So we meet again. The Kentucky Wildcats and the Wisconsin Badgers prepare for their second consecutive matchup in Final Four play – only the third time in NCAA history that that has happened. Last year’s game was a classic with an Aaron Harrison last second three-point shot sealing a famous 74-73 victory. Both of these teams are better than they were one year ago and there’s no reason to think that another classic Final Four game isn’t in store.
Kentucky’s pursuit of perfection has reached 38-0. Their next hurdle is their toughest yet this season, and already looks potentially tougher than a national championship match up against either Duke or Michigan State. There’s been nothing “perfect” about the Wildcats’ run through this tournament. They didn’t look great against Cincinnati in round three and were taken to the wire by a small Notre Dame team in the Elite Eight. Offensively they have been sporadic at best.
The lesson for Wisconsin from the Fighting Irish game is that if you hit your shots, you can put pressure on Kentucky’s offense, which isn’t the most dynamic. The other lesson is that Karl-Anthony Towns has the ability to make everything you think you know about Kentucky’s offense redundant. After collecting just nine points combined in the previous two games, Towns exploded in the second half against Notre Dame finishing with 25 points and being near enough unstoppable, especially in the last five minutes.
John Calipari’s mantra all season long has been to play as many players as possible and to focus on elite defense first, second and third. It’ll be interesting to see if he turns that around a little now. Big games are won by big players and Towns is this team’s big player.
The Badgers aren’t without their own big guys either though. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker have been exceptional in this tournament and they were at their very best against the Arizona Wildcats in that Elite Eight matchup. Kaminsky finished with 29 points, Dekker scored 27 and Wisconsin lit it up from beyond the arc in the second half.
Wisconsin haven’t quite faced anyone as tall as Kentucky, but they’re got decent size and they’ve beaten a few teams with size, most notably Arizona.
This isn’t a typical Bo Ryan team defensively, they’re a little loose at times. They aren’t playing against an elite offense, but they’ll need to find a way to match Kentucky’s defense going stop-for-stop. It’ll be interesting to see how Ryan plays it, expect plenty of zone against Kentucky’s bigger lineups and there will also be a fair amount of doubling on Towns in particular.
Betting Preview: Kentucky (-5) vs. Wisconsin
This has the potential to be the game of the tournament so far and there’s an added edge to it as a rematch from that incredible contest last year. So many of these Badgers’ players return from that team, it is extraordinarily experienced for such a talented college basketball lineup. The game last year was decided by one-point and we anticipate that this one will go down to the wire as well. It’s the lowest point spread that Kentucky have been favoured by all season long, but we still recommend betting against it. This is the best chance for the Wildcats to get beaten.
The Pick: Wisconsin (+5) (www.betonline.ag)
Writer’s Record Against The Spread: 39-32