Final Four Breakdown: Kentucky vs Wisconsin
Kentucky Wildcats (38-0; Midwest Champions)
Wisconsin Badgers (35-3; West Champions)
Saturday, April 4th, 2015
Spread: Kentucky (-5)
Over/Under: 131 total points
Here we go again.
Last year’s national semifinal match up between the #2 seed Wisconsin and the #8 Seed Kentucky was one for the ages. This year, the expectations have been raised and the stakes are even higher, with both teams being chosen as #1 seeds in their side of the bracket and Kentucky sporting a perfect record looking to go into NCAA record books as one of the greatest teams in the history of college basketball. While it’s only been a calendar year, much has changed for both of these squads to make this game even more appealing, and potentially more exciting, than Aaron Harrison’s NBA 3 pointer that sealed Wisconsin’s fate in Arlington.
Wisconsin will win if:
- Sam Dekker continues to be the NCAA Tournament’s most dangerous player: Against Arizona, he put together a 2nd half that showed just how special a talent he is and that he can dominate a game if he gets hot. If Dekker is able to find his shot against a combination of Trey Lyles and possibly Karl Anthony Towns, it can open up cutting lanes for Wisconsin guards and make the Kentucky defense play in an uncomfortable position, similar to what Notre Dame did during their Elite Eight classic.
- The Badgers dominate the Offensive Glass and second chance points: Kentucky has been outrebounded on the offensive glass pretty frequently in the tournament, and their aggressive nature has been used against them for weak side rebounds and extra passes taking their shot blockers out of the play. Wisconsin needs to keep the pressure on Kentucky by taking advantage of every scoring opportunity the Wildcats allow, because they don’t allow much.
- Harrison Brothers go cold: Aaron & Andrew have been about as clutch as you can be during this year’s remarkable run. More than just the offensive facilitators, the Harrison brothers play quality perimeter defense to assist their big guys and allow for Kentucky to get out on the break and into good offensive situations. They are also adept at making the big plays when it counts. Towns, Lyles, & Cauley-Stein are going to do their thing, but one or both of the twins seem to factor into the equation in the biggest times. If Wisconsin can make a play or two late, that can turn the game into their favor
Kentucky will win if:
- They continue to play Wildcat Defensive basketball: Wisconsin boasts a unique offensive skill set and one that it is very easy to gamble against and play outside of your comfort zone. Kaminsky is a threatening shooter on the outside and the aforementioned Dekker is a total package with an ability to get lava hot. Also, Nigel Hayes (when he’s not stumbling over his words) is another tough cover and a big guy that can make teams pay if left alone. Kentucky has seen it all this season, and they need to stay consistent defensively, understanding that they can’t stop everything; they just need to keep with the program.
- They don’t let the pressure get to them: Being so close to perfection has to be unnerving for a group of young men who’ve just recently cleared the legal drinking limit. How these guys are getting any sleep without mega dosages of Ambien is beyond me. This should be a very close game throughout, and the intensity level will be utterly volcanic. That said, they’ve weathered the immense attention and expectations well thus far, and coach Cal has them focusing on today, not what might be. They are almost there, but they can’t get caught looking ahead.
- The All Americans do what they were brought to Kentucky to do: The biggest contributors from last season’s game were Julius Randle (NBA), James Young (NBA) and Dakari Johnson (backup). This season’s Wildcats aside from the Harrisons boast two more All American freshmen in Towns & Lyles along with a much improved Willie Cauley-Stein. Which one or two, will pick up the slack and provide the consistency needed to push Kentucky past their rivals?
Kentucky is more talented, but Wisconsin is hungry, loose and knows they have nothing to lose. We’ve seen the Wildcats tested time and again and come away unscathed, and Saturday should be another classic that sees Big Blue dancing on to a date with destiny. However, this line is a bit high given both team’s reputations for playing tight contests. I think this comes down to another last minute opportunity, so take the points and the over.
Benjamin C. Mack