2015 Final Four Preview & Prediction: Kentucky vs. Wisconsin

    Kentucky is perfect. At least the Wildcats’ record is unblemished, and most everybody considers UK to be the favorite to walk out of Indianapolis with a

    April 2, 2015

    Kentucky is perfect. At least the Wildcats’ record is unblemished, and most everybody considers UK to be the favorite to walk out of Indianapolis with a national championship under its arm.

    But John Calipari’s team still has work to do. Step one won’t be easy. The ‘Cats have to beat a very determined and focused Wisconsin team that isn’t just happy to be in Indy. Bo Ryan’s bunch will be looking for some payback vs. the Kentucky, the team that knocked the Badgers out of the Dance last season.

    It’s the Wildcats’ size and athleticism vs. Wisconsin’s discipline and heart. It’s Calipari’s efforts to win with the best talent around vs. Ryan’s efforts to win by putting together a gameplan that gets the most out of a working unit. UK is favored, but don’t look for Wisconsin to roll over.

    Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of Kentucky’s battle with Wisconsin, which is scheduled to tip-off at 8:49 p.m. ET Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

    Forwards

    Kentucky’s attack is a bit unique in that it brings so much size to the floor up front, and there isn’t a prototypical small forward in the group. Karl Anthony Towns is the man in the middle, a guy who can set up on the low block and is impossible to move once he gets position. He has a variety of moves and is a pain on defense as well. Willie Cauley-Stein brings plenty of help and would be considered the power forward, and although he isn’t as gifted offensively, he’s a fantastic rebounder who also blocks shots and scores off putbacks. He’s an intimidating presence down low.

    Freshman Trey Lyles does a little bit of everything and isn’t quite as ferocious as his teammates up front, but he can put the ball on the floor and has a soft touch on his jumper. That group, by the way, measures out at 6-11, 7-foot and 6-10, so, yeah, there’s a lot of quality size there.

    Wisconsin has a more traditional lineup inside, but there is a lot of talent there. Frank Kaminsky is the guy in the post, someone who can score with either hand, is willing to put the ball on the floor or shoot the open three, and he’s a great passer who does a fine job of recognizing double teams. Junior Sam Dekker has exploded during the Dance, and his inside-outside game will force Kentucky’s bigs away from the bucket.

    Dekker also has the size to bang inside and will use his big body to box out. Small forward Nigel Hayes doesn’t have the size of Lyles, but he’s quicker, and his ability to shoot from the perimeter will help stretch UK’s defense, as well.

    Advantage: Kentucky thanks to its size

    Guards

    Few players have more experience playing next to one another than the brother tandem of Andrew and Aaron Harrison. Andrew is the point guard, the guy who makes UK’s offense run, but he’s not quite the prototypical point. He’s a bit bigger, and his versatility makes him difficult to guard. He’s strong and has some experience as this level. Aaron, meanwhile, is a scorer, someone who craves the ball when the shot clock is winding down or the game is on the line, and he has the size to rebound. He can run the offense, as well, and his leadership will be critical for Kentucky. He can occasionally lose focus defensively.

    Wisconsin brings a pair of outside gunners to the floor in Josh Gasser and Bronson Koenig. Gasser makes a living on the perimeter and isn’t much of a threat to go to the bucket, and he’s not the quickest guy around. He makes up for it by playing good position defense, anticipating well and understanding the situation and where his teammates are on the floor. Koenig’s job is to feed his teammates, but he can score enough to keep opponents honest. He doesn’t panic with the ball and is as comfortable in the running game as he is in the halfcourt.

    Advantage: Kentucky thanks to its superior size and athleticism

    Bench

    Kentucky doesn’t go deep, but the Wildcats also don’t suffer much of a fall-off in talent by going to the pine. Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee are two talented bigs who played in the title game last season, and they can easily step in and play the same roles as the starters. Neither are really blessed offensively, but they are athletic and can score on putbacks.

    Guards Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis are freshmen who play a lot of minutes – oftentimes more than the starters – and they can be game-changers with their quickness and versatility. Ulis is a fantastic passer who is great off the bounce and gets to the free-throw line, and Booker is fearless going to the bucket but can knock down the open shot, too.

    The Badgers lean on their starters a lot, as well, but forwards Vitto Brown and Duje Dukan, and guards Traevon Jackson and Zak Showalter make an impact. Jackson is the key here. He’s usually a starter but is on his way back from a foot injury, and UW hopes he can play extended minutes to add some athleticism to the lineup.

    Advantage: Kentucky thanks to sheer talent

    Coaches

    John Calipari has done a great job of managing egos this season in an environment that features as much pressure as any in recent memory. All season the feeling has been that one loss would be catastrophic, and at this point in the year, it actually would be. UK has two goals – win the national championship and finish the season undefeated. To do one, the ‘Cats have to do the other. Coach Cal has kept everyone focused on the prize despite a lot of distractions. From an Xs and Os standpoint, Calipari isn’t known for his intricate in-game work, but his offense does produce.

    Bo Ryan is one of the best coaches in college basketball, someone who squeezes the maximum out of his players and makes the whole greater than the sum of his parts. Consider that Kentucky currently features nine McDonald’s All-Americans on its roster (even if Alex Poythress is out with a torn ACL). Wisconsin, meanwhile, hasn’t had a McDonald’s All-American on its roster since Brian Butch graduated in 2007, and it has welcomed two Burger Boys to Madison since 1977. But Bo is a master at controlling the tempo, keeping his guys fresh and figuring out a way to win.

    Advantage: Wisconsin thanks to Ryan’s superior Xs and Os chops

    What will happen?

    Kentucky will try to run. Wisconsin will try to play a halfcourt game that neutralizes some of UK’s athleticism. The Badgers don’t have the kind of creative, athletic scorer that Notre Dame had in Jerian Grant, so they can’t recreate what UW did on the court. It’s not possible, but look for Dekker and Kaminsky to be aggressive to try to get Kentucky’s bigs in foul trouble and even the playing field a bit. UK, meanwhile, will use its quickness on the perimeter to get to the bucket, and although Wisconsin won’t let the Wildcats stretch their legs, Kentucky will make enough plays late to make it to Monday.

    Prediction: Kentucky 68, Wisconsin 65

    #WhosGotNext: Kentucky or Wisconsin? in Campus Insiders Polls on LockerDome

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