March Madness 2014: Kentucky's Blueprint to Beat Wisconsin in the Final Four
Kentucky has gone from the No. 1 team in the preseason polls to a shaky No. 8 seed in March Madness in 2014, then bounced all the way back to earn a Final Four trip.
After beating three consecutive conference champions, the freshmen-driven Wildcats face a veteran Wisconsin squad led by surprise tourney hero Frank Kaminsky.
Kaminsky and the Badgers’ slowdown offense will provide a very different kind of challenge for John Calipari’s young roster. Andrew Harrison and the aggressive Wildcats defenders must be ready to work for 35 seconds on every possession Saturday night, or else the high-precision Badgers shooters will pick them apart.
Read on for more on the unique problems of facing Wisconsin’s attack, along with three more key elements of a game plan that will earn Kentucky a spot in the national title game.
Rotate on Defense
Wisconsin’s greatest asset is an offense that features five serious jump-shooting threats.
That turns every help-defense situation into an opportunity for an easy basket for the Badgers, and Kentucky’s guards have long since proven they can’t count on staying in front of opposing ball-handlers.
That being the case, the Wildcats must make the right reads when a penetrating guard such as Traevon Jackson starts to break down the D.
If they can close out on the shooters quickly, their terrific length—a match even for the lanky Badgers—will help them contest shots that another team might not be able to alter.
Trust Andrew Harrison
For the season, point guard Andrew Harrison has averaged 11 points and 3.9 assists per game. In the four games of the Wildcats’ tournament run, those figures have leapt to 12.3 points and 5.3 assists a night.
With a more confident Harrison running the offense, Kentucky has been able to get more out of a deep corps of scoring options that didn’t always shine through in the regular season.
Wisconsin isn’t a team that focuses on pressuring the ball—meaning that Jarrod Polson and Dominique Hawkins probably won’t need to bail Harrison out in that regard—so the freshman floor leader will have relatively free rein to concentrate on finding holes in a stiff but not impenetrable defense.
Keep the Intensity High
Opposing fans often deride Wisconsin’s uber-patient attack as one of the most boring offenses in the country. For a Wildcats team that has fed off momentum in three straight fast-paced wins, that slowdown could become a crippling handicap.
Kentucky has been susceptible to lapses of focus all year, even in its Sweet 16 win over Louisville (in which the Cards opened on an 18-5 run).
The ‘Cats can’t afford to let the Badgers’ long offensive possessions sap their own defensive energy, or else Wisconsin’s shooters will dissect them with easy looks late in the shot clock.
Attack the Low Post
After a 7-of-11 three-point shooting performance against Michigan, the Wildcats are in grave danger of falling back in love with the long-range shot.
That’s been a recipe for bad losses all year for Big Blue, and it would be an especially serious mistake against a Wisconsin team that’s more vulnerable on the low block.
Despite Frank Kaminsky’s shot-blocking prowess, both Dakari Johnson and Julius Randle will be able to exploit huge advantages in weight (30 pounds each over Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, respectively) to get position inside.
Even if the first shot doesn’t fall (or gets rejected), a steady diet of low-post attempts will help Kentucky by drawing plenty of fouls and by setting up offensive rebounding opportunities, on which the 'Cats have thrived all season.
Randle, Kentucky's double-double machine, has a bit of extra incentive to come up big in a game being played in his own backyard. As Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal notes, he brought the entire Wildcats team home to meet his mom on Wednesday.