Remember that old saying coaches used to scream at your team after you allowed an easy wide open layup, "defense wins championships." It's one of those old sayings that all coaches use no matter what sport you are playing, as long as that sport contains actual defense, but how many players during high school actually believed it?
Well Saturday night when the Wisconsin Badgers attempt to end Kentucky's run at a perfect season, defense is going to be the reason why. I'm not saying both teams won't score a high amount, (I believe the score will definitely be over the 131 over/under set currently right now in Vegas), but I feel like both teams are going to have to play great defense if they want to win this game.
I'll discuss Wisconsin and what Bo Ryan has been well known for throughout the years, having the Badgers win low scoring battles, but this Wisconsin team is a little different compared to those previous teams. One difference being that they are scoring 72 points a game, which means they are able to let up more points per game and still win. That is something that has been relatively apparent so far throughout this year's tournament. Wisconsin has allowed 65, 72 (twice), and 78 points in their four games played so far, which is well above the 57.8 points per game that they gave up his season. Take into account they have played teams that play at a faster pace than some Big Ten conference teams, it still leaves some to wonder if the Badgers are focused more on offense than defense (unlike past years).
Looking ahead to Saturday night's game against the Wildcats, the Badgers might have their hands full with trying to defend against the size of Kentucky. The Wildcats play five guys coming in and out of the game that are all 6'9". Now Wisconsin has some size itself with players like Kaminsky, Dekker, Dukan, and Hayes, but they all must stay out of foul trouble to play.
Wisconsin is going to have to find a way to limit a few things defensively in order to advance to Monday night's championship. Wisconsin must limit the amount of easy looks Kentucky is able to get, and by that I mean basically do the exact opposite of what Notre Dame did in the Elite Eight.
Allowing Karl-Anthony Towns to get easy post feeds right on top of the block, like Notre Dame allowed to happen, will result in exactly what happened in Saturday's Elite Eight game. Towns was able to score at will against the Irish because he got the ball within two feet of the basket every single time. The reality is Wisconsin must challenge Towns to receive the ball away from the block and if they fail to do so it could be a very long night for the Badgers.
Wisconsin is also going to have to battle for every single rebound on the defensive end in attempt to keep Kentucky from getting easy second chance points. Notre Dame did a pretty good job on the glass, allowing Kentucky only 10 second chance points, a number the Badgers will need to replicate if they want to stick around with the Wildcats. .
Another area where the Irish excelled at against Kentucky was in transition. Kentucky is known for forcing turnovers or grabbing rebounds and getting out in the open court and running. The Irish were able to hold Kentucky to only 6 points off turnovers and just 2 fast break points, putting them in position for a potential upset at the end of last weekend's showdown.
Now we all know it's impossible to completely shut a team out in basketball and that's not what Wisconsin has to do to win this game. That being said, it would help if the Badgers are able to limit the amount of points Kentucky scores in these areas. Notre Dame proved that it will keep your team in the game all the way till the end if you can clean up on the glass and eliminate easy baskets for Kentucky. Wisconsin now has the perfect recipe for how to take down the Wildcats, they just need to actually pull it off on Saturday.