Far be it for NCAA Basketball handicappers to tell Coach Calipari or Coach Ryan how to win Saturday's Final Four. The Kentucky Wildcats and Wisconsin Badgers have 73 wins between 'em.
As interested observers, who may very well take a financial stake in Saturday's game, we're tying to think out how this game might play out; who might win, and how. Here's what we came up with.
How Wisconsin Beats Kentucky
The Badgers pride themselves on playing good defense without fouling, and that trait will be crucial to their chances for success Saturday. It will also be severely tested, especially on the inside, where Wisconsin's bigs, basically their best players, will have to battle that huge Kentucky front line, with few fouls to spare. And if Frank Kaminsky and/or Sam Dekker get into foul trouble, the Badgers will be in big trouble.
Offensively Wisconsin has to do several things; challenge, in good spots, on the inside with Kaminsky, Dekker and Nigel Hayes; take dearest care of the ball; block out on the boards; and hit the open shots when they come. But if they give up second-chance buckets and experience a cold-shooting night, they'll be cooked.
At the other end of the court Wisconsin has to limit the dribble-penetration, and try to body up down low. Kaminsky and the other Badgers bigs can't pick up any cheap fouls, and they've got to box out. Dekker has gotten recent recognition for hitting some key shots recently, but over the last month or so he's also been great on the boards. And Hayes can be nifty with his hands, creating loose balls. Above all, Wisconsin has to play smart in order to cash for our NCAA Tournament Picks.
Also, the Badgers must continue to hit their free-throws. Wisconsin went 23-for-31 from the line against Arizona, 20-for-23 against North Carolina, including their last eight in a row. The Badgers will need every free point they can get.
How Kentucky Beats Wisconsin
The Kentucky 'Cats have won 38 games in a row, almost on sheer talent alone. They've won a bunch of blow-outs, and some close ones, showing an ability to raise their game at just the right times. They play great defense, pound people on the boards and create easy baskets. We're almost trying to think of ways Kentucky can lose this game, rather than the other way around.
Wisconsin has five or six guys who can all hit the open 3-pointer. A real key might be if Kaminsky can throw in a couple of 20-footers in the first half, to pull the 'Cats big guys out toward the perimeter. But if he doesn't, and Kentucky can rotate to contend the Badgers other shooters from the outside, Big Blue will be in good shape.
At the moment Dekker is attracting significant attention for his recent performances, but the Wildcats can control him. They also controlled Kaminsky in last year's meeting, holding him to just seven shots and eight points. But if Kentucky concentrates too much toward those two, that might leave other Badgers open in the 18-foot range. And those guys can knock those down.
Kentucky might also try to keep the pace hot, and wear down Wisconsin with its depth advantage.
Offensively the Wildcats will try to pound it on the inside, create some high-percentage shots and some fouls, and hit the boards. That's worked pretty much all season; why change now?
Who Will Win This Game?
It's difficult to see Kentucky getting beat, but if anybody is going to do it this season Wisconsin might be the team. The Wildcats have survived several close calls this season, against Ole Miss, Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia and Notre Dame, but the Badgers are better than all those teams, although a match-up with the Irish would have been fun to watch. And how many times can Kentucky pull games out late? Sooner or later the breaks go against you.
When these teams met in the Final Four last year Wisconsin did almost everything right, except missing a late free-throw, allowing a long 3-pointer with about five seconds left, then missing a shot in the lane at the buzzer. If the Badgers can keep their key players out of foul trouble Saturday, and hit enough threes to create space, they could win this game outright. But if the Wildcats control the inside, stick the Wisconsin bigs with some fouls, force some turnovers and defend the threes, they should come out on top.
As of Wednesday evening's NCAA Tournament Odds are trading Wisconsin at +215 on the moneyline at BetDSI.