What makes Kentucky run on offense?
While Julius Randle may have been named the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional, and deservedly so, the real key to Kentucky's run has been the play of the Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew. Both are outstanding on the dribble-drive, especially in transition from end to end. If either of them misses on their take, Randle, James Young or one of the other bigs has an open lane to clean up the miss. Why? Because teams are scrambling to get in front of the Harrisons when they take it end-to-end because of their speed and vision.
What's Kentucky's offensive set in the halfcourt?
In the halfcourt, Kentucky isn't going to get very fancy, which is a luxury you can afford when you have five starters that are almost always more athletic than any matchup they face. The Wildcats will simply spread the floor and try to beat you one-on-one, usually in a 4-1 set. From there, UK's players will either finish at the rim or kick out to the open man if help arrives in the paint.
Once in a while you might see a high ball screen at the top of the key, or if they feel like getting really fancy you might see a staggered double screen on the weakside, but Kentucky simply wants to isolate and beat you one-on-one in a dribble-drive offense.
How do you stop Kentucky on offense?
1. Take high-percentage shots, limit turnovers to slow transition game
Final Four team, player prop odds
Wisconsin remains the underdog entering this weekend's Final Four, according to Bovada.
There are three big elements defensively you have to focus on to slow down Kentucky. The first is make your shots. As simple as that is, getting high-quality looks and converting will give Wisconsin time to get back and set up on D.
When your starting guards are both 6'6 and can rebound, fastbreak opportunities can start very easily and end very badly for an opponent. On misses, I can't emphasize enough how important it will be for Wisconsin to bust their butts back on defense, because Kentucky's fastbreak is much faster than Arizona's due to its length.
Turning the ball over will help spark a fastbreak, as well. The pressure will be on Wisconsin's guards, especially Traevon Jackson and Bronson Koenig, to make sound passes and good decisions when running the point.
2. Sag off-ball, stay under control on close-outs
With today's rules favoring the offensive player on the dribble-drive, defending a team like Kentucky becomes even more challenging. From what I've seen on film, Young is the one who has a bigger trigger finger from outside than the Harrisons. All three of the aforementioned players are shooting over 34 percent from three, making them threats that need to be respected from deep.
However, the primary option for these three players is still to dribble-drive and finish around the rim. All three do a very good job utilizing the pump-fake to extend their defender farther out or bring him up in the air, only to blow by him a half-second later.
I am by no means a college coach, but if I was Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan, I would play a little off of Kentucky and challenge them to beat me from beyond the arc. If Young or the Harrisons makes a few, then you can start closing out higher or giving them less space off-ball, but the best way to keep the Wildcats from getting to the lane is giving yourself a little bit of space to react.
I can't emphasize this enough. Almost all of Kentucky's offense is a result of initial penetration into the paint. Stay disciplined and make the Wildcats beat you on jump shots.
When Kentucky runs its ball-screens, I expect Wisconsin to continue with the low-show switch. Better to protect the paint than to overextend high against a dribble-drive offense.
3. Box out
Kentucky crashes the glass, hard. In fact, the inner coach in me had me drooling watching Kentucky hound the glass against Michigan like wild dogs. You can't teach the height, length and athleticism the Wildcats have, which not only makes them natural rebounders, but extremely tough to prepare for. Long rebounds? Chances are Kentucky's big forwards will find their hands on them. Heck, all Kentucky's Marcus Lee did against Michigan was dunk rebounds to get his points.
One of the reasons Kentucky averages 14.55 offensive rebounds per game (the fifth-best total in the Division 1) is -- you guessed it -- its penetration in the paint. Whether it's in transition or the halfcourt set, beating the initial defender off the dribble draws help, which in turn frees a man of a defender to crash the glass unopposed. At this point, it becomes a mad scramble of jumping.
As I always reemphasized to my eighth graders this season, after the initial shot you can't just turn around and look for the ball. You have to make contact with a man first, then locate the ball and bring it down. Too many times, Michigan just tried to out-jump Kentucky last weekend, which is a recipe for disaster.
If Wisconsin can keep the number of offensive rebounds Kentucky garners in single digits, it should be able to pull out the win. Unless, of course, the reason the game's in single digits is because Kentucky is shooting an extremely high percentage from the floor.
What else does Wisconsin need to do to win?
1. Take charges
Kentucky's Randle likes to bang down in the low blocks and drive after catching around the free-throw line. He also has a tendency to extend his off hand on drives to clear space. Whomever ends up drawing Randle on defense should know there will be plenty of opportunities to take charges and draw offensive fouls.
With Kentucky primarily looking to score off the drive in the paint, there will be plenty of chances to step in front and take a charge, although the Wildcats are disciplined at most times with their body control.
2. Let ‘em know, Bo
I've loved the way Ryan has approached poor reffing since an early age. If his stare could kill, the Big Ten may have run out of refs a few years ago.
As a player, you love having a coach who is going to be vocal about officiating. Ryan isn't going to stand by and let subpar performance from the zebras go unchallenged. I thought both of his technical fouls garnered in this tournament -- one against Oregon and one against Arizona -- served to not only give his team a spark, but also significantly changed the officiating in the Arizona game. Before that, the calls had been so one-sided that even Sir Charles Barkley made comments on it during halftime.
Kentucky is going to play physical and get all over Wisconsin with their hands and body on defense. If Ryan thinks the Wildcats getting away with too much, expect him to let the world know. Never underestimate the impact a yelling coach can have on the psyche of a referee.
This should be another down to the wire game. Expect it to be a dogfight and decided in the final minute.