Bucky and the Wisconsin Badgers look to claim their first men's basketball National Championship since 1941 this coming weekend. But first, they have to get through the white-hot Kentucky Wildcats, who are on an absolutely torrid run in the NCAA Tournament.
In preparation of this contest, I took the time to talk to Nick Korger of Bucky's 5th Quarter, SB Nation's Wisconsin Badger blog. Here's what happened.
Q: First thing’s first: Frank Kaminsky has been such an integral piece on this team. Just what in the world has gotten into him this season that’s made him so effective from just about everywhere on the floor?
I think the two things that stick out the most to me are the willingness to go in the paint and his aggressiveness to finish down low. During the Badgers’ skid in the middle of the season, Kaminsky was largely floating around the arc with post-ups becoming a rarity. Now, it’s the opposite. Kaminsky is more willing than ever to do battle inside and the pressure he’s put on opponents to respect him on the drive has helped both give he and his teammates open looks from three.
Don’t forget this isn’t the first time Bo Ryan and his coaching staff have developed a big throughout the season.
Q: Ben Brust has been a dynamite threepoint shooter for the Badgers. But, with that said, he was held quiet against Arizona. From what you saw, what did the Wildcats do to keep him held in check, and do you expect Kentucky’s steadily improving perimeter defense to do the same?
I thought Arizona did an outstanding job on Brust last Saturday. The Wildcats simply blanketed him, never sagging too far off of him even when he was on the opposite side of the ball. By chasing him and denying touches, Arizona was able to limit the sharp-shooting guard to just seven shot attempts. Keep in mind, Arizona is one of the best defensive teams in the country and has the skill set in its entire rotation to play very tight on and off the ball on defense, a rarity for most teams.
Kentucky has a similar skill set and better length at guard, but isn’t as polished or disciplined defensively when compared to Arizona. Still, it will be tough for Wisconsin to get Brust open looks without some form of penetration from the point or a hot start from Kaminsky in the paint.
Q: The Harrison twins’ development in the NCAA Tournament has been one of, if not the biggest reason for the Wildcats’ big run through the Midwest Region. What does Wisconsin need to do defensively to bring them down a notch, and do you believe they have the guards to match up with them?
Defensively, the Badgers have to keep the Harrisons from getting into the lane and not allow them to take shots in rhythm. Last time out, Arizona was able to force Wisconsin into a few shots late in the clock that led to easy rebounds and fastbreak points on the other side. After seeing the Badgers struggle to contain transition in the early part of that game, I’m a bit anxious to see the same element play out against Kentucky.
The Harrison twins are what make Kentucky go. They have done a great job getting to the basket throughout the tournament, which has opened up everything else for the Kentucky offense. If Wisconsin wants to bring the Harrisons to a screeching halt, they’ll need to challenge the Harrisons to beat them from the outside and on pull-up jumpers while limiting them from getting deep into the lane on drives.
From what I’ve seen on film, the most advanced the Kentucky halfcourt offense gets is a high-ball screen. The rest of it is mostly a 4-1 dribble-drive offense. Wisconsin likes to play a low-show switch on screens, which will prevent most of the penetrate-and-pop offense the Wildcats and Harrisons flourish on.
This is a unique matchup for Wisconsin’s guards in Jackson, Brust and Josh Gasser. I think the Badgers will match up very well in a half-court situation, but not in transition against the pair.
More specifically, watch the play of the Badgers’ Jackson on defense. If there’s one thing he’s struggled with all year, it’s containing a player that can dribble-drive.
Q: Kentucky obliterated Michigan in the paint last Sunday. Wisconsin has Kaminsky & Co. down low, however. Good or bad matchup for the Badgers??
Great question! I think it’s neither a good nor bad matchup, but rather a game that will feature some very important individual matchups.
Q: Give us an XFactor for the Badgers that can give them an edge, and a player other than the stars of the team that you believe can rise to the occasion and catapult them to the National Title Game.
Sam Dekker. How he performs on offense and defense is going to make the biggest difference on the team. Dekker may be asked to go toe-to-toe with Julius Randle, which will be one tough assignment. I have been so impressed with Randle. Of all the players on Kentucky’s squad, he is the most talented by far. Dekker will have to keep him off the glass and not allow him low position. Offensively, Dekker has been very inconsistent in this tournament. If the Badgers want to continue dancing, he’ll have to knock down some shots.
Q: Sidebar - is Bucky Badger the best mascot in all the land?
You and I both know the answer. How many Badgers do you know that could pull off that sweater?
Q: Final question - who wins Saturday night in "North Texas"?
After several days, many sleepless nights and a complete loss of appetite for anything on TV that does not resemble basketball, I think I finally have the answer.
This game will come down to the wire (shocker, I know). With contrasting styles and approaches, I think both teams will struggle throughout the game to assert either of their styles for any sizeable duration of play. I like Wisconsin in a close one, mainly because Kaminsky provides a matchup nightmare. Add in the fact that Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein is doubtful to play Saturday, I think Kaminsky will once again become "Frank the Tank" and help give Wisconsin an edge down the stretch.
Wisconsin 68, Kentucky 65