Destination Dallas was a success as Kentucky has returned to the Final Four! This is the Wildcats 16th final four appearance in school history, first since their National championship in 2012.
This year has been a roller cosster ride. Preseason hype of 40-0 to a 10 loss season with most expecting a eslry NCAA exit. Well, not so fast as John Calipari resurected his young team to beat Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan to now face off against Wisconsin from the Big Ten.
Wisconsin returns to the final four for the first time since 2000 and is only their 3rd appearance all-time. Led by head coach Bo Ryan who will enter Jerry’s World for his first ever final four in his 16 year division one coaching career.
Entering the game with a 30-7 overall record, 12-6 in conference, the Badgers knocked out Baylor and Arizona in overtime to advance to Dallas. They are not a team that will beat you with athleticism but the way they play as a team will. They like to move the ball around to open shooters and can run a pick and pop that is hard to guard.
As a team, Wisconsin currently ranks 93rd in the country in scoring at 73.5 per outing. Rebounding they struggle for having a seven-foot center down low. Averaging 33.3 boards per game which ranks 261st. This is one category Ryan has heard about all week as he spoke on how his team will have to crash the glass all 40 minutes.
They are led by four double-digit scores with big man who I mentioned earlier, Frank Kaminsky, leading the way. He averages 141 points, 6.4 rebounds and is a guy who can and will step out behind the arc, trying to drag the Kentucky big’s out of the lane. The only down side of the badgers come in their depth as all starters play over 27 minutes per game, 4 of those over thirty.
As for Kentucky, it kind of seems like its meant to be the way the regular season went and now how the tournament has gone. Besting three higher ranked teams by single-digits is a first in NCAA tournament history by the lower seed. Head coach John Calipari has said it each week that a tweak has been made and the man was not kidding. UK is playing the best basketball they have played all season, maybe better than anyone left, including the overall one seed Florida.
Kentucky has been led by freshman Julius Randle all season and it did not stop in March. Randle tallied 4 double-double’s in four games to help his team advance. Twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison have became the Calipari point guard/shooting guard we are used to seeing, confident with the ball and hitting huge shots down the stretch.
Inside, Dakari Johnson has established why he took over the starting job and the welcoming of Marcus Lee in absence of injured Willie Cauley-Stein was beautiful. Lee is one guy I believe will be key against Wisconsin guarding a guy like Kaminsky with his ability to play inside and out. As artist JD Shelburne said, “If you’re gonna play in
Texas….Lee has to be in the game!”
My prediction is simple, Kentucky wins a very hard fought game 79-71. The freshman aren’t boys anymore and have exceeded the hump to where they know what it takes to win. Tip-off is set for 8:49pm Saturday night. Go Cats!