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March Madness 2015: Revisiting Wisconsin's road to the Final Four

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Our writers discuss Sam Dekker's emergence, what's made this team so fun to watch this season and the biggest question -- can Wisconsin beat Kentucky?

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers are Final Four-bound. What did the Badgers do to contain a potent Arizona team to clinch a trip to Indianapolis?

Bart Torvik (@totally_t_bomb): The key defensive stat for the Badgers was rebounding. Arizona had just three offensive rebounds, which amounting to an offensive rebounding percentage of just 15 percent -- their lowest of the year. This was crucial, because when Arizona did run offense, they scored more or less at will (mostly at the free throw line) so limiting second chances was the Badgers' best defense.

Luke Mueller (@luke_mueller24): Wisconsin forced Arizona to settle for jump shots early, which helped them take a 10-2 lead to start the game. After that, not much went right defensively. The second half wasn't much better with the Badgers committing an obscene amount of fouls.

What they did do is protect the perimeter better, make Arizona work harder - by contesting more shots - and doing a better job of providing help on defense. The always say a great offense is a good defense. Well the Badgers showed on Saturday that it can work the opposite way too.

Max Bayer: Wisconsin was able to win this game by limiting the playmaking ability of both Stanley Johnson and T.J. McConnell. Johnson, the Wildcats leading scorer, was held to just six points off 2-of-4 shooting from the field. McConnell averaged 6.3 assists per game but the Badgers held him to only five. When Arizona's most explosive offensive players were held to lesser numbers, the Badgers were able to capitalize.

Phil Mitten (@hoopsmarinara): Not much. Wisconsin allowed Arizona to score 1.22 points-per-possession, which almost always more than enough to win a game. By hitting 93 percent on their free throws, probably the most effective thing Wisconsin did was foul early enough that there were no three-point play opportunities. It was the insane offense that kept Wisconsin's dream season alive.

What was the major turning point or an eye-popping statistic that really tells the story of this game?

Bart: I've got a couple stats of the game, both from the second half:

  1. 105.3. That was the Badgers' effective field goal percentage (which is field goal percentage except that three-pointers count as 1.5). An eFG of better than 60 for a game will almost get you a win; 105.3 for a half is almost unheard of.
  2. 141.5. That was Arizona's offensive efficiency in the second half. Remember, they led by three at half, then put together probably their most efficient scoring half of the season, and yet the Badgers won going away. (See eye-popping stat No. 1)

Luke: 79 percent is amazing. The game was really a tale of two halves. The Badgers played well in the first half and the game as a whole was outstanding, but to shoot 79% from the field in the second half and literally make it rain from 3 point land (See Sam Dekker's dagger of a three that touched the clouds) against the third best defense in the nation is something that is unforgettable.

For me the turning point was not the first run of the second half by the Badgers, but the second run they went on. After pulling out to a big lead, Wisconsin let Arizona back in after they established a presence in the paint. With Arizona again within striking distance, the Badgers went on a big run, unlike the first half, and were able to distance themselves for most of the second half. To me that changed the game.

A runner up would have to be the first three Dekker hit because it started his amazing half.

Max: Dekker shooting 83 percent from 3-point range definitely explains why Wisconsin walked away with the W. He was letting them fly from wherever, whenever, and that began to crush the morale of the Wildcats.

I'll be cliche and say that the absolute turning point was Dekker's three to seal the deal with 19 seconds left. Wisconsin's five point lead at the time was just enough to be thinking in the back of your mind if this was gonna turn into a nightmare. Luckily, Dekker came along and calmed everyone's pessimism. That shot had "Goodnight moon" written all over it.

Phil: Obviously the shooting was legendary. Hitting 79 percent in the second half is something Badger fans will be talking about for the rest of time. When Kaminsky and Dekker hit back-to-back treys to open the half, it was like, "Okay Arizona, you didn't think we were going away, did you?"

Sam Dekker may have an "S" on his chest considering his performance in the West Region. What's made him so effective in this tournament?

Bart: When Dekker is hitting three-pointers, he simply cannot be stopped. He's combined a hot streak from the perimeter with a feistiness on the glass and just an overall great energy level. Obviously, he's been sensational. He's putting on a show for the NBA scouts and general managers, and that's fine with me.

Luke: He was aggressive. Since the Big Ten Tournament he has had a look in his eye that screams confidence. He drives to the rack and puts the ball in the basket with regularity. After he does that, Dekker has been putting his defender on skates because they are so worried about the drive to the hoop, which opens up the three point shot for him because of the newfound space the defender gives him. He's done a great job of it in the tournament.

Max: To echo what everyone else has been saying, Sam Dekker has remembered that he's Sam Dekker. When the kid wants to ball, he can ball. Ever since the start of the tournament, he has been filled with a renewed confidence that has been troublesome for every opponent to handle. Greg Beacham, reporter for The Associated Press, quoted T.J. McConnell after the game saying, "Sam Dekker pretty much crushed out dreams. He played like an NBA player."

Phil: Dekker has found his outside shot, hitting 48 percent (13-of-27) from three, which opens the lane up for his driving ability. Dekker rediscovered his alpha dog gene, too. When he sees an opening to take his man off the bounce, Dekker is continuing to apply pressure until the opposition makes an adjustment. Most teams are finding there's nothing they can do once he gets going.

Can this team beat Kentucky?

Bart: Hell yeah. Kentucky's strengths -- length, blocked shots, offensive rebounding, scoring in transition -- are things that this Badgers team can neutralize. The Badgers are the fourth-tallest team in the country (according to Kenpom's "effective height" stat), the second-best in terms of fewest shots blocked and fourth-best in preventing offensive rebounds, and No. 1 in terms of turning the ball over, which prevents transition opportunities.. So this game will probably come down to shooting in the half court. Do the Badgers hit their threes? Do Kentucky's inside players hit on their post moves? That's what will decide this game. Kentucky is rightfully favored, but Wisconsin is absolutely -- ABSOLUTELY -- the worst matchup imaginable for Kentucky.

Luke: I'm not going to be the one that tells this team they can't do something. Before this game if you would have told me that Arizona would shoot almost 30 free throws, yet the Badgers would win, I would have told you to check yourself into a hospital for some type of a mental evaluation. But what did this team do? They shoot 79 percent in the second half and win the damn ball game.

They better start practicing shooting over trees if they want to prepare for this game.

Max: Absolutely Wisconsin can beat Kentucky. There are two key factors that are important for the Badgers. First, Frank Kaminsky has to continue what he's been doing and not get himself into foul trouble. Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein both are going to try and bait him into being over-aggressive to draw the foul. Second, Wisconsin is going to have to keep shooting lights out. Wisconsin made two-thirds of their three-pointers Saturday compared to the 29 percent that Notre Dame shot in their close loss to the Wildcats. If they keep hitting shots, Kentucky won't have a solution to Wisconsin's offense.

Phil: If they shoot like they did against Arizona, absolutely. But that won't happen against a record-setting Kentucky defense. Those drives from Dekker will be met with long help-side defenders looking to swat his shot into the third row of seats. So it will be essential for Wisconsin's passing to be crisp against UK.

Looking back on this year's team, what will you remember most?

Bart: The best memories are yet to come, obviously -- as I'll be in Indy to watch the Badgers shock the world and then cut down the nets in person (ed. note -- holy overconfidence, Batman, hehe). Other than those memories-to-be, I will probably most remember the thrill of watching the Badgers come back and beat Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game -- another game I saw in person. That game was nuts.

Luke: Back-to-back Final Fours is what I'll remember most. Wisconsin is officially on the map as a national power. You could make the argument that they may have been before, but they didn't have a signature trip to the Final Four. Now they have two.

Wisconsin may not be in the historic realm of teams like Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky, but they have shown they are a top tier team.

Max: I will remember the leadership exhibited by Kaminsky. So often we see the "one-and-done" college basketball player. With Wisconsin, we see a goofy 7-foot senior absolutely dominate arguably the best conferences in the country and lead his team to back-to-back Final Fours. Kaminsky has been at the helm of this team from start to finish and has set a precedent for this basketball program.

Phil: I will remember the team's fun-loving personality and just how easy the players were to root for. The Badgers learned the hard way last season that becoming champions is not easy, but they set lofty goals and went out and achieved excellence consistently. The talent development from top to bottom has been remarkable and it's been a joy to watch multiple NBA talents on the same Wisconsin roster at the same time.