College Hoops fans, gamblers and handicappers rejoice, as a pair of No. 1 seeds meets in Lucas Oil Stadium, when the Wisconsin Badgers and Kentucky Wildcats square off in the nightcap of the Final Four.
Wisconsin Badgers vs Kentucky Wildcats (-5) 8:45 EST TBS
The winner goes on to play the victor of the previously contested Michigan St./Duke game. These teams met in the Final Four last year with Kentucky emerging as a 74-73 victor, courtesy of a 3 pointer in the waning seconds. There is plenty to love about both teams; let’s consider the basics first. Wisconsin enters on a 10-game winning streak, with a 35-3 record. This includes 20-2 away from Madison. In those 22 games, they lost only once by more than this number (6 at Maryland). Kentucky has won 38 games, half of those away from Lexington. Only two of those victories have come by fewer than 5 points. Let’s go inside the numbers to determine where the edges may lie.
NCAA Tournament Odds favored Wisconsin is exquisitely coached by 14th year mentor, Bo Ryan. The “MO” for his teams is consistent year after year. The mantra is to take care of the basketball, do not commit any fouls, and rebound. Wisconsin has exceeded even the loftiest expectations of everyone in those three categories. They turn the ball over just 7.4 times per game, the best in the nation. They also commit the fewest fouls of any team in the nation. A +6 rebound margin means they will be competitive on the boards in this game. The defense is superb, allowing just 56 PPG. Offensively they shoot 48% from the field, and convert 76% from the stripe. This is a senior oriented team led by Play of the Year candidate Kaminski, and fellow big mean Decker, who is having a lights out Tournament. Original starting PG Jackson has returned to add depth on the perimeter. There are few negatives to be found in the Badgers’ statistical profile. In years gone by, Wisconsin would have been at a major disadvantage with their lack of athleticism. This year, however, is one of Ryan’s most athletic teams.
Following a Sweet 16 blowout of WVU by a score of 78-39, Kentucky was a group of fat Cats when they took the court for their Elite 8 matchup against Notre Dame. Why not? They have defeated foes by an average margin of 21 PPG. The 68-66 final may be just what they needed to return the Wildcats to reality. Now, the question becomes if they can live with the pressure of being just two games away from an undefeated season. To their advantage, there may not be a better leader than 6th year HC Calipari, who has done a fantastic job of keeping a freshmen-oriented team loose throughout the entire season, while subjugating their egos. With a trio of 7-footers on the interior, the defensive prowess of Kentucky is represented by numbers that include a 7.5 rebound margin, a 54 PPG defense that allows just 35% from the field and 27% from the arc. For a team of this size, they are excellent ball handlers with a 14.7/10.6 assist/TO margin, and a +3.5 net TO margin. Though freshmen by class, 38 consecutive wins makes this more a team of sophomores.
Must love the coaching of Bo Ryan and the season he has authored for his Badgers. The combination of more athleticism than usual combined with excellent fundamentals means this team and their 35-3 SU mark are for real. No doubt the pressure is building on the Wildcats, but at this price point with a defense as good as it is, it will be far harder than usual for the Badgers’ swing offense to get into gear. Even more meaningful is the fact that Wisconsin plays man-to-man defense almost 100% of the time. After facing the zone defenses for much of the year, the Wildcats will be salivating at the opportunity to blow by the slower Wisconsin defenders. Place your NCAA Tournament Picks accordingly, as eventually, Kentucky makes a spurt with the Badgers unable to respond.
NCAA Tournament Picks: Take Kentucky Wildcats -5 at Pinnacle Sports