Tonight’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge Main Event: Previewing Duke at Wisconsin

Posted by Alex Moscoso and Brad Jenkins on December 3rd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, ACC and Big Ten microsites writers Alex Moscoso and Brad Jenkins have teamed up to break down the match-up between Wisconsin and Duke, the main event on the final night of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Frontcourt

Alex Moscoso: Duke has a special player in center Jahlil Okafor, the likely #1 overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft. But as far as the best frontcourt in basketball, I submit there’s no unit with a better combination of talent and experience than the Badgers’ group of Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker. All three will play in the Association and are familiar with one another’s tendencies from a full year together on the floor. For the season, they’re combining to average 42.9 PPG (57.5 percent of the team’s output) and 20.6 RPG. While Kaminsky and Dekker are likely to be Naismith finalists, Hayes has also garnered widespread acclaim for his improved play as a sophomore – specifically, his newfound ability to hit the deep ball on occasion (35.7%) and better defensive play in the post. His transformation from talented prospect to contributing factor has made this frontcourt almost invulnerable. The trio will certainly have its hands full with the athletic duo of Okafor and Justise Winslow, but the Wisconsin big men should wear these young Blue Devils out by hitting some threes and forcing them to guard the entire half-court – from the rim out to the three-point line.

Frank Kaminsky (yes, it's true) exploded for 43 points on Tuesday. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky  and the Badgers “are coming” for Duke on Wednesday night, in what is one of the best non-conference games this season. (Getty)

Brad Jenkins: To say this is a match-up of Duke’s young talent versus Wisconsin’s veteran frontcourt is an oversimplification. The Badgers’ big guys are not only experienced but they are extremely skilled and more athletic than most realize. Duke’s two freshman starters up front, Okafor and Winslow, are both considered one-and-doners, and they play the game with a physical and mental maturity rarely seen in college rookies. On the one hand, Okafor has good footwork around the basket that should force Wisconsin into more double-teaming than normal. On the other hand, Winslow is a bit of a wild card in this game, as the Badgers don’t have a player who can match his combination of size and athleticism on the wing. The veteran Dekker, a tall forward with decent lateral quickness, will probably get the assignment, but he has been nursing a nagging ankle injury and may not be at 100 percent. Look for Winslow to aggressively attack the Badgers off the dribble as a way to create offense when the Blue Devils are otherwise stymied. Wisconsin normally protects the defensive glass as well as any team in the country, but watch out for Amile Jefferson on the weak side if Okafor demands major attention. So far this season, the 6’9” junior ranks third nationally with a 21.9 percent offensive rebounding rate. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 11.21.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on November 21st, 2014

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  1. Anyone who watched the Wisconsin game on Wednesday night saw what could have been the dunk of the season from Wisconsin-Green Bay guard Keifer Sykes. Sykes almost went full “Deandre Jordan on Brandon Knight” in his missed dunk attempt over preseason All-American Frank Kaminsky, causing the preseason All-American to take to Twitter after the game to talk about how the dunk “would have ruined my confidence as a basketball player.” This led to a very lighthearted exchange between the two players that you can read here. It’s nice to see two great players who both hail from Chicago being supportive and recognizing the skills that each of them possesses.
  2. Many of us here at the microsite had written off Indiana after a tumultuous offseason, but after their 74-68 win over #22 SMU in Bloomington last night, we may need to reevaluate this group. Freshman sensation James Blackmon Jr. led the way with 26 points. This game also marked the return of three players from their suspensions — Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, and Emmett Holt. What once looked like a bleak future for Tom Crean may be turning brighter thanks to the outstanding play of Blackmon Jr. — who has now proven he can play at a high level against nationally relevant teams. The freshman may singlehandedly pull the Hoosiers from the valley it found itself in just a couple weeks back.
  3. In the midst of all the holiday tournaments going on either this weekend and next week, Michigan State announced that it will be part of the Wooden Legacy tournament next season. The other headliner in the field will be Arizona. Providence and Boise State also will be playing in Anaheim along with Boston College, Evansville, Santa Clara, and UC Irvine. The Spartans will lose two of their top three players from this year’s squad, but should return Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello next season.
  4. It’s not always going to be pretty basketball, but if you’re into watching a player just go completely “Kobe” and chuck shot after shot, look no further than Penn State and D.J. Newbill. The prolific scorer put up 35 points on 33 shots in the Nittany Lions’ 97-106 double-overtime loss to Charlotte. Newbill had a chance to score the game winner with an open lane to the basket in the dwindling seconds of the first overtime, but it was blocked by Charlotte. The 35-point total was the most for a Penn State player since 1995, but without many other options on this team — especially with Tim Frazier graduated — look for more nights like these from Newbill. It’ll be entertaining if nothing else.
  5. Maryland also struggled in its quest to stay undefeated, yet managed to pull away from Fordham to notch a win on Thursday night. Unlike Northwestern, their struggles were on the offensive end. This is what senior leader Dez Wells wanted however, as he spoke to wanting to see how the young team handled things when they weren’t hitting shots. They ended up winning this one on the defensive end, holding the Rams to only eight free throw attempts and to 30.6 percent shooting from the field. A game like this should help them, especially once conference play hits. They now know that they can still get a win even if things aren’t clicking on the offensive end of the court.
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First Weekend Observations From the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 17th, 2014

The Big Ten tipped things off along with the rest of the country this weekend in the form of a whopping 18 games in three days. Minnesota and Rutgers were the only two conference teams that lost, but they also played two teams in Louisville and George Washington, respectively, that should make some noise nationally. While it would be next to impossible to have seen all 18 games in some capacity, here’s some of what we observed on this end.

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana's huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana’s huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

  • Indiana Could be Fun to Watch: A team effective field goal percentage of 75.4 percent will not be duplicated for the whole season, but the Hoosiers played a really fun brand of offensive basketball in their throttling of Mississippi Valley State, 116-65, on Friday night. Freshman James Blackmon, Jr looks to be the real deal, and Robert Johnson (15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals) might not be far behind. Max Hoetzel also was impressive, displaying the versatility at times to serve as a point forward. The Hoosiers did a really nice job moving without the ball and creating offensive spacing, which lead to many of their 23 three-point attempts being wide-open looks. They will get tested playing SMU at home on Thursday night (after tonight’s Mike Davis reunion with Texas Southern), but the contrast in styles and the return of Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson to the lineup will make it worth watching.
  • Michigan State Needs to Find a Post Presence: Michigan State seemed to be sleepwalking through a good chunk of its five-point win over Navy on Friday night, and it wasn’t just from turning the ball over 18 times. The Spartans allowed Navy to score way too easily inside the paint, causing the game to be much closer than it should have been given the size and talent differential on display. With Jahlil Okafor and Duke looming for Tom Izzo’s team on Tuesday night, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling will have to be much bigger factors on the defensive end of the floor. Denzel Valentine won’t play as poorly as he did that night, but the Spartans’ offense looked disjointed other than the times when Travis Trice got open looks (5-of-6 from three). Michigan State will eventually get things right and still be a factor in the B1G race, but it might take some time if they can’t prevent those easy inside looks.

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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #4 to #1

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 14th, 2014

RTC finishes our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #4 through #1. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week, and the mid-tier teams, also released earlier this week, provide depth to the conference. But it’s these four squads in the top tier that will likely be fighting to win the conference title and lock down high seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

4. Ohio State

  • What they do well: A little bit of everything, is that too vague? There is nothing that sticks out as special about these Buckeyes, but they will play the solid all-around basketball of Thad Matta. Shannon Scott will push the tempo and control the offense while D’Angelo Russell could be the offensive spark that it needs this season. Overall, the Buckeyes will minimize mistakes and play good defense.
  • What they don’t do well: Score during crunch time. The Buckeyes had trouble finding key buckets during the last two minutes of games last season and unless Russell becomes a true go-to guy, they will have the same issues again.

    Mark could be a key contributor in the frontcourt for Ohio State this season. (thelantern.com)

    Mark Loving could be a key contributor in the frontcourt for Ohio State this season. (thelantern.com)

  • Get to know: Mark Loving. Russell will be the highlight during the non-conference season but Loving could be the super sophomore that helps this team get off to a good start and compete for the conference crown. He has the ability to rebound and stretch the floor from the four position.
  • Why they’ll finish 4th: They don’t have enough talent to leapfrog into the top three, but they should win 10 to 12 Big Ten games this year.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: If Russell, Scott and Loving can each average 12 PPG or more, the Buckeyes can push themselves into a real contending spot. Loving’s contributions will very important because Matta’s team has struggled to find consistent offense over the past two seasons. Read the rest of this entry »
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Sam Dekker: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Player of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 13th, 2014

Many of you who read this site probably held basketball playing dreams of your own. You played ball in the driveway until mom called you in for supper, trying to hit 10 more free throws before giving up on daylight and heading in for dinner. As your dreams of basketball glory likely petered out at the end of your junior high or high school career, you made the argument in your head, saying to yourself: “What if I just had been a few inches taller.” Sam Dekker ended his sophomore season in college at the height of 6’7″. He was already a probable future NBA player given his size and skill set for the wing position — and then he was gifted two additional inches of height over the summer. How is that fair? Already one of the best players in the Big Ten, Dekker looks poised for an even better junior season on a loaded Wisconsin squad, making him our preseason pick for B1G Player of the Year.

Sam Dekker will surpass teammate Frank Kaminsky as the Big Ten's best player this season. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker will surpass teammate Frank Kaminsky as the Big Ten’s best player this season. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Dekker is the kind of player who does a number of things well; he can fill up the box score in a many different ways. After playing 22..3 MPG as a freshman and averaging 9.6 PPG on 39.1 percent shooting from three, many expected a bigger statistical jump in his sophomore campaign. Her performed well, leading or tying for the team-high in scoring eight times, rebounding 15 times, and steals 11 times.. And although his scoring average only rose to 12.4 PPG, Bo Ryan’s offense didn’t require much more than that. The Badgers used its balanced offensive attack to go 30-8 and make a run to the Final Four, so clearly it was working. Four Badgers took an average of more than seven shots from the field per game, with no player averaging more than 10. Dekker used the fourth-most number of possessions (22.3 %) on the team, and ranked 23rd in the whole conference. He would like to see improvement in shooting the ball better from both the foul line (69%) and behind the arc (33%), but a couple extra inches of height will allow him to do more in the paint. From a team perspective, more interior play from Dekker means that Kaminsky can leak out to the perimeter more often, where the All-American center shoots 38 percent from distance. Dekker converted a healthy 55 percent of his two-point attempts last season, so it is likely more efficient for the Badgers for him to take fewer threes anyway.

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Wisconsin’s Duje Dukan to Miss First Two Games

Posted by Eric Clark on November 6th, 2014

Wisconsin’s Duje Dukan will miss the first two games of the upcoming season after a review of an NCAA eligibility issue from 2012-13 was resolved on Wednesday. According to a press release from Wisconsin Athletic Communications, Dukan “regained a fourth year of competition” for the 2014-15 season. The issue derives from the fact that he played in a scrimmage and exhibition game two years ago before deciding to sit out the entire season with mononucleosis. He wasn’t eligible for an NCAA hardship waiver at the time because he was not debilitated for the entire season, thus using up a full year of eligibility. He successfully appealed for a reinstatement of his fourth year during this offseason, but the NCAA penalized him two games for every contest he participated in 2012-13. He will miss both of the Badgers’ exhibition games and the first two games of the regular season against Northern Kentucky and Chattanooga.

Duje Dukan will miss Wisconsin's contests versus Northern Kentucky and Chattanooga.

Duje Dukan will miss Wisconsin’s contests versus Northern Kentucky and Chattanooga.

Dukan averaged 8.2 minutes per game for the Badgers last season, coming off the bench in all 38 contests. He will see more competition for playing time in the frontcourt from sophomore Vitto Brown, as both will act as substitutes for mainstays Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Nigel Hayes may also crack the starting lineup at some point and could push Dekker to small forward. In his fifth year with the program, Dukan shares the title for longest-tenured Badger with fellow redshirt senior Josh Gasser. While Dukan’s leadership is certainly important for Wisconsin’s current campaign, his three-point shooting may be his most crucial asset. The Badgers attempted 790 threes last season, second in the Big Ten only to Michigan’s 794. Gone is gunner Ben Brust, who attempted 244 treys on his own last season. Exactly half of Dukan’s shots last year were three-pointers, and if he can establish himself as a consistently viable threat from downtown, he could garner more minutes on the court.

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Assessing the KenPom B1G Preseason Ratings

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 29th, 2014

College basketball guru Ken Pomeroy released his preseason rankings a few days ago. These ratings are not your standard preseason website or magazine predictions because they are completely data-driven. To put it simply, Pomeroy is more than likely a great deal smarter than you or me. His tempo-free statistics remove some of the spin and fluff of the season in favor of measurable aspects like efficiency, schedule strength and luck. Uninformed pundits may talk about a team being great defensively because it gives up a very low number of points per game, but it’s wise to also evaluate the same notion through the prism of points per 100 possessions. That team may be great defensively as a matter of fact, but it also might just play at a really slow pace with fewer possessions (and hence, fewer opportunities for the opponent to score). Here are some observations about how the Big Ten fared in Pomeroy’s first list of ratings.

Tom Crean's Indiana squad starts the season just outside top 25 according to Ken Pomeroy. (AP).

Tom Crean’s Indiana squad starts the season just outside top 25 according to Ken Pomeroy. (AP).

  • Indiana Rates More Favorably Here Than With the Media. Pomeroy thinks that the Indiana offense will be much better after it finished 2013-14 ranked 127th in offensive efficiency. He also believes that the Hoosiers’ pace will quicken, from 106.5 points per 100 possessions to 110.9. For this to happen, the Hoosiers will have to cut down on their turnovers. They ranked last in the league in that metric last season, turning the ball over on 21.8 percent of the time. With Yogi Ferrell now having more help on the wings with freshman James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson coming into the program along with transfer Nick Zeisloft, Pomeroy thinks Tom Crean’s unit will be a good deal more efficient on the offensive end. The media picked Indiana ninth in its preseason poll, so it looks as though Pomeroy’s model values the Hoosiers a bit higher than the eye test.

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Big Ten M5: 10.29.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 29th, 2014

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  1. Northwestern surprised many people last season with the transformation it made halfway through conference play, leading to road wins against Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Drew Crawford was the most important player on that team, so it should be shocking to no one that head coach Chris Collins is still trying to figure out how the Wildcats are going to replace him. Two likely candidates are JerShon Cobb and freshman Vic Law. Cobb topped 20 or more points four times as a junior, while Law is one of the most gifted players coming into the program in quite a while. Northwestern has more depth than last season, but whether the Wildcats can collectively replace one of the best players in the Big Ten is worth watching.
  2. Purdue received its first Class of 2016 pledge on Tuesday, as Indianapolis Tech point guard CJ Walker chose the Boilermakers over Butler and Cincinnati. Walker won a class 4A championship as a sophomore, where he shot 51 percent from the field and averaged 3.2 assists per game. Walker should join Bryson Scott and fellow Indianapolis native PJ Thompson at the point guard spot for the 2016-17 campaign.
  3. Illinois and head coach John Groce have gotten some highly-rated players from Chicago and elsewhere in the state of Illinois. Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate and Malcom Hill are three that come to mind, for example, from his first recruiting class. But one former Illini great thinks that Groce has more work to do. Deon Thomas – the school’s all-time leading scorer and the state’s Mr. Basketball in 1989 from Chicago’s Simeon High School — says that talents like Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander would have stayed home and played for Illinois in the past. He cites AAU culture as a leading factor for Chicago kids choosing to play outside the state. Groce has made some nice headway with in-state kids, but it will take a top-15 type of player from Chicago staying close to home for many Illini fans to truly believe in his recruiting abilities.
  4. Ken Pomeroy released his preseason rankings to the masses on Sunday night and the Big Ten put 13 of its 14 teams among the top 80 in the country. One theme in the ratings is how balanced and equal teams #2 through #11 in the standings could be this season. As an example of how tight things are, Michigan State comes in at second in the league and 12th nationally while Purdue is 11th in the conference but 40th nationally. Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois are all ranked between #32-#38 in the nation. The equality of the teams in the middle of the pack makes predicting the Big Ten race largely a guessing game, and the first set of Pomeroy numbers seem to show that, outside of Wisconsin, he feels that the rest of the league is wide open.
  5. Tis the season for lists and preseason superlatives, and the Big Ten was well represented in SBNation‘s list of the top 100 college basketball players. Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky (#8) and Michigan’s Caris LeVert (#9) both cracked the top 10 nationally, while Nebraska’s Terran Petteway (#15) and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson (#26) made it into the top 30. All told, 15 B1G players made the cut, which left the league tied for second among power conferences with the Big 12. The SEC had the most players on this list with 16, six of whom play for Kentucky alone. The post also listed 50 more players who just missed the cut, which included Penn State senior guard DJ Newbill and Wisconsin sophomore Nigel Hayes.
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Will Wisconsin Make It Back to the Final Four? An Argument For Yes…

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 16th, 2014

Welcome back, Big Ten readers. Just like Wisconsin, most of our B1G microsite team is returning from last year. And speaking of the Badgers, there’s no doubt that they’re the overwhelming favorite to win the conference this season, as over 80 percent of their scoring and minutes played from their Final Four roster returns. That said, getting back to the Final Four is no easy task. Aside from the unpredictable nature of the NCAA Tournament itself, the Badgers will have to compete with several other nationally elite teams like Kentucky, Duke and Arizona. The likelihood that the Badgers return to the Final Four has sparked an internal debate between fellow B1G contributor Deepak Jayanti and myself. I think this Wisconsin team is special, and will indeed make it to Indianapolis next April — so, in my first post of the year, I state my case for that belief.

Sam Dekker and his NBA-game could lead the Badgers to another Final Four.  (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker and his NBA potential could lead the Badgers to another Final Four. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Here are three reasons why the Badgers will make it two Final Fours in row.

  • Lots and lots of talent. This season’s Wisconsin roster may be the most talented in the Bo Ryan era. Sam Dekker, a junior wing, is a rarity in Madison as a former top 20 national recruit. He upped his production from his freshman season by chipping in 12.4 PPG and 6.1 RPG last year, but beyond his statistics, Dekker’s potential is evident when he’s working on the perimeter, where he’s big enough to shoot over his defender and athletic enough to beat him off the dribble and finish with a vicious dunk. And if you can believe it, he actually grew two more inches over the summer and managed to impress many observers at the LeBron camp. Add in the likely Preseason Big Ten POY, Frank Kaminsky, and the Badgers easily have the best frontcourt in the conference by a wide margin.  Kaminsky was the Badgers’ leading scorer and rebounder at 12.7 PPG and 6.7 RPG last season, and he was the most efficient scorer in the conference to boot.  The rest of the starting five – Traveon Jackson, Josh Gasser, and Nigel Hayes – are all high-quality players who have played significant minutes in pressure-filled situations. With all of that experience and two certain future pros in Dekker and Kaminsky, this doesn’t look like your typical Wisconsin team.

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On Wisconsin, Bo Ryan and the Future…

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 16th, 2014

At the start of the season, we, along with most everyone else, slated Wisconsin to finish in its usual place among the top four of the Big Ten standings, but also noted that the team would once again be limited in what it could accomplish in the NCAA Tournament. Examining the preseason roster, we thought the Badgers would be be better on the perimeter with the return of the Josh Gasser; we knew Sam Dekker was a pro talent, the likes of which doesn’t usually wear a Wisconsin uniform; but we also wondered whether Frank Kaminsky was capable of stepping up and playing at the level that Jarred Berggren had provided. Without mincing words, we were wrong. Six months and a Final Four appearance later, we now know that these Badgers were the most talented squad Bo Ryan has coached in Madison, and although they came up just short of a shot at the title, next season looks even brighter. Almost the entire roster is coming back and Wisconsin will be projected as an elite team by almost every prognosticator based on this year’s run. A run to the Final Four wasn’t supposed to happen with this group, so how’d they do it?

Bo Ryan has finally reached college basketball's mountain top.

Bo Ryan has finally reached college basketball’s mountain top. (AP)

Wisconsin’s 30-8 season was built on the talents of individual players who outperformed expectations and this particular squad’s great offensive chemistry in Ryan’s system. The junior Kaminsky emerged as a terrific college player and a legitimate future contender for National Player of the Year. After averaging only 4.2 PPG and 1.8 RPG in 2012-13 behind Berggren, Kaminsky led the Badgers in scoring (13.9 PPG) and rebounding (6.3 RPG) and was the second-most efficient player in the conference (127.5 Offensive Rating). Additionally, Nigel Hayes went from an unheralded high school recruit to a spot on the All-Big Ten freshmen team behind his 7.7 PPG and 2.8 RPG. The emergence of a viable scoring frontcourt — combined with a versatile wing like Dekker and a deep shooting back court in Traevon Jackson, Brust, and Gasser — created the most potent offense Ryan has ever put on the floor. By the end of the season, the Badgers carried an adjusted offensive efficiency of 1.21 points per possession (fourth in the country).

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Opportunity Missed, But a Season to Cherish for Wisconsin

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 7th, 2014

Saturday night’s wild finish between Kentucky and Wisconsin offered yet another poignant display of the vast range of emotions that this Tournament is capable of causing. While the Wildcats celebrated another stirring victory, the Badgers saw their season end in the most sudden, grief-inducing of fashions. Bo Ryan’s team was seconds away from heading to the National Championship game as favorites. One seismic moment later, and both season and dream were finished. So is life in the emotional rollercoaster that is the NCAA Tournament, but less-than-glorious conclusion notwithstanding, the Badgers accomplished plenty this season. In the wake of Saturday night’s classic, here are three thoughts on Wisconsin’s 2013-14.

After Saturday's Crushing Final Four Defeat, Bo Ryan, Traevon Jackson And The Rest Of The Returning Badgers Will Seek A Happier Ending Next Winter

After Saturday’s Crushing Final Four Defeat, Bo Ryan, Traevon Jackson And The Rest Of The Returning Badgers Will Seek A Happier Ending Next Winter

  1. Even after a brilliant season, to ignore the Badgers’ missed opportunity would be both near-sighted and disrespectful. Of course, Kentucky had much to do with seizing victory from the Badgers on Saturday night, but Wisconsin should not be misconstrued as a “had a great run, was just happy-to-be-here” type of team. Final Fours don’t grow on trees, especially during those chilly Madison winters (this was just the program’s third national semifinal appearance), but this Badger team was talented, well-coached and legitimately elite. They had every right to believe that they could leave Dallas as champions – especially after Florida fell in the first semifinal. Wisconsin should be lauded for a fine season, but frustration is only fair when visions of a National Championship were as salient as they were for the Badgers.
  2. Next season, the Badgers’ senior backcourt tandem of Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser may be the toughest, most experienced pair of guards in America. The duo will be forever frozen on the wrong end of Final Four history – Jackson for his missed jumper on the game’s final possession, Gasser for his contest of the Harrison jumper – but both Badgers were integral pieces of this run, and will be cornerstones for Wisconsin success next winter. Wisconsin diehards had to know who would be taking the final shot before it happened, as Jackson has developed into a late-game go-to guy for Bo Ryan over the past two seasons. Clutch and accurate (he shot 38 percent from behind the arc this season), Jackson’s three seasons of experience have also aided his development as the perfect conductor for Ryan’s swing offense. His classmate Gasser is equally learned in the intricacies of the Badger system, although Gasser’s main value is on the defensive end of the floor. That’s saying something after a season in which he posted an O-rating of 128.6 (24th-best in the country), but Gasser will be back next year to continue his harassment of the best wings in the Big Ten.
  3. Kaminsky! So, yea, the hype surrounding Frank the Tank may have been slightly outsized after his scintillating 28-point, 11-rebound Elite Eight performance. I’m not sure how much of this has to do with the fact that Turner has a studio crew that has watched exactly zero college basketball before March (hi Charles!), but Kaminsky appeared to have become the second-coming of Dirk Nowitzki for the past seven days. Dirk he is not, but Kaminsky’s presumed return to Madison is a game-changer for the Badgers. His offensive versatility makes him a unique weapon in the college ranks, and with Nigel Hayes’ rugged athleticism offering a nice complement, Wisconsin’s interior (especially offensively) will be difficult to handle in 2014-15.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Final Four

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 4th, 2014

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#1 Florida vs. #7 Connecticut – National Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 6:09 PM ET on TBS

The Final Four tips off with a Florida team that has won 30 consecutive games facing the last team to beat it, Connecticut. The Huskies knocked off the Gators in Storrs way back on December 2 on a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beater. Although it was four months ago, much can be learned from that game. Contrary to popular belief, Florida’s top six rotation players suited up for it, although Scottie Wilbekin left the game with about three minutes to play due to injury. In that contest, Florida absolutely dominated the paint by holding Connecticut to 41.4 percent shooting from two-point range and winning the rebounding battle by eight. However, the Gators lost the game at the three-point line, where they allowed the Huskies to make 11-of-24 attempts. Sixteen Florida turnovers also didn’t help matters for Billy Donovan’s team.

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Fast forward to April and the Gators’ front line is formidable as ever. While Connecticut’s interior play has improved and its rebounding has been terrific in the NCAA Tournament, facing Patric Young and the nation’s top-ranked defense will be a tall task for the Huskies. Connecticut is talented but young and raw up front. Amida Brimah and Phillip Nolan are just a freshman and sophomore, respectively, while DeAndre Daniels loves to drift away from the paint and is not a back-to-the-basket kind of player. For Kevin Ollie’s team to have success, Napier must continue his dominant performance and Daniels has to make jump shots. Napier and Ryan Boatright are the two constants on this team, but it is Daniels who takes it to another level when playing well. He will likely be guarded by Will Yeguete, Dorian Finney-Smith or Young, or any combination of the three. If Daniels cannot get anything going, Napier will have to score 30+ points and Connecticut will have to have another terrific night from the three-point line in order to advance to Monday night’s national championship game.

Defensively, there is no doubt that Connecticut can match Florida. The Huskies’ defense has been phenomenal all season long and doesn’t get the credit it deserves with Napier stealing the spotlight most of the time. Connecticut ranks 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency and actually has a slightly stronger interior defense than Florida when you look at opponents’ two-point percentage (one percentage point better than Florida). An important part of Ollie’s game plan will be to limit Scottie Wilbekin and prevent him from easily getting Florida into its sets and taking over the game. Easier said than done, of course.

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