Big Ten Storylines Heading Into Next Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 17th, 2015

There are still some dominoes to fall in terms of Big Ten roster turnover in coming weeks but we already have a pretty good idea of how the league will look next year. Here are a few things to ponder as Big Ten fans brace themselves for seven months without any games with which to occupy their time.

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  • Return to Multiple Conference Championship Contenders: Wisconsin essentially went wire-to-wire this season, going from the unanimous preseason favorite to winning both the conference regular season and postseason titles. Next season should be a bit more like the 2013-14 campaign with several teams with a realistic shot to win the league. Maryland is rightfully getting a good deal of love in the preseason “way-to-early” top 25 lists. The Terps will return two of their top three players in Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and will add a bruiser down low in freshman Diamond Stone. Indiana (assuming both Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. return to Bloomington), and Michigan State could also very well start the season in the top 15 nationally. Thomas Bryant will give the Hoosiers someone to keep defenses honest inside, while Sparty adds Eron Harris, Devonta Davis, and Caleb Swanigan to a nucleus of eight players who were contributors on a Final Four squad. These three should all challenge for the top spot in Big Ten play next season.
  • Wisconsin Rebuild: It will be fun to observe how Bo Ryan replaces the multiple talented pieces that he is losing from a group that went to back-to-back Final Fours. He has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt so as to figure that players like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter will break out with more playing time next season. Getting key starters Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig back is also a pretty decent starting point. How far will the Badgers actually fall, and how long will it take for the newcomers to make an impact?

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A Final Look at Wisconsin’s Two-Year Run

Posted by Alex Moscoso on April 16th, 2015

It’s been more than a week since the final buzzer went off at Lucas Oil Stadium, signaling the end of the National Championship game, another Duke national title, and the last moments of an incredible two-year run from the unlikeliest of powerhouses, Wisconsin. This year’s squad of goofy and affable but supremely talented Badgers had come up just a little short in the biggest game of their lives. With a nine-point lead, 13:23 left on the clock, and two of Duke’s best players, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, on the bench due to foul trouble, Wisconsin was certainly as close as any Big Ten team has been in 15 years to winning the crown. But there would be no story book ending. Instead, things played out as they usually do in college basketball, as the team with more talent eventually took control and won the game. Even if not on this night, Bo Ryan’s program throughout his 14 seasons in Madison has consistently bucked that trend, winning a bunch more games than what his roster suggested was possible.

Wisconsin is the most efficient offensive team in a long time. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

Wisconsin has accomplished much in the last two years, including a change in the perception of its program and coach. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

This group of Badgers was no different. Sure, they boasted the National Player of the Year in Frank Kaminsky, but the senior was a shining example of expectations exceeded — going from an unheralded high school recruit to the shiniest of college basketball stars. But in the end, the Blue Devils surged on the back of a little-used but nevertheless talented freshman, Grayson Allen. The bouncy guard effectively ended the narrative many casual fans hoped would win the day — that of a pristine basketball environment of yesteryear with in-state kids playing all four years for their home university, versus the more itinerant one-and-done culture of today. This thinking vastly oversimplifies the makeup of both these teams and programs, of course, but it is a common sentiment in college basketball and it is one of the reasons the Badgers attracted so many new fans in their run to the Final Four.

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A Column of Enchantment: Offseason Blues, Man

Posted by Joseph Nardone on April 9th, 2015

That was fun. We got to experience college basketball in its best form during the NCAA Tournament. We had upsets, fun stories, and a slew of hyperbole (my personal favorite). The season even ended with the vampire known to the public as Coach K winning his fifth national title. It couldn’t have gone better, really. I mean that. The ratings were good; people used those ratings to blindly ignore glaring issues within the sport; and the world is a better place for it… or something — likely something, but whatever.

This man scoffs at your criticism. (AP)

This man scoffs at your criticism. (AP)

It is over, though. Sad days are upon us. Grab a box of tissues if you will, but (spoiler alert) the college basketball season is over. Dead. Murdered by the final buzzer going off in the championship game. The 2014-15 season is history. Ancient history if you hate Duke and just a rumor of a season that will join other urban legends if you are a Kentucky fan. Regardless, it is over and it isn’t coming back unless George Carlin shows up at your doorstep with a gosh slam phone booth (under 28 year-olds, Google it). If my mom taught me anything — well, anything other than knowing I am the greatest, ever — it is the past is in the past for a reason. It is time to move on. I mean, we gave the Duke fan base a full three days to relish in their victory. Time is up now. Seriously, Duke, what have you done for me lately? Not to mention that Coach K’s acceptance (all the sarcasm) of the one-and-done philosophy being used as a way to further elevate his standing is as laughable as it is to look in the mirror. What, just me?

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: Championship Edition, Part Two

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 8th, 2015

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Duke

Coach K Addressed the Home Fans on Tuesday in Durham (USA Today Images)

Coach K Addressed the Home Fans on Tuesday in Durham (USA Today Images)

  • Coach K had a response for Bo Ryan’s “rent-a-player” remark that the Wisconsin head coach made after his team’s loss to Duke on Monday. “Duke doesn’t rent a player,” Krzyzewski said. “We have one of the great schools in the world, and when we recruit a young man, we recruit a young man because of three things: One, he has the academic potential to do well at Duke; two, he has the talent to do well; and three, he has great character. All the guys on my team fit that description 100 percent.”
  • Duke‘s freshmen led the Blue Devils to this season’s National Title, but things may not be looking so bright in Durham next season if they all — particularly Tyus Jones, considering Duke’s lack of a point guard option behind him — head to the NBA.
  • Announced as a package deal when the duo committed to Duke as high school seniors, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones share a friendship that “goes beyond basketball.” After the final buzzer sounded on Monday night, the two were found embracing at half-court. “We told each other we loved each other,” Okafor said. “This is what we dreamed of.”
  • Jahlil Okafor may be the consensus All-American, but is teammate Justise Winslow the better NBA prospect?
  • Though Mike Krzyzewski is an old school coach, his ability to adapt was in large part responsible for Duke’s fifth National Championship. From starting three freshmen to playing zone defense to winning the finale without major contributions from Okafor or Winslow, this season was arguably the greatest coaching job of the Duke legend’s illustrious career.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin's Bo Ryan Has Gotten Progressively Closer to the Ring (USA Today Images)

Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan Has Gotten Progressively Closer to the Ring (USA Today Images)

  • Wisconsin will be expected to fall in the Big Ten pecking order next season but the Badgers may end up better than most expect. With the emergence of point guard Bronson Koenig, the Badgers actually look to be in “good hands.”
  • Though he was never expected to leave for the NBA, power forward Nigel Hayes officially confirmed that he will be back next season. “I’m nowhere near good enough to do anything else besides come back,” Hayes said.
  • Many are pressing Sam Dekker for a decision on whether he’ll turn pro this spring, but Dekker first wants to get the bad taste of Monday’s game out of his mouth. “I can’t really worry about it. I’m going to get home, cool down with the guys, do what I need to do, talk to who I need to talk to make an educated decision,” he said.
  • Frank Kaminsky‘s ride in college hoops is over, but the National Player of the Year has a new challenge on his hands with the NBA.
  • Lost among Kaminsky and Dekker’s excellent seasons was the equally outstanding play of senior Josh Gasser. Although he didn’t put up the same numbers as his counterparts, his defense and leadership will be sorely missed.
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Final Four Previews: Wisconsin/Duke Will Win If…

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Tommy Lemoine on April 6th, 2015

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Championship Monday is always bitter sweet for college basketball fans. On the one hand, it means the two best teams in the country will finally play for the ultimate crown and go down in the history books. On the other hand, it also means that the college basketball season is finally coming to an end. For this particular 2014-15 season, however, what an ending this is set to be. While the nation didn’t quite get the “dream” finals matchup, tonight’s contest is not a bad consolation prize by any means as arguably the best offensive basketball team in recent memory goes up against arguably the most traditional of traditional powers that the sport has ever seen. We’re just a couple hours away from tip-off, but in the meantime …

No shock here - Frank Kaminsky is the key player in tonight's National Title game. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

No shock here – Frank Kaminsky is the key player in tonight’s National Title game. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

Wisconsin Will Win If

  • It continues to play like the greatest collegiate offense in recent history, which it most assuredly is. For the year, Wisconsin’s adjusted offensive efficiency is 128.5, equivalent to 128 points per 100 offensive possessions against an average defense, the best by a rather significant margin. In the NCAA Tournament, with higher stakes and tougher opponents, the Badgers are still averaging 128 points per 100 offensive possessions, even after playing two of the season’s best three defenses in their past two games. While Duke’s is playing its best defensive basketball of the season (they’re allowing 87 points per 100 defensive possessions in the tournament), at this point doubting the effectiveness of the Wisconsin offense is questionable at best.
  • Frank Kaminsky gets the better of the Jahlil Okafor. The key matchup to watch, of course, will be Kaminsky vs. Okafor (the only two unanimous RTC All-American choices) although of course, it won’t always be a mano v. mano type of thing. However, it is a fascinating matchup. Okafor may be the best post-up big man since Tim Duncan, while Kaminsky’s ability to be equally effective inside or out gives him a great advantage. Much of Wisconsin’s offense is predicated on the ability of its talented big men to step away from the hoop, open up the floor and create opportunities for clean looks. Okafor is in no way foul prone, but if the relatively inexperienced freshman gets frustrated by Kaminsky’s veteran wiles, the Blue Devils could be behind the eight-ball. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #1 Wisconsin 71, #1 Kentucky 64

Posted by Naveen Reddy on April 4th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Down the stretch, Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin played like they were going to win. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Down the stretch, Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin played like they were going to win. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  1. 24 years later. It is hard to put games in a historical perspective in the moment, but this will rank up there with almost any of the great games in college basketball history. It is hard to believe, but we were in almost the same situation 24 years ago in the same city. Now this Kentucky team was not the defending champs (runner-up last year) and they were not the juggernaut that 1991 UNLV was, but we are here in Indianapolis with a #1 undefeated team losing to a team that it had beaten in the Final Four the year before. While most people were pointing towards Duke-Kentucky on Monday night as the place where Kentucky’s undefeated season might end, anybody who paid attention all season was aware of how big of a hurdle this would be. Much like the 1991 UNLV-Duke game this had some questionable calls, but this time the team on the wrong end of those calls ended up winning. It isn’t often that games like this live up to their hype (more on that later), but this one did and then some.
  2. Wisconsin showed its toughness tonight. Wisconsin played out of its mind tonight scoring 1.23 points per possession tonight against the best defense of the KenPom era in a performance that made us think that their second half performance against Arizona was not that much of an aberration, but it took more than that. When Josh Gasser found himself on the end of two bad calls–first a charbage call that negated a Bronson Koenig three with eight minutes left followed by a non-call after Trey Lyles slapped him in the face–we thought it might be a turning point where Kentucky would take control of the game. For a few minutes it appeared that they would as they took a 4-point lead before Sam Dekker made a couple of big plays–a lay-up followed by picking up a charge–that swung the momentum back in Wisconsin’s favor. When you have teams that are this evenly matched, you need to make big plays down the stretch. While Kentucky has found a way to win all season long, they misfired when it mattered down the stretch coming up with three straight airballs and shot clock violations. The result was history.
  3. What Kentucky did was incredible. It will be hard for Kentucky’s coaches, players, and fans to think about right now, but this was a great season for the Wildcats. What they did under the direction of Calipari was sacrifice their individual goals and glory for the greater good of their team. Their loss tonight is not a reflection of a failure on their part, but just the reality of the game and life–sometimes things don’t work out even when you plan things out perfectly. Kentucky was the best team in college basketball this season, but in one-game scenarios anything can happen. They were simply outplayed tonight. In all likelihood, we won’t see this group play together again since so many of them are projected to be first round picks, but we won’t forget them any time soon. You can argue about how “great” they actually were, but when they were firing on all cylinders they certainly were overwhelming. In the era of one-and-dones, this type of team (loaded with talent and with at least a little bit of experience) is probably the best we are going to get.

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Final Four Previews: Kentucky/Wisconsin Will Win If…

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

RTC_NCAA15

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. Read the rest of this entry »
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Final Four Fact Sheet: Wisconsin Badgers

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 2nd, 2015

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Midway through a week before the most highly-anticipated Final Four in years, let’s do a reset on each of the four teams still standing. Today’s victims: Michigan State (published this morning) and Wisconsin.

How Wisconsin Got Here

West Region Champions. The West Region’s top unit began its NCAA Tournament run by downing #16 seed Coastal Carolina, then fighting off pesky #8 seed Oregon in the round of 32. Wisconsin headed out to Los Angeles the following weekend, where it overcame a seven-point deficit to beat #4 seed North Carolina before pouring in 1.33 points per possession against #2 seed Arizona to reach its second straight Final Four.

Wisconsin is the most efficient offensive team in a long time. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

Wisconsin is the most efficient offensive team in a long time. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

The Coach

Bo Ryan. Wisconsin has made the NCAA Tournament in each of Ryan’s 14 seasons in Madison and never once finished worse than fourth place in the Big Ten standings. He’s been an enormously successful head coach from the get-go, and yet until recently the prevailing narrative was that his ‘system’ – tailoring recruiting to fit his swing offense instead of the other way around – precluded any deep March runs. So much for that. The 67-year-old has now led the Badgers to back-to-back Final Fours, developed unheralded recruit Frank Kaminsky into a legitimate NBA prospect, enabled blue-chipper Sam Dekker to fully realize his talent, and put the Badgers in position to compete for its first National Championship since 1941.

Style

Ryan’s swing offense is predicated on floor spacing, good perimeter ball movement, off-ball screening and cutting. It’s incredibly slow – the second-slowest in college basketball (21.7 seconds per possession) – and also incredibly effective. Wisconsin leads the country in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Badgers take 37.5 percent of their shots from behind the arc, the highest rate among Final Four teams, while earning trips to the free throw line at the second-lowest rate ahead of only Michigan State. On the other end, Wisconsin focuses on playing tough, half-court man-to-man defense without fouling. Read the rest of this entry »

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Final Four Storylines: Wisconsin Edition

Posted by Henry Bushnell on April 1st, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

The Final Four is set. This week we’ll continue our NCAA Tournament Storylines series focused on each of the remaining four teams. We profiled Kentucky yesterday. Today: Wisconsin.

Sam Dekker's Ascent Assured Wisconsin of Its Second Straight Final Four Appearance (USA Today Images)

Sam Dekker’s Ascent Assured Wisconsin of Its Second Straight Final Four Appearance (USA Today Images)

The Badgers are back. Just one year after head coach Bo Ryan snapped his Final Four drought, the Badgers are once again two wins away from the program’s first National Championship since 1941. What has always been impressive about Ryan’s teams is the consistency with which they finish among the Big Ten’s top echelon, but the last two campaigns have elevated the notion of sustained success to another level. Wisconsin is not yet a top-five basketball program, but Ryan has found a group of players that have both the talent and the know-how to effectively run his system. This year’s senior-laden team is even better than last year’s group, and it has a real chance to do something special with Kentucky waiting in Indianapolis.

An historically good offense. Wisconsin is dangerous because of its offense. Coming into this season, no team in the KenPom era (since 2002) had finished with an adjusted offensive efficiency rating higher than 124.1 (2013-14 Michigan). Barring something astonishing occurring this weekend, however, the Badgers will shatter that record. Wisconsin’s current mark of 127.5 ORtg is significantly higher than Notre Dame’s 123.1, the second-best in college basketball. To put that into perspective, that differential of 4.4 adjusted points per 100 possessions between #1 Wisconsin and #2 Notre Dame is roughly equivalent to the difference between the offenses of #65 Louisville and #148 Maryland-Eastern Shore. The Badgers don’t put up eye-popping point totals because they also run the second-slowest offense in Division I basketball (a concept Kenny Smith apparently doesn’t understand), but that’s one of the reasons they are in fact so good. Their determination to get excellent shots on each possession down-court make that number possible. Of course, so does an ability to record a second half effective field goal percentage of 105.3, as the Badgers did last Saturday against Arizona. But it all starts with Ryan’s philosophy and the way his players understand and fit into it.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.01.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 1st, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Michigan State

Tom Izzo Is Loving This Team (USA Today Images)

Tom Izzo Is Loving This Team (USA Today Images)

  • Of all people, Duke’s Coach K is perhaps least surprised to be facing Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in the Final Four. “Nothing surprises me that he and his program would do,” Krzyzewski said. “They don’t have a team; they have a program. As he develops each team, I don’t know what the time frame of it is until that group understands what the program is about, whether it be offense, defense or just character-wise, but they’re going to keep improving because it’s a program. It’s a program of excellence.”
  • For Michigan State, the emergence of freshman LouRawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. has been paramount to the Spartans’ turnaround this season. He hasn’t scored much so far in the NCAA Tournament, but that’s not what makes him so valuable. “He does so much for our team that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet,” said senior guard Travis Trice. “He helps break the press, he gets other guys involved. Tum’s also that energy guy. There are times [before or after practice] where guys are kind of tired and Tum’s there with all the energy and boosts everybody up. Tum does a lot of things for us that people really don’t see.”
  • Michigan State may not have as much individual talent as it usually does, but this bunch has played very well as a team. “This is some of the things that has separated this year’s team: from top to bottom there is a – I don’t know if you can use the word, but there is a true love for one another,” Izzo said, “and that is a powerful, powerful thing, so I’m appreciative of those upperclassmen.”
  • Check out Tom Izzo‘s postgame speech to his team after the Spartans punched their ticket on Sunday to the Final Four.
  • With a BCS Bowl victory and another Final Four appearance, it’s a good time to be a Michigan State fan.

Duke

  • No matter the year, the moment, or the personnel on his team, Coach K is consistently great. “There’s not just one way,” [assistant coach Nate] James said. “Some coaches are stuck in their ways, like ‘I want to do it this way, the way I’ve always done it.’ No. If you do it that way, it may hurt this group. He adjusts.”
  • Even though Duke is a mainstay at the top of college basketball, Krzyzewski insists that this team has worked its way to a “magical season,” just like everyone else. “It’s not a birthright; it’s earned each year,” he said.
  • From losing Rasheed Sulaimon to hitting some midseason lulls back in January, this Duke team has learned to be resilient.
  • Is Coach K the greatest college basketball head coach of all time? Chris Chase seems to think so.
  • Duke may be in the Final Four, but Jahlil Okafor hasn’t exactly dominated in March. Is the freshman standout somewhat overrated?

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Wisconsin 85, #2 Arizona 78

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 28th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Sam Dekker's Career Night Was Just One of Many Great Individual Offensive Performances (USA Today Images)

Sam Dekker’s Career Night Was Just One of Many Great Individual Offensive Performances (USA Today Images)

  1. Second-half offensive explosion. The numbers were simply insane for Wisconsin in the second half. To understand just how good those numbers are, we’ll start by looking at Arizona’s numbers: 1.33 points per possession, 59.5% eFG, 20-of-22 from the free throw line. And they were outscored by 10 points. Let that sink in for a second. Now prepare yourself for the Wisconsin numbers: 105.3% eFG. 1.62 points per possession. 10-of-12 from three. Only two players missed shots in the half: Kaminsky missed a few and Josh Gasser missed a corner three. That’s it. Sam Dekker went 6-of-6 from the field and 5-of-5 from three. You can’t even call those video game numbers because video games are far more realistic. Just straight bonkers.
  2. Sam Dekker. Late in the game with two minutes left and Arizona feeling lucky to be down just five, the Wildcats locked in on defense, denied the ball to Frank Kaminsky and the ball wound up in Dekker’s hands in the corner. He knocked in a late shot clock three and when the ‘Cats called a timeout following their possession, head coach Sean Miller went out of his way to give Dekker a head nod for just his latest big shot of the weekend. After turning in a career-high on Thursday night with 23, Dekker went one better tonight, knocking in 27. For the weekend, he played 69 minutes, scored 50 points and shot an 80.7% eFG.
  3. Yes, Wisconsin Can. The question now is can the Badgers exceed last year’s accomplishments. Kentucky could be waiting for them next weekend and will present quite a challenge, but if Wisconsin plays anything like they did today, the Badgers can beat anybody. If it is indeed Kentucky, those Wildcats will have a handful of more size-appropriate matchups for Kaminsky on the defensive end. And certainly the Badgers didn’t blow anyone away with their defensive work today. But when you’re in a spot where it feels like you can’t miss from the field, you can beat anybody.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Elite Eight Saturday

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Walker Carey on March 28th, 2015

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The Elite Eight is here. Two games that have a chance to become classics. Let’s break them down.

#1 Wisconsin vs. #2 Arizona – West Regional Final (at Los Angeles, CA) – at 6:09 PM ET on CBS.

Wisconsin Seeks Its Second Straight Final Four Appearance (USA Today Images)

Wisconsin Seeks Its Second Straight Final Four Appearance (USA Today Images)

Three-hundred-and-sixty-four days ago, about 40 miles away (by Los Angeles-area freeways), the Badgers and the Wildcats engaged in an epic 45-minute battle to decide the West Region’s entrant into the 2014 Final Four. For the final 18 minutes of the game, no more than a single possession separated the two teams. On the final possession of regulation, Traevon Jackson missed a jumper that would have won it for Wisconsin. Arizona had two possessions in the final 30 seconds of the game and strung together a T.J. McConnell miss, a Nick Johnson offensive foul and, on the final possession, Johnson unable to get a shot off before the final buzzer. The Badgers danced. Roughly a month ago, the possibility of this very rematch began to rear its head. And now, here it is. Sub out Ben Brust, Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson. Sub in Stanley Johnson and Brandon Ashley. Bump up Bronson Koenig, bump back Traevon Jackson. Other than that, this thing should look awfully familiar. A year ago, Frank Kaminsky scored 28 points on 11/20 shooting with three threes and recorded just his second-ever double-double. Also, Bo Ryan’s team held the Wildcats without a single fastbreak point. And on the other side of the court, McConnell was limited to 2/10 shooting with just two assists and couple turnovers. Those three things right there are the areas Arizona needs to change in order to have a chance to flip the script today. Let’s start with Kaminsky. Junior center Kaleb Tarczewski will be the guy mostly charged with checking Frank the Tank. And in the post, Tarczewski will hold his own. However, Kaminsky’s ability to drag a big guy out to the perimeter and either knock in shots out there or get to the rim off the bounce will present problems. Let’s put it this way: if Kaminsky is again able to knock in three threes against the Wildcats like he did last season, that may force Sean Miller’s hand into an adjustment. The other area where the Arizona needs to adjust slightly is in making a priority of getting out in transition and getting some easy hoops. They’ve struggled with their halfcourt offense in their past two games, mostly against zone defenses. While Wisconsin won’t zone them, it would be a major boon to Arizona’s confidence if they could see the ball go in the basket early on some relatively easy transition looks. Lastly, there’s McConnell, the Wildcats’ senior leader. In that game a year ago, he had an offensive rating of 88. Since that time, in the 37 games that Arizona has played, McConnell has only three times had that poor of an offensive game. McConnell will certainly want to make up for his performance a year ago, but he needs to play within himself, make the smart play on offense, the tough play on defense and let the game come to him. If Wisconsin can get him out of his game, Arizona doesn’t stand much of a chance. But if the Wildcats’ leader is the same T.J. McConnell we’ve come to know this season, that could be enough to flip the final score.

The RTC Certified Pick: Arizona

#1 Kentucky vs. #3 Notre Dame – Midwest Region Elite Eight (from Cleveland, OH) – at 8:49 PM EST on TBS.

Notre Dame Seeks Its First Final Four Appearance in 36 Years (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Seeks Its First Final Four Appearance in 36 Years (USA Today Images)

Kentucky and Notre Dame advanced to the Elite Eight after both teams put together very impressive performances Thursday night. The Wildcats completely outclassed West Virginia on their way to a thoroughly dominant 78-39 victory. Notre Dame displayed its incredible offensive efficiency throughout its 81-70 victory over a Wichita State squad that had built much of its reputation on the defensive end of the court. Saturday night is going to be a different story for Mike Brey’s group. The Irish use a four guard line-up and have been using 6’5″ senior swingman Pat Connaughton as their power forward all season. While Notre Dame lacks a lot of size, unbeaten Kentucky’s size might just be its greatest strength. The Wildcats start three mammoth forwards in freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns and junior Willie Cauley-Stein. John Calipari also has the luxury of having two additional gargantuan forwards that he can bring off the bench in sophomore forwards Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee. Kentucky’s massive frontline might be its greatest asset, but it should be noted that its backcourt is also pretty stellar. Sophomores Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison and freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis provide the Wildcats with strong shooting and ball distribution skills. For Notre Dame to stand a fighting chance in this one, it is going to need its strong backcourt of sophomores Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia and seniors Connaughton and Jerian Grant to hit shots at an extremely efficient clip. The Irish are second in the country in field goal percentage at 51%. They will need to shoot at least that against the Wildcats if they want to be in it late in the game. Expect Notre Dame to hit some shots and for this one to be pretty close for the first 30 minutes, but Kentucky’s size and sheer talent advantage will take over in the final 10 minutes. The Wildcats will end up winning by a fairly comfortable margin as they will move to 38-0 on the season and advance to next weekend’s Final Four in Indianapolis.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky

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