In battle of big men, Wisconsin will challenge Kentucky on perimeter
The bluest of college basketball’s blue bloods are back at it, looking to add to an already overflowing trophy case. Kentucky is two wins from the game’s first 40-0 season – and more importantly its ninth national championship. The Wildcats’ next hurdle, Wisconsin in the Final Four, may be its most challenging.
UK survived a three-game stretch in which Louisville, Ole Miss (OT) and Texas A&M (double OT) pushed the Cats to the brink. Late season back-to-back road wins at Florida and LSU may become footnotes in a historic season. Ditto the Midwest Regional victory against Notre Dame.
|(1) Wisconsin vs. (1) Kentucky|
|8:49 p.m. ET Saturday | TBS|
|TEAM STREAM -- Wisconsin broadcast on truTV|
|TEAM STREAM -- Kentucky broadcast on TNT|
Or, maybe Wisconsin has the big-bodied talent to end Kentucky’s run …
Kentucky’s strength, aside from substantial depth, is its incredible length; 10 players are 6-foot-6 or taller, including 6-11 Karl-Anthony Towns and 7-footers Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein. The matchup problems UK presents – and its deftness around the basket – have been a difference-maker against many teams.
Wisconsin may prove to be different. The Badgers also are long and athletic, most notably Naismith Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky (7-0), Sam Dekker (6-9) and Nigel Hayes (6-8).
Wisconsin is going to shoot the 3-point ball. Three players have attempted more than 100 shots beyond the arc and two others – including Kaminsky and Hayes – have 90-plus. If the Badgers can draw out the Kentucky defense, it may open up the Wisconsin offense even more.
Kentucky is comfortable allowing the opposition to charge to the basket – and then swatting away the shot. Towns (87) and Cauley-Stein (65) have combined for 152 blocks and Johnson has 36; the trio has 76 percent of the team’s 264 blocked shots.
Forcing Towns and Cauley-Stein off the blocks and to the perimeter to guard against Kaminsky and Dekker will be part of the Wisconsin game plan. Shutting down the Badgers’ long-range shooting will be paramount for Kentucky. … In a highly anticipated battle of big men, this matchup will not be held only in the paint; it will be a full court game of cat and mouse.
Kentucky boasts several NCAA tournament records – appearances, games, wins, among others – but the next step toward etching its paw print on history is most important. The Wildcats’ depth (the team’s second-leading scorer, Devin Booker, has not started a game this season) and athleticism have carried the team to the Final Four. There is no reason to believe John Calipari will mess with success under an even brighter spotlight.