The B1G won't be shut out of the championship game in 2015: the Wisconsin Badgers ended the Kentucky
Monstars' Wildcats' undefeated streak at 38 games. The Wildcats looked to be one of the greatest college basketball teams of all time; they seemed like a freight train all season, they only had to survive a couple close calls in between blowing teams out. Notre Dame laid out something of a blueprint in their Elite Eight matchup with UK: hit outside shots, don't be afraid of their size inside, and make their backcourt beat you. Wisconsin used a similar game plan, only with more size, talent, and shooting than Notre Dame could muster and came out with the victory.
What We Learned
Wisconsin Is Really, Really Good
This has got to be the best team to ever lose to Rutgers, right? Anyways, a lot of fans (myself included) usually have a hard time watching the Badgers because they play slow, (overly) physical ball and always seem happy to win 42-39. Not this year. They just posted 71 points against one of the best college defenses ever. They only finished with 10 assists, but Wisconsin did a good job of moving the ball all game and demonstrated offensive versatility that most previous Bo Ryan-led squads haven't had. The combination of Frank Kaminsky on the block or driving from the elbow and Sam Dekker seemingly slashing through athletic, big front and back Kentucky line at will gave them a continued presence in the lane, while the fact that everyone on this Badgers team can shoot from outside 15 feet overwhelmed the Kentucky guards. Versatile, big, and talented: your 2015 Wisconsin Badgers, everyone.
Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker Are Legit NBA Prospects
Dekker looked like the best player on the floor for long periods of time during this game. Kaminsky rebounded and defended just as well as Karl-Anthony Towns, and showed off an offensive repertoire that's more polished than any big man coming out this year other than maybe Jahlil Okafor. He was the high scorer in this game with 20 points (and 11 boards), while Dekker scored 16 on nine shots, going 2-3 from deep. Kaminsky looked a little overwhelmed against North Carolina's athletic front line in the Sweet Sixteen, but since then he's had his way with the two best (and most athletic) front lines in college basketball (Arizona and Kentucky). Kaminsky has always sort of seemed like a prototypical great college player bound for a not-great NBA career, but tonight he was matched up against two surefire lottery picks in Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, and looked every bit their equal, if not more.
Dekker, meanwhile, stands 6'9, can shoot threes, and has deceptive quickness that allows him to get into the paint efficiently even when matched up against a 6'6 Harrison twin or the 7'0 Cauley-Stein. That's pretty good. We fall in love with tournament heroes, true, but Dekker has been quietly consistent his entire career, averaging 9.6, 12.6, and 13.9 ppg during his time in Madison as either the second or third best player on his team. He also showed that he can defend in the post or on the perimeter. Tonight, he had an excellent overall game, but most importantly he was instrumental in keeping Wisconsin within striking distance, hitting a huge three and drawing a charge on consecutive possessions in the second half. That's a profile a lot of NBA teams should like.
John Calipari Panicked
Kentucky didn't score from the six minute mark to the 56 second mark in the second half, which allowed Wisconsin to claw back into the game and take a late lead. Calipari, for some reason, went away from Towns and his other big men down low and gave free reign to the Harrison twins to drive to the rack and force contested shots, which obviously didn't work out well. Maybe UK hadn't encountered another big that could at least hang with Towns, but it seemed like a really terrible stretch of in-game coaching. His team looked absolutely clueless during that stretch, which--no matter how good you are--will happen with an inexperienced team. That drought was all coaching: no noticeable offensive sets, no real attempt to get the ball in the post, and no answer for any part of Wisconsin's run.
Kentucky Played in Two of the Most Watchable Games This Year
I think the panic over how painful it is to watch college basketball is kind of overblown, but there are undeniably terrible and undeniably great games. UK's game against Notre Dame was my favorite of the tournament, until tonight. The Wildcats fell behind early, came back to tie the game at half, traded punches with the Badgers in the second half until a UW drought, then suffered a drought themselves, but held on to keep it close until the bitter end. That's a game narrative I can get behind. Both these teams are skilled and play together well, and seeing two teams achieve that coming in from completely different angles is part of what makes college basketball fun (Kentucky through talent and progression over a season, Wisconsin from experience).
You Can Slap People With Impunity, Apparently
Looking at you, Trey Lyles. Lyles came across Josh Gasser's face early in the second half, at least a clear Flagrant-1. No call. Then a questionable charge drawn by Towns threatened to blow the game open for UK, but Wisconsin seems to have proven it is pretty much unflappable. Throw that in along with the fact that this game was called inconsistently, and the clear shot-clock violation that resulted in two points for the Badgers, and maybe, just maybe, we should take a look at how NCAA Basketball is refereed.
Wisconsin Can (Should) Win the National Championship
They match up well against the Blue Devils. This National Championship game has to represent the biggest discrepancy in hair cut bills, right? Considering the fact that (at least I'm assuming) that all Wisconsin players cut their own hair, and the fact that every Duke player has an awesome 'do going. Nevertheless, Duke is--and always will be--Duke, and therefore worthy of disdain. Come Monday, we are all Badgers.