Final Four Preview: Michigan State vs. Duke
WISCONSIN VS. KENTUCKY
In a rematch of last year's Final Four showdown, Wisconsin looks to dethrone undefeated Kentucky in what should be another epic battle. Kentucky sunk the Badgers last year when guard Aaron Harrison drilled a three-pointer in the final seconds to win by a point. Wooden Award front-runner and unanimous All-American selection Frank Kaminsky will team up with co-star Sam Dekker for revenge against a Kentucky team that goes nine deep, dominates in the paint and plays excellent perimeter defense. This very well could be the national championship game in itself.
Wisconsin Badgers, West Region No. 1 Seed
Unlike like their bigger teammates, Wisconsin's guards are not stars. They are excellent caretakers who can nail a three-pointer on occasion. The unit is deeper with the return of Traevon Jackson, who missed 19 games with a broken foot. Jimmy Jackson's son forms a decent trio with senior Josh Gasser and sophomore Bronson Koenig. The three guards averaged just 2.5 turnovers this season. Jackson is the weakest shooter of the three but has the best court vision. Koenig tends to over-dribble but hit 41.1 percent of his three-pointers. He scored 11 points in the Final Four loss to the Wildcats last year. Gasser will be charged with perimeter defense on Kentucky's Harrison twins. He has hit at least one three-pointer in 12 of his last 13 games.
If the NCAA Tournament has taught us anything, it is that Wisconsin's frontcourt is a diverse and talented crew. The Badgers are led by 7-foot Frank Kaminksy, who averages 18.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. He was limited to eight points and five boards in last year's loss to Kentucky, and this year's Wildcats are better defensively. Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes can hit perimeter jumpers and attack the basket. All three will need to clear the boards continually against the bigger Wildcats and make sure that Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns does not get much room to operate near the basket.
Kentucky has a surprising number of returning players (for the supposed one-and-done program) from last year's Final Four team, but the Badgers have upperclassmen. Wisconsin has the edge in experience, and the team could be fueled by last year's close loss that saw Mr. Irrational Confidence, Aaron Harrison, hit a game-winning three-pointer with seven seconds remaining. The Wildcats may also be burdened by history with their undefeated record. If the Badgers can use both experience and lowered expectations to their advantage, they might create some history of their own.
Who They Beat to Get Here:
Coastal Carolina, 86-72
North Carolina, 79-72
They'll Win If:
they hit a high percentage of three-pointers and keep the game close. Kaminsky is going to have to play better interior defense than he did against Arizona to slow down Towns and the other Kentucky bigs. The Badgers will need to hit their perimeter shots to loosen up the Wildcats defense. Wisconsin's forwards will also have to stay out of foul trouble.
-- Perry Missner
Kentucky Wildcats, Midwest Region No. 1 Seed
Kentucky's backcourt is led by 6-6 sophomores who happen to be twins. Aaron Harrison averages 11.0 points per game while Andrew averages 9.2. Both average more than 25 minutes per game, and they're both great defenders. They possess great size and length for their position, which makes it difficult for smaller guards to get open shots, or get to the rim. While the twins offer experience and leadership, the two guards who come off the bench possess more overall talent. Freshman guard Devin Booker is the team's best scorer, shooting 47 percent from the floor and 41 percent from long range. He's second on the team with 10.1 points per game, averaging just 21.6 minutes per game. Backup point guard Tyler Ulis, also a freshman, leads the team in three-point shooting (42 percent) and assists (3.7 per game). He's extremely quick, which allows him to get into the paint and distribute to open shooters. All four would start on most teams, and the exceptional depth provides coach John Calipari with all sorts of viable options.
Why are the Wildcats undefeated? Because their frontcourt is absolutely huge. Freshman Trey Lyles plays the three for Kentucky at a daunting 6-10, which makes him the third tallest starter on the floor. Fellow freshman Karl-Anthony Towns is 6-11, while junior forward Willey Cauley-Stein tops out at 7-foot. Not only are they big, but they're athletic and extremely talented. Towns is a projected lottery pick in this year's NBA Draft, if not the No. 1 overall selection. He averages 10.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. Towns is an elite rim protector and is getting better by the minute.
The Wildcats are blessed with endless depth, which gives them quite an advantage from the opening tip. Ten players average double-digit minutes, including eight who average at least 20 minutes. They are well balanced with tremendous talent up and down the roster. Depth might be what separates them from the three reaming teams in the end.
Who They Beat to Get Here:
West Virginia, 78-39
Notre Dame, 68-66
They'll Win If:
they win the turnover battle. Kentucky's size and length creates nightmares for opposing offenses, and the Wildcats rely on defense to create offense. The Wildcats rank fourth in the nation in blocks at 7.5 per game, and as long as they defend at a high level and force turnovers, they'll have a great shot to win. On the flip side, the Wildcats need to limit their own mistakes. The last thing they can do is give Wisconsin easy buckets in transition. The Wildcats committed double-digit turnovers in both of their overtime games this year, against Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
-- David Soda
The win over Arizona may have been good training ground for Wisconsin. The problem is that Kentucky is deeper and better defensively than Arizona. Notre Dame had success against the vaunted Wildcats defense with ball movement and the threat of raining three-pointers. The Badgers will need to be vigilant on the defensive boards. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, it just doesn't measure up to one of the best defensive teams in college basketball history. Kentucky will win, and it may not be as close as the win over the Fighting Irish (or last year's Final Four game).
It's hard to bet against a team that enters 38-0. Kentucky opened as a six-point favorite in Vegas, but has since slid back to five, which means the public likes Wisconsin to keep it close. In most cases, it's wise to fade the public, but not here. Wisconsin will get revenge for last year's Final Four loss to the Wildcats. The Badgers are one of few teams who can match Kentucky's overall size and talent. They're battle tested after playing in a much better conference, which has two teams in the Final Four. They shoot it well, and they make their free throws late, which are crucial to winning close games. Wisconsin is led by the best player in the country in Frank Kaminsky, and the emergence of 6-9 Sam Dekker makes the Badgers a formidable matchup with Kentucky. Wisconsin in a close one, 66-63.