Final Four Previews: Kentucky/Wisconsin Will Win If…

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on April 4th, 2015


The time has finally come for all the hand-wringing, all the expectations, all the anticipation, and all the office pools between Jim from accounting and Bonnie the receptionist to be decided. In what undoubtedly has evolved into one of the more intriguing Final Fours in recent memory, the story lines bleeding out of Indianapolis this week has been plentiful. Will Coach Cal and the ‘Cats finish off The Perfect Season? Will Wisconsin play spoiler? Will the traditional power in blue once again reign supreme? Will the boys from East Lansing show that a team can win a ‘ship without a boatload of McDonald All-Americans? We’ll all find out soon. In the meantime…

Kentucky Will Win If…

  • It controls the game defensively, does not allow Frank Kaminsky to get comfortable in the post, and is very opportunistic offensively. The Wildcats did not turn in a vintage defensive performance in their hard-fought 68-66 triumph over Notre Dame in the Elite Eight. The Irish shot a respectable 46.4% from the field, collected 13 offensive rebounds, and had a 16-to-7 turnover ratio. Those numbers were quite different than the ones the opposition has routinely put up against Kentucky this season. Even more troubling for the Wildcats, mercurial Irish forward Zach Auguste had a standout game against the vaunted Kentucky frontline, finishing with 20 points (1o-of-13 FG) and nine rebounds.

    Willie Cauley-Stein's defense will be critical in Saturday's matchup. (AP)

    Willie Cauley-Stein’s defense will be critical in Saturday’s matchup. (AP)

  • Kentucky has to rededicate itself on the defensive end if it wants to best Wisconsin and advance to the title game. Much like Notre Dame, the Badgers have one of the best offenses in the country and they will definitely take advantage of defensive breakdowns. That vaunted frontline is going to need to be at its very best because Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky has the ability to completely take over a game in the post. Against a very large Arizona team in the Elite Eight, Kaminsky was able to get comfortable in the post all night, finishing with a game-high 29 points.
  • The Wildcats cannot afford to play the same defense they did against Auguste in the Elite Eight, because if they do so, Kaminsky will have a monster game in a Wisconsin victory. Ensuring that Kaminsky does not get comfortable in the post has to be Kentucky’s number one goal entering Saturday’s tilt.
  • On the offensive end of the court, Kentucky needs to be opportunistic and efficient. While Kaminsky only averages 1.6 fouls per game, he did pick up four against Arizona’s size. Well, Kentucky is even bigger than Arizona, so it should definitely try to pound the ball inside to forwards Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein early and often with the goal of trying to get Kaminsky in foul trouble.
  • The Wildcats also have a strong size advantage when it comes to the two backcourts. Kentucky guards Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, and Devin Booker need to use that advantage to get the better of smaller Wisconsin guards Josh Gasser, Bronson Koenig, and Traevon Jackson. This one promises to be an absolute battle between the two #1 seeds.

Wisconsin Will Win If…

  • It plays its best and Kentucky plays at anything less than its best. That statement seems trite, especially after the Badgers just had one of the most spectacular offensive halves in college basketball history last weekend. Certainly, if Wisconsin shoots a 105 eFG% against the Wildcats, they’ll win. But by “playing their best” I don’t just mean shooting the lights out in a freak performance. Wisconsin will have to do everything that Wisconsin basketball is built on in order to beat Kentucky on Saturday.
  • Offensively, they’ll need to move well without the ball, they’ll need to limit turnovers, they’ll need their big guys to pull Kentucky’s bigs away from the basket and open the middle of the court. And yes, they’ll need to knock in a majority of their clean looks.

    The way Kentucky is playing, Bo Ryan will have to have at least two or three tricks up his sleeve. (Getty)

    The way Kentucky is playing, Bo Ryan will have to have at least two or three tricks up his sleeve. (Getty)

  • On the other end of the court, the Badgers probably need to be more locked in on the defensive side than they have ever been this year. Taking into account that the rest of the college basketball world has been relatively down offensively this year, this vintage of the Badgers has arguably been Bo Ryan’s worst defensive team in his time in Madison. And really, Wisconsin hasn’t made it this far based on strong defense; they’re allowing 1.15 points per possession in their four tournament games so far, the highest number of any Final Four team in the KenPom era.
  • Against Kentucky, they’ll have to be better. And a lot of that will begin in the paint, where the Wildcats shoot it at 69.1%, good for fourth in the nation. Unfortunately, the Badgers are little better than average at allowing attempts in the paint and allowing makes in the paint.
  • I’ve made it this far without mentioning the name Frank Kaminsky, and surprisingly, the first mention will be about the necessity for his to be great defensively on Saturday. Likewise, frontcourt-mates Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes and 6’10” senior reserve Duje Dukan will all need to play excellent defensive games: don’t foul, make Kentucky score over the top of them and when the Wildcats miss, clean the glass as if your lives depend on it. The good news is, Wisconsin has a history of doing the first and the last of those things awfully well. They don’t foul and they clean the glass. But Kentucky will test them on both those fronts.

    Last year, Kentucky made it a point to slow down Frank Kaminsky. (USA TODAY Sports)

    Last year, Kentucky made it a point to slow down Frank Kaminsky. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • The other significant matchup problems for the Badgers are the same significant matchup problems that John Calipari’s team gives to everybody they face. Seven-footer Willie Cauley-Stein is an insane defender, capable of chasing guards around the floor or banging with wide-bodies on the block. He’s exactly the kind of defender who can single-handedly cause Kaminsky all sorts of problems on the offensive end. Last year when these two teams met in the Final Four, Kentucky went out of its way to get the ball out of Kaminsky’s hands and make other people beat them by sending double and triple teams at Kaminsky in the post and running him off the three-point line. In the process, they limited Kaminsky to just eight points on seven field goal attempts. But if Kentucky can limit the POY to similar production without having to send additional defenders his way, that could gum up the Wisconsin offense. Kaminsky will have to be his normal excellent self against elite defense in order for the Badgers to have a shot.
  • And then there’s this: even if Wisconsin does just about everything right, if Kentucky plays to its potential, the Wildcats might still win. Last week in Los Angeles, the Badgers put together a mind-blowingly good offense second half. Like, all-time in the history of college basketball as there perhaps has never been a team so offensively efficient against a historically great defensive team as the Badgers were last weekend. Remember a few years back when Wichita State caught mighty blue fire for the final five minutes against Gonzaga en route to an upset? That was Wisconsin for the entire 20 minutes in the regional final against Arizona. And still. Still! The Badgers only won by seven. Barring that kind of lightning-striking-twice miracle half, Wisconsin probably needs to get Kentucky out of rhythm and hope they get a couple bounces going their way in order to pull this one out. But there is nothing wrong with making your own good luck.
Share this story

One response to “Final Four Previews: Kentucky/Wisconsin Will Win If…”

  1. DMoore says:

    I think you got that reversed. It should have been:
    “if Kentucky does just about everything right, if Wisconsin plays to its potential, the Badgers might still win”

    Kentucky played nearly a perfect game — they shot great, and committed close to zero turnovers. They even had the refs calling things their way for most of the game. And they still lost.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *