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Yet again, John Calipari is taking another team full of freshmen to the Final 4. Apparently, experience doesn’t mean a whole lot these days as seen in this Kentucky team that has one of the smallest point differentials ever in its four wins in the NCAA tourney. Even as an 8-seed, the Wildcats will be favored again over a Big Ten 2-seed, this time it’s Wisconsin, and the line is sitting at -2 points.
The rebounding advantage and sudden three-point ability has been the key for Kentucky in most of its wins. Out of nowhere, Aaron Harrison went off with four late three-pointers against Michigan, including the deep shot that won the game. They ended up shooting 7-of-11 from behind the arc in that win. This is a team that doesn’t have a guy that shot above 36% from deep on the year. The pieces are falling in place at the right time for UK.
The run by Wisconsin hasn’t been as surprising as they’ve showed quality throughout the year. The Badgers started the year 16-0 with wins over Florida and Virginia, and despite a rough stretch in the Big Ten, still reeled off wins at Michigan, Iowa and against Michigan State. The reason they’ve made it this far is basically because of one player, Frank Kaminsky. The kid dominated Arizona, not only with his post moves, but also because he could stretch the ‘Zona bigs out as he hit three from long range en route to 28 points and 11 rebounds.
While Kentucky does have a size and rebounding edge, you can’t forget the last two teams that Wisconsin beat. Both Baylor and Arizona are big teams that are great at rebounding, yet the Badgers are in the Final 4.
Even though Kaminsky is filling up the stat line, props have to be given to Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes. Neither one has done all that much on the offensive end in the tourney, but both have been huge in guarding the opposing team’s power forward, be it Aaron Gordon or Cory Jefferson. This time around, it’s going to be Julius Randle. This task may be the hardest yet for Dekker because Randle is a guy that simply gets the job done each night with muscle. Dekker will need help because there’s no doubt Randle can push him around. Kaminsky may be on him at times, but he’ll likely be asked to guard Dakari Johnson whenever he’s in.
On the other end, though, the Badgers have an advantage of their own. Dekker is quicker than Randle and can stretch him out, and the same can be said about Kaminsky. Johnson isn’t used to covering big men out on the perimeter.
On the outside, Kentucky’s guards have been playing incredible. Andrew and Aaron Harrison have been a main reason why the Wildcats are here. Both are scoring and limiting turnovers, while James Young is putting in baskets when needed. Their size gave problems to the hot shooting Michigan squad as Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. struggled to do much.
That’s going to be the same question in this one as Wisconsin’s guards will be undersized at all positions. Josh Gasser and Ben Brust are great shooters, while Traevon Jackson runs the show, but they aren’t going to be running past Kentucky’s guys anytime soon. Despite all of them being shooters, they only hit one combined three-pointer in their game against Arizona. If that happens again, they won’t be going to the championship game.
Can Kaminsky put the Badgers on his back again, or will the Wildcats have the answer for him? If Kaminsky can’t make a difference, it’s hard to see who will for Wisconsin, unless Dekker takes up a bigger role. The undersized guards for Wisconsin could be in for a long day on both ends of the court. If Randle or the Harrison twins can get going, that might be all Kentucky needs.
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