“We’re not a perfect team. We’re undefeated, but were not perfect.”
The words of Coach John Calipari come on the heels of Kentucky’s closest encounter so far this season. Notre Dame exposed some flaws that the public didn’t know Kentucky had. But what can Wisconsin, Kentucky’s next foe, learn and implement in their attempt to end the undefeated season, avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss in the final four, and move on to the National Championship? Here are the three keys to Wisconsin pulling off the win:
1) Spread Kentucky out:
When the Wildcats traveled to Athens to play Georgia, the Bulldogs gave them everything they could have wanted. Nemanja Djurisic, the center for Georgia, played on the perimeter for the majority of the game and brought the Kentucky big men out to guard him. This spacing of the lane was crucial to opening up the lane for Georgia and keeping them in the game, until Kentucky’s talent proved too much. Notre Dame, who started just one player over 6’5″, also gave Kentucky trouble by opening up the offense. Quick ball movement, patient offense, and good shooting nearly ended Kentucky’s season in the Elite Eight, until Notre Dame inexcusably let Jerian Grant play “hero-ball” in the last two minutes. Zach Auguste also punished them Wildcats inside.
Wisconsin needs to take a page out of these teams’ blueprint. Kaminsky and Hayes are fully comfortable playing on the perimeter, making them the key to this game. If they’re making perimeter jumpers, and the defenders feel the need to respect that aspect of their games, Kentucky could be in some major trouble. Wisconsin turns the ball over just 7.4 times per game, the fewest in the country. If they don’t force shots, play through Kaminsky and Hayes on the perimeter, and put pressure on the Kentucky bigs defensively, Wisconsin can score on Kentucky.
2) Double-team Towns at any sign of danger:
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey let Zach Auguste play Towns one-on-one on the block at the end of the game. If he had forced the ball out of Towns’ hands down the stretch, we might be talking about Notre Dame and Wisconsin. Let Andrew/Aaron Harrison, Tyler Ulis, Trey Lyles, etc. shoot as opposed to letting Towns impose his will. While they likely won’t, and shouldn’t, double Towns off the tip, if he gets going, Bo Ryan should make the change.
Kentucky really isn’t a great halfcourt team, which makes this matchup so intriguing. Kentucky thrives off of opposing teams’ chaos and frantic turnovers, but Wisconsin – a senior-laden team – will not be intimidated by the moment. They can score enough to stay in it, and must force Harrison and the other guards to be jumpshooters. If the game turns into a shooting contest, the advantage lies with Wisconsin.
3) Make shots
Basketball is simple. If your shots go in, your chances are better for victory. Wisconsin trailed Arizona by three at halftime of the elite eight contest, and could not buy a basket from range. In the second half, things opened up. The Badgers nailed 8 of 10 three-point attempts in the second half and stormed to a victory. Wisconsin will need to yield similar results against Kentucky. Sam Dekker found his stroke in the Arizona games, with 27 points. He matches up favorable for a huge game against a Kentucky team that lacks a player of his versatility. Dekker is simply better than Trey Lyles, and if Wisconsin wins this game it will be because Dekker was the best perimeter player on the floor.
Prediction: It might not be popular, but Wisconsin pulls off the monumental upset: 71-70