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Deeper Dive: What a Difference a Year Makes for Wisconsin and Kentucky

by Photo of Tommy Dee

What’s the Key for Wisconsin if they want to beat Kentucky? Frank Kaminsky’s perimeter game.

Deeper Dive: What a Difference a Year Makes for Wisconsin and Kentucky

In this article…

This time last year the basketball world was still reeling from this shot from Kentucky's Aaron Harrison against Michigan sending the Wildcats into the Final Four. That shot, which snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, sent Kentucky's fantastic group of freshmen vaulting into a matchup with the number two seeded Wisconsin Badgers. Twelve months later both teams arrive to Indianapolis ready for a rematch from last year's epic battle, which also saw Harrison win the game with the final bucket.

So what's changed? Well, for one Aaron and his brother Andrew are still at Kentucky but aren't the focal point as much as last year. In fact, one could argue that Wisconsin matches up better this year based on the fact that Kentucky depends heavily on Karl Anthony-Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein up front. Julius Randle, who had 16 points and 5 rebounds in last year's matchup left for the NBA. James Young, the guy who really put Wisconsin on their heels early in my opinion, also left.

But by far and away the biggest difference for Kentucky is their execution defensively. They are ranked first overall in the NCAA in defensive rating per Sports-Reference.com, compared to 81st last year. They lead the nation in opponents field goal percentage at 35% per game and are second overall in blocked shots. They surrender a minuscule 53.4 points per game, which is third best in the nation and is 13 points less than what they gave up last year. You have to work to score against Kentucky. Unlike last year they get after you at the rim on both sides of the ball instead of trying to beat you in the backcourt.

Conversely, Wisconsin has made big strides on the offensive side of the ball, which is apparently a sore subject for Coach Bo Ryan when asked about it. They led the nation in offensive rating, up 11 spots from last year and they've maintained a top five overall Simple Rating Score finishing third overall in the nation this season. Why are they so good offensively? They MAKE SHOTS. Seems elementary, right? Well think about this for a second. In order to make a lot of shots, you have to take a lot of shots and the Badgers certainly do that without getting a ton of second chance opportunities. Wisconsin is 13th in the NCAA in field goals made and they are 9th in two point field goal percentage at 55%. Despite that much efficiency and volume, Wisconsin has only 360 offensive rebounds on the season ranking them 142nd in the nation. 

Another key stat to keep an eye on is Wisconsin was second in the nation in turnovers committed with 281, while Kentucky forced 523 on the season, 14th best in the country. 

As we know the game is played on the court and the statistics suggest that the winner of the game will be the team that is more effective from inside the arc, but it may behoove Wisconsin to try and pull Kentucky's bigs away from the basket like they did with Jahlil Okafor in their game against Duke in December. Duke would win the game, but Wisconsin was able to be effective offensively from the start thanks to spacing the floor.

With Kentucky barely squeaking by another top offense and needing a tremendous performance down the stretch from Towns to move on, you'd expect this to be another game that's going to go down to the wire. Who will win out between the nation's best offense and defense makes for everything you'd want in a Final Four matchup. While the uniforms and some of the players remain the same from last year, the storyline and flow of the game has shifted. It's hard to imagine a better game than last year but that's just what we may get in Indianapolis. 

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