The Kentucky Wildcats and Wisconsin Badgers will meet once again in the Final Four on Saturday after each won their respective NCAA tournament regions with hard-fought victories. Last season, Aaron Harrison dropped an absolute dagger of a three-pointer to stun Wisconsin in the closing seconds of the national semifinal.
Kentucky is, however, experiencing a similar type of motivation to win the championship as last year's surprise run as a No. 8 seed was shut down by UConn in the national championship game.
It is going to take a near-perfect showing by Wisconsin to knock off Kentucky, and below are five steps the Badgers need to follow in order to hand the Wildcats their first loss and keep their own magical season rolling.
1. Protect the defensive glass
Kentucky is ranked in the top five nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, and it will be very crucial that the Badgers limit the amount of second-chance points allowed as the Wildcats' offense will already be difficult to handle. Kentucky has two of the best big men in the country on its roster in Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns, UW's Frank Kaminsky will only be able to match up with one of the giant interior players.
With the most efficient offense in the country, I do not have a shadow of a doubt that the Badgers will be able to score often, but if Bo Ryan's squad can hold the Wildcats to one shot per offensive possession, the thought of taking down one of the best teams in college basketball history doesn't sound like such a tall task.
2. Win the turnover battle
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As we know, the Badgers rarely turn the ball over. However, Kentucky's size, length and stifling defensive pressure will put quite a bit of stress on Wisconsin's offense. If UW is able to maintain control of the ball on offense, it does not even need to be aggressive on the defensive end. Kentucky could really hurt Wisconsin in transition, evidenced by its success quickly pushing the ball up the floor against West Virginia and Notre Dame. Bo Ryan has always stressed winning the turnover battle, and it will be pivotal once again on Saturday night.
3. Keep Kaminsky and Hayes out of early foul trouble
Some consider this the most decisive factor in this game, because if the Wildcats can get Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes into foul trouble, the Badgers will have to take their best interior scorers and defenders out of the game for an extended period. Wisconsin would not be able to adjust enough to take out Kentucky without two of its three best players. Losing that size in the middle would likely result in Ryan choosing to stick 6'10 Duje Dukan in the middle, and Dukan isn't the strongest in the paint on defense. It is vital that the Badger bigs retain the success they have had all year staying on the floor; Wisconsin ranks No. 1 in the country in fewest fouls per game.
4. Give zero space to perimeter sharpshooters
5. Space the floor well
If you watched the Notre Dame-Kentucky game, you should understand how much success the Fighting Irish had against the supposedly perfect Wildcats by spreading them out on defense. The Badgers are basically just a better Fighting Irish team, as Wisconsin is a way more efficient defensive squad and has more height in the frontcourt. Notre Dame relied on the shooting of Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton and Steve Vasturia. The Irish only had one capable big man who could make an impact on both sides of the floor and that was Zach Auguste, who stands 6'10 with a light build.
The difference is that Wisconsin has three players who are able to knock down threes and also bully you inside in Kaminsky, Hayes and Dekker. With the deep touch of guards Gasser, Bronson Koenig and Traevon Jackson, along with versatile big men, it will be essential that the Badgers space the floor and neutralize that scary Kentucky interior defense.