It’s almost time to tip off at the Final Four, as No. 2 Wisconsin is carrying the Big Ten flag in pursuit of the conference’s first national championship since 2000. Here’s a look at seven keys for the Badgers if they want to beat this white-hot Kentucky team that entered the Big Dance as a No. 8 seed but is playing like a No. 1 seed after starting the season as the preseason No. 1 team. Watch for these things during the game and see how they impact the outcome.
1. Block out the big Wildcats
This is a must for the Badgers. They must put a body on somebody and keep the long and athletic Wildcats off the glass. In the NCAA tourney, UK has outrebounded Kansas State 40-28; Wichita State 32-23; Louisville 37-29; Michigan 35-24.The Wildcats come at foes in waves with players like 6-9 Julius Randle; 6-8 Alex Poythress; 7-0 Dakari Johnson, 6-9 Marcus Lee. Even 6-6 guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison can be forces on the glass. If the Wildcats control the defensive glass, it will allow them to get out in transition.
And, if UK is scoring on the break, it’s difficult to stop. It’s especially critical for the Badgers to limit Kentucky’s second-chance points. In four NCAA games, the Cats have 55 offensive rebounds to their opponents’ 38. Easy put-back baskets would be a killer to the Badgers. Wisconsin is fifth in the Big Ten in rebounding margin with a plus-1.6.
2. Continue to shoot well
Wisconsin needs to be on the mark vs. UK. The Badgers are shooting 45.9 percent and possess an array of good shooters in Frank Kaminsky, Ben Brust, Josh Gasser, Sam Dekker and Traevon Jackson. They are a big reason why the Badgers are No. 3 in the Big Ten in three-point percentage, hitting 37.5 percent from long range. If Wisconsin is clanking shots and not rebounding, it’s doomed.
3. Spread the Wildcat defenders
Wisconsin can’t get bunched up on offense. It needs to spread the floor. That should create lanes for Badgers like Brust, Gasser, Jackson and Dekker to drive to the hoop and collapse the defense. If no shot is there, ideally the penetrator can kick out a pass to an open shooter.
4. Be patient against a young team
Look, few teams like to or able to play good, solid defense for 20 or so seconds. It’s especially difficult for a team like Kentucky, which is dominated by youth. The Badgers are a thing to behold on offense because of their fluid passing and ball movement. Wisconsin must avoid early shots in the shot clock, work the ball, make the extra pass and hope for a breakdown in the UK defense occurs that will lead to a good look or easy bucket.
5. Bring that seamless defense
It always has been a staple of Bo Ryan teams. And a strong defensive effort is paramount if the Badgers want to make it to Monday night. The Badgers are No. 4 in the Big Ten in scoring defense, allowing 63.7 points. UK has scored 56, 78, 74 and 75 points in its four NCAA games. Wisconsin has allowed 35, 77, 52 and 63 points in its four tourney games. The Badgers must try to make the Wildcats beat them from the perimeter. If UK is able to get into the paint with drives or post feeds, Wisconsin will be in trouble.
6. Play at your pace
Yes, the Badgers won a track meet of sorts in an 85-77 win vs. Oregon in a third-round game that saw Wisconsin rally from a 12-point halftime deficit. Still, the Badgers are better off playing at a slower tempo. Now, Wisconsin doesn’t want things to come to a crawl, but it needs to limit possessions by Kentucky, work the shot clock and try to play this game in the 60s.
7. Nigel Hayes
While America has fallen in love with Frank Kaminsky, Hayes is the X-factor for Wisconsin. The 6-7, 250-pound true freshman man-child can do a bit of everything and must lead the charge on the glass. If the physical Hayes can score 10 points, grab eight rebounds and play good defense, the Badgers could claim this victory. Hayes–the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year–was at his best in a Sweet 16 win vs. Baylor when he had 10 points and six boards. He needs another effort like that on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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