March Madness 2014: Wisconsin's Blueprint to Beat Kentucky in the Final Four
Wisconsin is in its first Final Four since 2000, and in doing so has helped Bo Ryan remove his name from the infamous "Best Coach Never To Make A Final Four" list.
But the Badgers aren't just content with being one of the four special teams to be a part of the festivities at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Like the other three entrants, they want to cut down the nets.
Easier said than done, however. Before Wisconsin can start dreaming of donning championship gear with its logo on it, it needs to figure out a way to get past the hottest team left in the field.
Wisconsin (30-7) faces Kentucky (28-10) at 8:49 p.m. ET on Saturday. The Badgers will have had close to a week to game-plan for the Wildcats, but in case they're still searching for answers, here's our handy blueprint on how they can beat Kentucky.
Long-Range Tank Artillery
Prior to this season, Frank Kaminsky was a little-used big man on Wisconsin's roster, a 7-footer who could shoot a three-pointer if you asked him to.
Now he's Frank the Tank.
The junior has been one of the biggest breakout stars of the 2013-14 season, bursting onto the scene back in November when he scored 43 points on 16-of-19 shooting (including 6-of-6 from three-point range) in a win over North Dakota.
He's averaging 14.1 points and shooting 52.7 percent, and is coming off a 28-point, 11-rebound effort in the Elite Eight overtime win over Arizona. Kaminsky was unstoppable against the Wildcats because of his ability to score inside and out, switching up his approach depending on the size and speed of his defender.
Kaminsky will have trouble being able to score inside against the Kentucky's beef and strength in the post, which is why having him constantly moving around will be a key for Wisconsin. Dakari Johnson isn't known as a great perimeter defender, making it possible for Kaminsky to get his shots from outside.
If the Wildcats counter with a smaller guy on him when he's outside the post, look for Wisconsin to quickly move him back inside. It's what he did against Arizona, and it should work again here.
Go In For The Kill
Unlike Wisconsin teams of the past, this year's squad has shown the ability to get up and down the court just as well as it can grind it out for a lower-scoring game. The Badgers will need to try to do the former as much as possible, especially early on, to beat Kentucky.
Kentucky has had a tendency to struggle early in the NCAA tournament, falling behind by double-digits to Louisville and Michigan in the first half. Should that happen against Wisconsin, the Badgers need to do whatever they can to keep their foot on the gas.
John Calipari uses his early timeouts as well as any coach in the game to stall momentum, so if and when that situation arises, Wisconsin must roll with that stoppage and come out of the break ready to finish off the Wildcats.
With as young a roster as Kentucky has, it's shown the ability to gain confidence as a game progresses. That won't happen if Wisconsin keeps pushing.
Mess with Traevon's Watch
Look at Traevon Jackson's numbers and it's fair to say he's had a solid-yet-not-spectacular junior year with 10.7 points and 4.0 assists per game.
But in the final minutes of the first half or in the game, Jackson becomes someone completely different. He becomes a superstar.
Jackson seems to save his best for the very last, as evidenced by his numerous game-winning shots over the past two seasons. He hit a jumper with two seconds left to knock off Michigan State back in February and had a pair of buzzer-beaters for the Badgers last year.
If Wisconsin could find a way to get Jackson to treat the entire game like the late stages, the sky is the limit for the son of former NBA star Jimmy Jackson. For most of the game, though, he looks to find shots for his teammates, even when the chances are there for him.
Switch that up a bit, and get him hot early, and it will create a completely new dynamic.
One and Done
Kentucky is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, especially on the offensive boards. The Wildcats average 14.55 offensive rebounds per game, which is fifth-best in Division I and far better than Wisconsin's rate of 8.95 per game.
Offensive rebounding helps turn a decent shooting team, such as Kentucky, into a dominant offensive force thanks to second-chance points. No Badgers player averages more than 6.4 rebounds per game, so being able to improve in this area will be a major challenge for them.
In order to limit Kentucky's advantage in this area, Wisconsin must limit the Wildcats to one shot per possession. This is easier said than done, but the best way to go about this is not just to force bad shots but to force ones that don't lead to offensive rebounds.
That means keeping the layups and floaters to a minimum, as those misses are the ones that Kentucky's front line tends to swallow up and put right back up for easy baskets.
Swing For The Fences
While Wisconsin's attack is more explosive this year than in seasons past, it still is heavily rooted in the principals associated with the swing offense.
The Badgers roster is overloaded with players who can pass and shoot well but who also can move effectively without the ball. Keeping the ball moving around while also having players in constant motion and shifting all over the court will force Kentucky to switch defenders from time to time in order to keep all areas covered.
This is when Wisconsin can be its most deadly, because the motion and switches can lead to matchup advantages. It's how Frank Kaminsky went off against Arizona, and it's a key to finding optimal scoring chances against Kentucky.
Look for the Badgers to use Kaminsky and 6'8" Sam Dekker in ways that force the Wildcats to shuffle different defenders on them. Combine that with accurate passing and Wisconsin will be able to find good looks that can negate the rebounding disadvantage.
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