Today, Kentucky will face the Wisconsin Badgers in the Final Four. Wisconsin has a proud basketball history, although most of it is recent and has been generated by their coach of 13 seasons, Bo Ryan. Ryan has turned the Badgers into a consistent contender in the Big Ten, and has made the NCAA tournament in each of his seasons as head coach. Before Ryan, the Badgers had made seven NCAA tournaments, winning one in 1941, making it to the Elite Eight in 1947 and the Final Four in 2000.
Wisconsin's success in the modern era began with Stu Jackson in 1993, who came from the New York Knicks to coach in Madison. As an interesting aside, Stan Van Gundy, late of the Orlando Magic, followed Jackson as the Badgers coach, but only for the 1994-95 season.
Dick Bennett followed Van Gundy and took the Badgers to one NIT and three NCAA Tournaments including the 2000 Final Four before retiring after three games in the 2000-01 season. Brad Soderberg, his assistant, took over and coached the Badgers to their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Bo Ryan, then the coach of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was hired after the 2000-01 season.
The Badgers have been to seven Sweet Sixteens, five Elite Eights and three Final Fours. They have been awarded the Helms National Championship three times, 1912, 1914, and 1916.
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Conference: Big Ten
Head Coach: Bo Ryan (Since 2001)
NCAA Appearances: 20
Most recent NCAA appearance: 2014
Most recent NCAA win: 2014
Last season's record: 23-12, 12-6
Source: Basketball State
Season so far for Wisconsin:
Season record: 30-7, (12-6 in conference)
Wisconsin has had an outstanding season. The badgers started out 16-0 before finally hitting a rough patch, losing to the Indiana Hoosiers on the road, Michigan Wolverines
on the road at home, and Minnesota Golden Gophers on the road in three consecutive games. After a win over the Purdue Boilermakers, the Badgers dropped two more at home to the Northwestern Wildcats and Ohio St. Buckeyes. They then went on an eight game winning streak until finally losing their last game of the season to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. They then lost the second game of the Big Ten tournament to the Michigan St. Spartans.
The head-scratching losses to Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana and Nebraska somewhat mirror Kentucky's losses to Arkansas at home and away, South Carolina away, and LSU on the road.
Kentucky's series with Wisconsin is 3-1, and the teams have met very infrequently in history. The one victory, however, was an upset of then #4 Kentucky in Chicago in 1968.
But there was one game that is especially noteworthy, and that was the 2003 Midwest regional semifinal. If you'll remember, 2003 was the year of the Suffocats, the Kentucky team that was the first to run undefeated through a 12-team SEC and win the SEC Tournament. All that team did was crush everyone in their path until Keith Bogans went down with a high ankle sprain during the Wisconsin game in a tightly-fought contest Kentucky eventually won. Kentucky lost their next game to Marquette and Dwyane Wade, and most Wildcat fans blame the injury to Bogans for that loss.
Interestingly, that team was much more like the current Wisconsin team than this one, filled with juniors and seniors with a few talented freshmen. How times have changed. The Suffocats were my favorite Kentucky team ever, and it took me a long time to get over it when they came up just short of the Final Four.
But that's not the only memorable game between Wisconsin and Kentucky. The Badgers also happen to be the very first non-exhibition opponent the Wildcats ever faced in now-historic Rupp Arena, to a crowd of 23,266 people on November 27th, 1976.
|1||Ben Brust||S**||G||6-1||196||Sr.||Hawthorn Woods, IL||37||12.8||4.5||1.4|
|12||Traevon Jackson||S**||G||6-2||208||Jr.||Westerville, OH||37||10.7||3.8||4.0|
|15||Sam Dekker||S**||F||6-7||220||So.||Sheboygan, WI||37||12.4||6.1||1.4|
|21||Josh Gasser||S*+||G||6-3||190||Jr.||Port Washington, WI||37||8.9||4.0||1.9|
|44||Frank Kaminsky||S**||F||7-0||234||Jr.||Lisle, IL||37||14.1||6.4||1.3|
|10||Nigel Hayes||MR||F||6-7||250||Fr.||Toledo, OH||37||7.8||2.9||0.9|
|24||Bronson Koenig||MR||G||6-3||190||Fr.||La Crosse, WI||36||3.3||1.3||1.1|
|11||Jordan Hill||R||G||6-3||170||Fr.||Pasadena, CA||11||0.6||0.3||0.1|
|13||Duje Dukan||R||F||6-9||220||Jr.||Deerfield, IL||37||2.7||1.4||0.2|
|30||Vitto Brown||R||F||6-8||237||Fr.||Bowling Green, OH||13||0.5||0.9||0.2|
|32||Evan Anderson||R||C||6-10||245||Jr.||Stanley, WI||14||0.4||0.2||0.1|
|34||Zach Bohannon||R||F||6-6||206||Sr.||Marion, IA||14||0.9||0.4||0.0|
|2||Jordan Smith||R*-||G||6-1||180||JR||Orono, Minn.|
|33||Zak Showalter||R*-||G||6-2||192||SO||Germantown, Wis.|
|5||Aaron Moesch||R-||F||6-8||200||FR||Green Bay, Wis.|
|35||Riley Dearring||R-||G||6-5||180||FR||Minnetonka, Minn.|
|3||George Marshall||R*#||G||5-11||182||So.||Chicago, IL||2||2.0||0.0||0.5|
|+||Redshirt last season|
|-||Redshirt this season|
Source: Wisconsin official athletic site
|Rank and Records||UK||WISC|
|Strength of Schedule||#2||#3|
|RPI Top 50||7-6||10-4|
Wisconsin Team Notes
Wisconsin takes fantastic care of the basketball. They are second in Division I in turnover percent at only 12.7% of possessions. this is a big reason why they are so efficient offensively.
Wisconsin shoots very well, but not spectacularly, from all points on the floor. They are in the top 60 in 2-point field goal percent, 3-point field goal percent, and free throw percent. They basically shoot the ball well from everywhere.
Wisconsin is not a great defensive team. They are a little undersized other than Kaminsky with three starters under 6'5". They are not particularly good on-ball defenders as a group, although none of them is what you would call "bad."
The Badgers are athletic, but not spectacularly so. They can go quite stagnant offensively with Kaminsky on the bench.
Wisconsin is an outstanding defensive rebounding team.
The Badgers are about eight deep overall, but most games they are only seven deep with spot minutes elsewhere. They lack overall size in their main rotation, with their effective height only 48th in Division I. By comparison, Kentucky is 8th.
Wisconsin Player notes
Frank Kaminsky is a very good offensive player. He is an average defensive player. He is a good but not great rebounder on both sides of the ball.
Ben Brust has a very quick first step and is a deadly shooter from range. He has the 9th best turnover rate in the nation and commits fewer fouls than all but one person. He also plays 86.2% of available minutes. He takes the lion's share of the threes, though.
Josh Gasser is another lethal shooter in a stable full that Wisconsin has, but he doesn't take a ton of shots from the arc. Gasser is a very efficient offensive player, much like Kaminsky.
Reserve forward Nigel Hayes is the Badger's best defensive player, and leads the team in fouls drawn.
Traevon Jackson is the team's best passer and facilitator, and gets to the line quite a bit.
- Wisconsin: No injuries to report
- Kentucky: Willie Cauley-Stein is doubtful with an ankle injury.
- Traevon Jackson vs. Andrew Harrison — This is an excellent matchup in several ways. Jackson is shorter than Harrison by three or four inches, but he's almost as thick and strong. He's a junior and has been here before. Andrew is bigger and has been playing like a leader lately.
- Ben Brust vs. Aaron Harrison — Brust has a big size disadvantage against Harrison, but he will test Andrew with his quickness. He gets his shot off very quickly and needs just a crack to knock it down. Harrison is bigger, stronger, and far more physical, and it will be hard for Brust to handle him one-on-one. Andrew has been playing spectacularly well, and will be able to shoot at will.
- Josh Gasser vs. James Young — Gasser is at a significant size disadvantage versus Young, and defensively, I'm not sure what he's going to do. Young is much longer as well as being three inches taller, is at least as good an athlete, and rebounds well for his position. Gasser is a knock-down shooter, but Young's length is going to give him trouble.
Sam Dekker vs. Julius Randle — Sam Dekker is a really good player — athletic, strong, can shoot the ball and finishes above the rim. Unfortunately, although Julius Randle only has a couple of inches on him, he has 30+ pounds and is unquestionably the stronger man. As athletic as Dekker is, he is unlikely to be able to handle the kind of quickness Randle has with his feet.
If Dekker were matched up with Young, I'd probably give Dekker the nod, but he cannot defend Julius Randle without a lot of help. He's long enough, but not strong enough.
- Frank Kaminsky vs. Dakari Johnson — Kaminsky is far and away the best offensive player Wisconsin has. He will be a near-impossible matchup for Johnson because of his quickness, size, and ability to shoot from the outside. Johnson will no doubt bury him in the post on offense, but Kaminsky is the better player at the position by a lot.
Wisconsin's bench is not particularly deep, but it is very utilitarian. Nigel Hayes gets significant minutes from there, and he is the only player on the team capable of guarding Julius Randle. You may therefore see starter's minutes from him, but he is only a freshman like Randle, and not as skilled offensively as Dekker. Bronson Koenig is a streaky guard with good size who can sometimes light it up from the perimeter like he did against Iowa. He is a tough cover for either Dominque Hawkins or Jarrod Polson, but like the rest of Wisconsin's guards, not a big mismatch with either.
Alex Poythress is a much better matchup for Dekker and Hayes than Randle is, although Poythress out-athletes both of them. Okay, Poythress out-athletes everybody on both teams. That's just the way it is.
This is a matchup of the unstoppable force vs. the unstoppable force — which probably means that when the whistle finally blows, the two teams are going to mutually annihilate each other and take the universe with them. Been nice knowing y'all.
Seriously, though, it looks to me like neither of these teams can stop the other. That's why I see this game as offensive Armageddon, because the one guy who can defend Frank Kiminsky, Willie Cauley-Stein, is going to be unavailable tomorrow. And even if he is available, Kaminsky is just going to attack his right leg, where his lateral quickness is the most diminished. If he plays, all he's likely to be is five extra fouls.
Wisconsin's offense is way different than anything we've seen this season. What they like to do is set Kaminsky at the top of the key for a pick and roll or pick and pop. If that's not there, he will often simply attack the rim with a drive, several spins and fakes, and wind up at the rim. He's tough to defend, and I think he's too quick for Dakari Johnson, and too thick for Marcus Lee. But defend him we must.
It's not easy to double-team Kaminsky either, because he's a good passer and will find the open shooter. Wisconsin may be a little undersized, but all their guys can shoot the basketball from the outside. I don't know if UK can double-team Kaminsky and rotate quickly enough once they dislodge the ball. They may need to try to trap him hard, and hope it disrupts his vision. It's definitely a conundrum that Kentucky will need to find a solution to.
It may well be that Calipari will just take his chances with Kaminsky. The kid only averages a little over 14 points per game, and although he's been splendid in the tournament, he doesn't look like the kind of player who's going to go off for 40 (although he actually did do that once this season against North Dakota in an a game that featured an orgy of offense). But Kentucky is not UND.
Kaminsky aside, the Wildcats must get out in transition. This is not the Wisconsin team of 2011 that ground games down to a crawl at under 58 possessions per game. This iteration of the Badgers plays about the same pace the Wildcats do, and like to get early offense going. They love to shoot an early three if they can get it, and the Wildcats must match up with their man very early.
Defensively, Wisconsin is going to struggle with Kentucky. Nobody on the team can really guard Randle. Wisconsin fans like to make a big deal out of freshman forward Nigel Hayes, and for a fact, he is a physical specimen. But he gives up 2 inches and a ton of quickness to Randle, not to mention the fact that Randle is simply one of the best post players in the nation, and the fact that Heyes only averages about 17 minutes per game. Who's going to guard Randle for the other 23 minutes?
I've also noticed that Wisconsin really struggles against zone defenses with Kaminsky on the bench. Word to the wise for Calipari — consider zoning the Badgers with Kaminsky on the pine, and even when he's not.
Overall, I look at it this way — Wisconsin has one matchup advantage, and Kentucky has three. When you look at it that way (assuming, of course, you agree with my evaluations), that should give the Wildcats an edge. That reckons without injuries, or unusually bad play by one person or the other, or just a flat out hot shooting spell which are also part of college basketball. But overall, I like Kentucky's odds in this one. Not by a lot, but I'll take them. Kentucky is more talented overall, and although they are younger and not as much of a team, that has gotten them past the one seed, the two seed, and the four seed in the the Midwest Region.
Nobody else has had a road that tough. Why stop now?