The score was tied at 66 and the Wildcats had forced a shot clock violation to turn the Irish over for the first time in over 29 minutes. The shot clock was off and the stage was set for UK to hopefully get off the last shot and turn 40 minutes of agony into a night full of euphoria for the Big Blue Nation.
The ‘Cats are chasing #9, they had hit their last 9 shots and with 9 seconds left, Calipari told Andrew Harrison to go... so he did. Harrison drew a foul, stepped up to the line with the calm disposition of a champion, and stroked two free throws to give UK the lead... but six seconds remained.
Visions of disaster danced in our heads for the next six seconds, but Willie Cauley-Stein ran step for step with Jerian Grant for 93 feet of the court (did you know he was a WR in high school, LOL). Seconds later, he disrupted the last second desperation three to win... the collective sigh of relief officially registered a 4.2 on the Richter scale. Just like that, UK was heading to a fourth Final 4 in 5 years and a clash of titans against the Wisconsin Badgers.
This promises to be a true example of the paradox of having an irresistible force and an immovable object. Kentucky is truly THE BEST defensive team in the nation and Wisconsin is truly THE BEST offensive team in the nation. Below are some of the advanced stats for each team and per usual I have highlighted advantages, then what I perceive as washes are grayed out.
- Offense: As good as Wisconsin is on offense, Kentucky is not far off their pace. The ‘Cats exemplified their efficiencies with 75% shooting in the second half against Notre Dame and making their last nine shots. Kentucky is also Kenpom's #5 most efficient team in America.
- Defense: While Wisconsin is no slouch on defense, they are #55 in Kenpom's defensive efficiency rating compared to the ‘Cats being the nation's best. What could concern BBN is that Wisconsin's offense is actually better than Notre Dame's is. We all saw how Notre Dame's game plan nearly decimated UK's quest for perfection. If UK's defense executes the way they did last Saturday... well, it was a good run.
- 3-point percentages: Wisconsin shoots it well from behind the arc, just ask Arizona. The Badgers shot an out of this world 10 for 12 from three in the second half. Sam Dekker did half that damage by going 5-5 and ripping the soul right out of all the Arizona players and fans with less than 20 seconds left.
Aside from the anomaly against Arizona, Wisconsin shoots a high percentage due to the swing offense they run. They create mismatches and when the help comes, the open shooter simply fires away. Kentucky must avoid this if they want to live to see Monday
- Offensive Rebounds: This is one of those "game within the game" statistics to watch, and falls right in line with the immovable object and irresistible force paradox. UK is the 6th best Offensive Rebounding team in America; Wisconsin is the 4th best defensive rebounding team. Something has to give here and it could be a BIG key to who wins.
- Blocks: Kentucky blocks shots twice as well as Wisconsin and The Badgers have yet to face a team as big as UK. This could be a difference for Kentucky if they can create extra possessions.
I believe this matchup is a game too early, unfortunately. These are the two best teams in America and should be meeting Monday night in the Championship game. Wisconsin vs. UK pits the best offense and the best defense against each other. Both teams have skill at all positions, and both teams could get big games from anyone.
I think Kentucky will not have the same problems on defense they had against Notre Dame. To start, Notre Dame converted pick and rolls and abused our inability to cover it. Wisconsin does not emphasize the pick and roll, although they could. Notre Dame also took advantage of Kentucky's propensity to have multiple guys attack the penetrator and block the shot by having the floor spread and allowing a guy like Auguste to follow everything.
While Wisconsin will indeed spread the floor like Notre Dame, they have a different modus operandi. Wisconsin likes to spread the offense and isolate Kaminsky down low to start. This gives them a potential one-on-one situation, if that is not good enough then they will use Kaminsky to up-screen the lead guard. This inverts the offense and gives them a guard posting up, leaving Kaminsky floating for a three pointer on the perimeter if left open.
It will be different against UK because Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, or even Dakari Johnson (check last year) can check him in the one on one scenario. The up-screen to create a guard mismatch will not work well against a 6'6" Aaron Harrison or Andrew Harrison either.
When Tyler Ulis is in the game, the way Kentucky switches on screens it is unlikely that Ulis would be caught on the block defending a bigger guard. The argument there is then he is guarding 7-foot Kaminsky on the perimeter but my guess is that Cal would have no problem with Kaminsky taking a three pointer with Ulis defending him.
I also think Bo Ryan will stick to his guns on his offensive game plan and essentially go best on best. Essentially, here is what we have, who is the better unit? The reason the Irish were so successful is because they realized early that Kentucky was refusing to give up threes and instead of try and outplay UK and force the perimeter game, they took what was given and executed it to perfection.
I believe the x-factor(s) in this game lies in Sam Dekker and Trey Lyles. Both guys are very skilled big men with guard attributes. Coach Cal has said that Trey is the x-factor many times and I think that applies to Dekker also. Dekker is coming off consecutive career games and playing his best ball. If Kaminsky goes for 29 and Dekker for 27 like against Arizona... well, it was a good ride, Big Blue.
Speaking of Frank the Tank, Kaminsky is likely to get his and have a great game; I know we held him in check last year without Towns or Cauley-Stein but he is a year older and better and I think he has a chip on his shoulder about it. The million-dollar question is will we allow Dekker to light us up or keep him confined.
I think Kentucky's athletic prowess plus having Towns, Cauley-Stein, and Lyles added to a team that returned the core of the team that beat Wisconsin last year is the deciding factor. I think this will be a beautiful game as well, neither team fouls a lot, in fact nobody fouls LESS than Wisconsin. Kentucky will go from America's most likely to foul in West VA a few weeks ago to the team least likely to foul this weekend.
Both teams do not turn it over much and both teams shoot it well from the free throw line. To be honest, they are very similar on paper, but UK's size, depth, athleticism, and top 5 offense vs. their 55th ranked defense will be enough to overcome the Badgers and deny a potential national title to Bo Ryan in consecutive seasons.