It's a battle of the mildly unexpected in one half of the Final Four when the Wisconsin Badgers and Kentucky Wildcats hook up in Dallas.
Kentucky was mostly counted out to start the tournament thanks to a rough overall season highlighted by lots of talent with little chemistry, while not many considered Wisconsin a legitimate title threat despite a star player in Frank Kaminsky.
The odds to open the Big Dance told the story, as captured by ESPN Radio's RJ Bell:
Odds at START of tournament: Florida 5/1 (#1 favorite); Wisconsin 25/1; Kentucky 50/1; U Conn 100/1— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) March 31, 2014
Here is a look at two individual players who will have to post gaudy numbers for their teams to succeed, followed by an updated look at the odds surrounding the showdown.
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Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Kaminsky stands in stark contrast to the wealth of hyped talent on Kentucky's roster. The versatile forward has seen a drastic jump in his development after being just a 3-star recruit out of high school, as Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network points out:
Take a look back at Frank Kaminsky, the 3-star recruit « Big Ten Network http://t.co/BObj6z7xVL— Tom Dienhart (@BTNTomDienhart) March 31, 2014
The big stage has done little to impede Kaminsky's stunning production. His versatility to stretch the court and hit shots from long range is something that sets him apart from most players in the tournament, and as CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello points out, the trait flusters opponents:
Frank Kaminsky. Matchup nightmare.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 30, 2014
As athletic as Kentucky truly is, there is not one player on the roster who actually matches up well with Kaminsky. The task likely falls on Julius Randle, who will be forced to leave the paint in a show of respect for Kaminsky's range.
This opens up things for other Badgers with the lane vacated, but it won't stop Kaminsky from getting his, either. He's scored a minimum of 19 points in his last three games, which won't change on Saturday.
Prediction: 22 points, five rebounds
Julius Randle, Kentucky
In the matchup with Kaminsky, the advantage switches in Kentucky's favor beneath the rim thanks to Randle.
Randle is a double-double monster who absorbs most boards in his general vicinity and comes loaded with a repertoire of post moves most struggle to defend.
Julius Randle has 23 double-doubles this season. Only one freshman has had more in a season -- Michael Beasley (28 in 2008).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 29, 2014
The numbers are deceptive, though, as Randle's overall basketball I.Q. is superb, and as a field general, he sees passing lanes and developments much better than most would expect of a freshman.
Randle has scored a minimum of 13 points and 10 rebounds in each game of the tournament so far and even dished six assists against No. 1 Wichita State. Kentucky as a whole has matured, but Randle's the clear leader and most important player on the court against Wisconsin.
Prediction: 14 points, 13 rebounds, three assists.
According to Vegas Insider, Kentucky is favored by just 1.5 points. The narrow margin makes sense when one takes into account Kaminsky has the ability to take over a game on his own, but a cohesive Kentucky squad may be too much.
I'm trying to figure them out. We had all freshmen, but you know what? They are responding. I'm happy for them. I'm happy when I see Aaron (Harrison) play like he does or Andrew (Harrison play like he does). I want to see Julius, I want him to show the world what he is as a player. ... These kids all got better.
The Wildcats were the preseason No. 1 based on a historic recruiting class that includes the likes of Randle and the Harrison twins. Now firing on all cylinders, it's hard to imagine a team with one star player and a few nice complementary pieces being able to keep up.
Given the spread is a dealer's choice, logic and recent trends say to roll with Calipari and his super freshmen.
Prediction: Kentucky 68, Wisconsin 65