Saturday was a phenomenal night for college basketball, and the resulting Final Four matchup between Kentucky and Wisconsin has the potential to again be decided in the final seconds.
Wisconsin is in the enviable position to rewrite history — in 2014, the Badgers defeated Oregon and Arizona in the Round of 32 and Elite Eight, respectively, before falling to Kentucky in the Final Four. This season, Wisconsin was dealt the same hand: Oregon in the Round of 32, a win over Arizona on Saturday night, and then a rematch with the Wildcats next weekend. There hasn’t been a more perfect moment for Bo Ryan to seek redemption.
And Wisconsin is poised for history. This UW team was identified before the NCAA tournament tipped as a potential David to Kentucky’s Goliath, and just as Notre Dame caused Kentucky agita for 39 minutes, Wisconsin has the tools for the upset.
It starts with Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, the two biggest mismatches in college basketball. Dekker has evolved into a nearly unstoppable scorer in isolation possessions, a wing who has the quickness to get by guards and bigs alike, can convert at the rim, and torches opponents when necessary from behind the arc. Arizona used Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the best on-ball defender in the Pac-12, to check Dekker, and the Wisconsin forward merely regrouped and then attacked in efficient fashion.
Kaminsky, similarly, has one of the best pump-fake and go games in Division I. Because he will shoot from deep, teams have to respect his perimeter game, but Kaminsky is skilled on the block and creating his own offense, the rare big man who doesn’t look like an awkward teenager when handling the ball in the half court.
Kentucky can’t be beaten by one or two players — it is a collective effort. But just as Notre Dame expertly spaced the court and lifted the front court above the free throw line, and even three point, line, Wisconsin’s offense operates much the same. Arizona didn’t have a defensive historically ranked like Kentucky, but they were still a very stingy group, and Wisconsin posted an effective field goal percentage of 105.3 percent in the second half versus the Wildcats.
If operating effectively, Wisconsin will spread the floor and use cuts, crisp ball movement, and penetration-kicks to keep UK off balance. The Irish were a minute away from the upset when coach Mike Brey allowed Jerian Grant to go hero-ball, attempting two ill-timed three-pointers out of rhythm with the rest of the offense. At the buzzer, Kentucky was again victorious. Wisconsin likely shouldn’t have that problem.
Yes, there is the issue of stopping Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wildcat big who was the team’s offense Saturday night. Kentucky didn’t miss a basket in the final twelve minutes, and most of those attempts were at the rim from Towns. But ND didn’t have a deep bench, and had an ever shallower front court — Wisconsin isn’t overly deep either, but will have a week to prep for how to double KAT and force him to pass out to the other Wildcats and let them make a play, an effective strategy for a team that isn’t outstanding offensively.
There will be countless columns in the coming days about how Wisconsin will upset Kentucky, and everyone will get way too excited for an upset that hasn’t happen (and may not happen). But as we’ve mentioned in the past, teams that invert their offense and off-set the Wildcats’ help defense have the best chance to end UK’s undefeated streak. Notre Dame almost made history, and Wisconsin could very well execute what Notre Dame could not.