When we got the news on Sunday evening that Kentucky would be playing Wisconsin in the Final Four game, I immediately looked to my roommate and said “I don’t want to play Wisconsin. I don’t want to play them at all.” The first good news is, I’m not the one playing Wisconsin or the BBN would be utterly screwed. The second good news is, I am too ready for Kentucky to play Wisconsin. This is the first time in recent history that two teams will meet to play each other in the Final Four in consecutive years. This is also the first time in history that a team will have the opportunity to go 40-0 and win their 9th National Title. With that being said, there’s a lot of history going down this Saturday and there are four keys to Kentucky being on the good side of the story.
1. Shut down Sam Dekker
If you’ve been keeping up with coverage lately, you’ll know that Sam Dekker is a guy Kentucky’s going to have to keep their eye on during the game Saturday. The 6’9″ junior has already been sparking some motivation for his team by making his Twitter header a picture of their loss to the Cats in last year’s Final Four game. Aside from this, the guy is an extremely versatile player. He’s a great athlete not only in the front court, but can get hot from behind the three point line as well and has been doing so in tournament play. He averages 13.9 points per game and 5.5 rebounds so Kentucky is going to have to look to keep him off the boards on both ends of the court. Against Arizona he was 5-6 from the three point line and in a high stress game against Kentucky he’s more likely to do it again. Dekker is going to come ready to use his versatility and attack from the wings, but if the Cats can shut him down early he’ll lose the confidence that got him 27 points against Arizona.
2. Attack off the dribble
This Wisconsin team likes to do a lot of things on the court, but one thing they don’t do is foul. The team’s starters average anywhere from 1.1 to 2.2 personal fouls per game which is often one of Wisconsin’s greatest advantages. This Saturday, it could also be one of Kentucky’s. Andrew Harrison is known for his dribble-drive offensive plays as we saw in his big game-winning shot attempt that led to free throws. If he and guards like Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis can make use of their speed and agility to go with their guy one-on-one to the goal, they’ll be able to get the Badgers into foul trouble and really throw them off their usual game of banking fouls until desperate end game situations. The same will hold for Kentucky’s front court. Karl-Anthony Towns has proved to be an excellent finisher when it comes to shots inside. He draws the defender in and then goes up strong with his shot, lays it in and draws the foul. If Towns can bring this same domination to the Final Four, getting Wisconsin’s front court into early foul trouble shouldn’t be a problem.
3. Eliminate Wisconsin’s guard penetration
Kentucky has had issues with this all season and many would say it’s been their achilles heel. Notre Dame’s guards, specifically Jerian Grant, nearly beat Kentucky this way making 46.4% of their field goals and dominating Kentucky off the dribble early on. It’s not necessarily that Kentucky’s defense is lacking, because this team has what is being considered the best defense in college basketball history, but they at times struggle against high pick and roll situations. Against the Badgers, the Cats are going to have to step up and prove that they’re their brothers keepers and have their backs if they let a guard get by off the dribble. Being able to adjust quickly to a mismatch and help off in these situations are going to be big factors if Kentucky wants to make it to the Championship.
4. Pound it into the post on offense
The last but definitely not least important key to Kentucky beating Wisconsin this Saturday will be the ability of Kentucky’s front court to dominate the post. The match-up between post players should play into Kentucky’s favor with 7’0″ Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson, followed by a 6’11” and dominant Karl-Anthony Towns. This should be a game for these guys to show what they can do. Wisconsin has Frank Kaminsky listed as 7’0″ and their next biggest guys come in at 6’9″ so it’s going to be a game of height and which of Kentucky’s big men want to score more. It’s going to be the job of Kentucky’s guards to get the big guys good looks down low, but once it’s inside the paint the posts have got to go up strong and take advantage of their overpowering dominance. Think of the team’s SuperSmash Bros. games as practice for Cauley-Stein and Towns against the Badgers.
If Kentucky is going to beat Wisconsin this Saturday as we all know they can, they’re going to want to focus on shutting down Dekker, the Badgers’ most versatile player. It would be helpful if Kentucky could also draw fouls from Wisconsin’s players, as they have not been a team to foul often this season. The front court is where Kentucky will have its biggest advantage and it’s going to be up to Cauley-Stein and Towns to really dominate the boards on both ends here. That coupled with the Cats keeping the guards out of the paint off dribble penetration should give Kentucky enough keys to unlock the Championship game.