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Brendan Bures | | January 21, 2015

Frank the everything-but Tank

  For Wisconsin, Frank Kaminsky does a little bit of everything for the team, and then some.

When you pause and think about it, Frank “the Tank” is a silly (almost lazy) nickname. It rhymes and all, but it doesn’t really register with Frank Kaminsky and his style of play. He’s tall, not big. His body’s lanky, with some muscle and no fat. (For a 7-footer, he’s listed at 234 pounds, which causes personal concern for me, him, and maybe you).

He plays as much on the perimeter as he does down low. He can dish it from the post, elbow, top of the key, and can dribble a bit, creating his and teammates’ shots when necessary. He’s a monster rebounder, but not as much for his size and body as his instincts to place himself in correct positions possession after possession. He knocks down 3s, shooting over 40 percent for the season. Oh, and he can run the break, if all this wasn’t enough by now.

So no. Frank is very much not a tank. Kaminsky’s style, if we’re to label it, should be called Finesse Funk, blending all these different abilities into that goofy package of his. He performs a little bit of every role for Wisconsin, but plays a hybrid point forward position most of the time.

Because of his unique skillset, he stretches defenses like no other player in college basketball. Opponents must respect him on the perimeter, allowing teammates to move freely without the ball creating open shots or possible mismatches. If he receives the ball in the post and a team decides to double team Kaminksy, he can hurt opponents with a lethal dish to teammates.

Playing the Badgers requires an eye on Kaminsky wherever he is on the court at all times, generating all sorts of spacing for Wisconsin’s offense to operate. In other words, this team is a nightmare to guard with Kaminsky in the lineup.

But when he’s not present, like in Wisconsin’s 67-62 loss to Rutgers when Kaminsky was sidelined due to a concussion, well then the Badgers are vulnerable. They still played well enough, but their rhythm is off. Spacing a bit cramped, defensive rotations not as crisp, etc. It’s clear as day: They missed Frank’s Finesse Funk. (Last time, promise.)

  Kaminsky has slowly added a 3-point shot to his game, shooting over 40 percent this season.
Whether or not he’s the nation’s best player is (kind of) irrelevant: Kaminsky contributes the most individually to his team’s success out of any of the nation’s top players. Best becomes an operative word with regards to Kaminsky.

When he returned in Wisconsin’s game against Nebraska, Kaminsky scored a team-high 22 points, hitting four of five 3s (!), and grabbing five boards, leading the Badgers to a 70-55 win. And that was with shouldering more responsibility because starter Traevon Jackson broke his right foot playing Rutgers and is expected to miss six weeks. In Wisconsin’s last game vs. No. 25 Iowa, Kamisky messed around and got a double-double (and almost hit a triple-double with his six assists). The Badgers won 82-50.

With what appears to be genuine juggernauts in Kentucky and Virginia, any team aiming to take them down needs something different. Not better -- that might be impossible -- but different. Something that confounds UK and UVa, something that makes them to adapt, forcing a style that unnerves them. Last year, Kaminsky helped lead Wisconsin to the Final Four, falling victim to Kentucky and Aaron Harrison’s perpetual clutch heroics like others before them. This year, it’s going to require a tan -- er, something special -- to defeat either team. Kaminsky might just be that guy.

A Cavalier Mention

Speaking of Virginia: When Joe Harris graduated, no one expected the Cavaliers to improve. At least not like this.

The confident cause: Justin Anderson. With Harris’ shadow gone, Anderson has seized the spotlight, coalescing all his tiny offseason improvements into a cohesive package. He doesn’t play with fear or doubt any longer, driving to the basket with wreckless control, attacking wherever and whenever he wants. Anderson has become Virginia’s guy and his teammates have followed the identity he’s established for the team (along with the help of coach Tony Bennett, of course).

As Virginia prepares for its stretch run of Duke-North Carolina-Louisville following this week, we might be discussing Anderson some more depending on those games’ outcomes. But his 14.5 points per game and 50.6 field goal percentage, along with a some other intangibles, is a big reason Virginia’s firmly the second-best team in the country.

Naismith Power Rankings

Each week, we’ll rank the top players in the Naismith race. These rankings are fluid and mostly for fun, but they matter ... to someone.

1) Frank Kaminsky -- Writing 'it was surprising to learn how much Wisconsin relied upon Kaminsky’s talents' is a farce; that was always obvious. But learning just how much they need him (kind of) caught me off guard. With him, the Badgers are a top-five team. Without, they’re just above the pack.

2) Jahlil Okafor -- Expectations almost aren’t fair. At this point, if Okafor isn’t shooting above 70 percent and shrouding his dominance in an effortless air, like he did in Duke’s 63-52 win against Louisville, he’s not meeting expectations. This is the reality Okafor has created for himself. This is why he is great.

3) Willie Cauley-Stein -- He hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s still the backbone of this Kentucky team. But it’s more what the other guys have done as Willie Cauley-Stein continues fulfilling expectations. Put it this way: If this were the College Football Playoff rankings, he’s the TCU of these power rankings.



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