl Ramsey
OREGON – Duck tours. Many may associate Ducks with Oregon, but the first-ever “duck tour” company was started in 1946 by Mel Flath and Bob Unger in Wisconsin Dells. The duck tour concept, featuring vehicles that can give tours on land and convert into a boat for a water component to the tour, has become famous in Boston, Seattle, Liverpool and London, among other places, but the original just celebrated its 70th anniversary and is a staple of the Wisconsin tourism center.
Tourney trip: 15th (five straight years). Tourney record: 19-13. Facing Wisconsin teams: Lost to Wisconsin in 2015 second round, 72-65; Lost to Wisconsin in 2014 second round, 85-77. Leading scorer: Dillon Brooks (16.3). Best name: Payton Pritchard
GONZAGA – Polish heritage. Gonzaga is led by 7-foot-1 senior sensation Przemek Karnowski, who will be one of the darlings of the NCAA Tournament if Gonzaga can finally break through to the Final Four. Karnowski hails from Torun, Poland — and the state of Wisconsin, obviously, has its share of Polish heritage. Wisconsin has an unincorporated town called Torun in Portage County, and that’s not a coincidence: The St. Mary’s Torun Catholic Church in Portage County dates to the late 1800s, when immigrants from Torun, Poland, first erected the church. Moreover, with 487,726 Wisconsinites claiming Polish ancestry, the Badger State’s Polish population percentage of 9.3 is the highest in the nation.
Tourney trip: 20th (19 straight years). Tourney record: 24-19. Facing Wisconsin teams: Never. Leading scorer: Nigel Williams Goss (16.9). Best name: Przemek Karnowski
NORTH DAKOTA – The walk-on who stayed home North Dakota has seen its share of Wisconsinites filter through the football program (there were nine on the roster in 2016), but perhaps the most famous is the player who never made it to Grand Forks. Joe Schobert, now in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns after a decorated career at Wisconsin, was set to walk on after his career at Waukesha West High School. But as the canonical story goes, coaches at the WFCA All-Star Game in the summer felt he was slipping through the cracks and was too good for Wisconsin to pass him up, so they encouraged Badgers coaches to take another look. Schobert, who was literally days away from departing for college, joined the Badgers as a walk-on, and the rest is history
Tourney trip: First ever. Tourney record: 0-0. Facing Wisconsin teams: Never. Leading scorer: Quinton Hooker (18.8). Best name: Carson Shanks