After the Florida/UConn showdown in the East, Wisconsin Badgers and Kentucky Wildcats will take to Arlington’s AT&T Stadium in the second game of the Final Four (Saturday, 8:45pm ET; TBS).
When John Calipari (pictured) took over the Kentucky basketball program in 2009, not only did he make it a success but he also seemingly initiated a new precedent. Under Calipari, the Wildcats started five different lineups each year. They never retained more than two players from the previous year and no player stayed past their sophomore year. As such, Kentucky has been known as the “one-and-done school.”
Calipari has been widely criticized for this method but it has paid off both for him, the school and the players. In all, 17 of Calipari’s players have been drafted, 13 of which were drafted in the first round. Kentucky has made three Final Four appearances (three of the last four) with these teams and won the 2012 Men’s Championship as well.
Having to rebuild with a new team every year has not been a problem for Kentucky and it might even be said that this philosophy has helped them. For NBA-ready stars, they have just one chance at a title and as has shown, the fight and determination comes out the most in these situations. This year is no different.
Kentucky has started a lineup that includes projected first round pick Julius Randle (15.1 PPG, 10.7 RPG) and the Harrison twins, Andrew (11 PPG) and Aaron (14.1 PPG), both of whom have been especially important as of late. These three have led the team in scoring in each of their four tournament games. Additionally, Randle has secured a double-double in each of the four games as well.
With Randle, the Harrison twins, James Young and Dakari Johnson; Kentucky is once again going with an all-freshmen lineup. Normally, this lack of experience could prove detrimental but for Kentucky, they have all the experience they need in Calipari.
Calipari has shown an ability to coach freshmen and then when some or all of them declare for the draft a year later, to do it again. His teams are built on sheer talent and athleticism and once again, without experience, another one of his all-freshmen teams has a real chance to win a championship.
Defense Wins Championships
It’s the biggest cliché in sports but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. The adage has been proved time and again and on Saturday, both of these teams will once again have a chance to show why defense does indeed win championships.
Kentucky is not an offensive team by any means. They rank 46th in points per game, 260th in rebounds per game and 115th in field goal percentage. Wisconsin, the technically superior team, is not much better. They rank 92nd in PPG, 216th in APG and 93rd in field goal percentage.
Defensively, especially on the glass, is a different story. Kentucky is a team built on physicality and size. They rank 9th in blocks per game, 19th in rebounds and most importantly, are the best when it comes to offensive rebounds. Most of their success this year has been as a result of this defense and how it has kept Kentucky in games they really had no business winning.
Wisconsin, which really was the surprise of the Big 10, ranks 12th in defensive rebounds per game. They are not as big as Kentucky but the team can hold its own.
This is a strength on strength matchup and it could be a determining factor. Getting to the glass and those second chance opportunities really is a vital in a game with a shot at a championship on the line.
Getting and Staying Hot
Much like Florida and UConn, Wisconsin and Kentucky took vastly different paths to get to the Final Four. This is the first for the Badgers under 13-year head coach Bo Ryan and it happens in a season that predicted a very different Big 10 outcome. Kentucky meanwhile was supposed to be here. They were the preseason number one and were expected to make a serious run at the SEC and another championship.
Despite the differences though, both teams have in common that they got hot at the right time. Both teams are riding streaks and both teams are peaking. The only question then, is which team cools down faster?
Wisconsin’s statement win came in overtime against the #1 seeded Arizona Wildcats. In the end, led by the imposing seven-footer Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin was able to secure the victory. The team has played well throughout the tournament and Kaminsky has put up the numbers on the scoreboard. All of this bodes well for the hopes of the Badgers.
Kentucky on the other hand has needed game-winning and buzzer-beating shots almost throughout the entire tournament. Their biggest win came in the first round against #9 Kansas State. They then defeated #1 Wichita State by just two, #4 Louisville by just five and Michigan by just three.
The Wildcats have gotten lucky but believe it or not, that plays into their strengths. This is a team that knows how to come back from deficits and that has never shied away from the big moments. In Randle and the Harrison twins they also have three players who can take and make the big shots like they have proven throughout the tournament.
Kentucky Wildcats vs Wisconsin Badgers Betting Picks
When it comes to reaching the championship, Kentucky has the easier road than UConn does. That doesn’t mean though that defeating Wisconsin will be an easy task.
The Badgers are physical and if there is any team left in the tournament that can match Kentucky’s size it is them. Wisconsin has the talent as well and in Kaminsky, definitely has a secret weapon.
That said, Kentucky is Kentucky. While the players per se haven’t been there before, the organization has. This program knows how to handle the pressure and this year, like always, they have a plentitude of talented freshmen that know how to play the game of basketball. Plus, this is a team that almost won the SEC, losing by just one to Florida.
Expect to see that game replayed in the national championship as Florida and Kentucky should advance. The spread is small at 1.5 as it should be. This will be a close game and like it has for the Wildcats, probably will come down to that final shot which they no doubt will continue to make.