The stage is set in Indianapolis for what should be an epic weekend. Last time the city hosted the final four, Gordon Hayward’s last second heave nearly capped off an unbelievable underdog run. Hopefully this year will produce a moment to rival that indelible miss.
#1 Wisconsin vs #1 Kentucky
Many so called “analysts” will tell you that three pointers are the key to taking down the Wildcats. This might even seem like an obvious answer due to Kentucky’s prowess in the paint, but it is simply not true. We all watched Notre Dame push Kentucky to the brink of elimination this past weekend, but they shot merely 28.5% from deep. LSU, who also nearly took down big blue, shot only 30% from downtown. When Texas A&M took Kentucky into double overtime they shot a horrid 13.3% from deep. Obviously draining threes will not hurt the Badgers, but saying that Wisconsin needs to catch fire from deep in order to take down the giants is incorrect. In order to beat Kentucky, Wisconsin will need to execute extremely efficiently from the first minute of the game until the end. I see this contest playing out very similarly to the 2008 national semifinal between Kansas and North Carolina. The Tyler Hansbrough led Tar Heels were the team to beat all season, but the Jayhawks came out prepared and were up 31-10 only ten minutes into the game. The lead would prove to be insurmountable for UNC. In order to beat Kentucky, Wisconsin needs to bring an energy and ferocity similar to that of the 2008 Jayhawks team right from the beginning. Teams do not make comebacks on Kentucky- in order to beat them you must stay ahead the whole game, as Notre Dame did until really the final seconds. We all know Kentucky’s strengths: they block a ton of shots (2nd most in division one during the regular season), they shoot a high percentage from the field (40th) and they rebound incredibly well (21st). However these are also the strengths of big man Frank Kaminsky, which makes him a kind of kryptonite for the Wildcats. This will be the hardest matchup for Kentucky’s bigs so far this season and I would not be surprised if they struggle. Another key is going to be the ability of Wisconsin’s bigs (Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes) to shoot the three. This will draw Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie-Cauley Stein and the other Kentucky bigs out of the paint so Wisconsin can attack off the dribble. If Sam Decker can continue his extremely hot play (he set new career highs in points in each of the last two contests), Frank Kaminsky plays like Frank Kaminsky, and the Badgers come out of the gates firing on all cylinders, Kentucky will be 38-1 after this weekend.
#1 Duke vs #7 Michigan State
Sorry Sparty, but the magic ends here. Justise Winslow has been a man on a mission for Duke through four tournament games, and I see no reason why his dominance will stop now. Match him up on Denzel Valentine, and one of Michigan State’s primary scorers will have a very tough time getting going. I also can not help but notice how effective really good big men have been against the Spartans this year. Kaminsky dropped 50 points against them in two meetings, Jahlil Okafor scored 17 on 8-10 shooting, and Montrezl had 16 points in their elite eight matchup, even though he did not assert himself enough in the second half. This does not inspire much confidence in me that Matt Costello, Brendan Dawson and Gavin Schilling will be able to handle Jahlil Okafor. Other than the stellar big man, the perimeter guys surrounding him have been playing outstandingly in the tournament. In fact Okafor was the lowest scoring starter for Duke on Sunday. Michigan State will have to pick their poison on Saturday; let Jahlil Okafor have his way in the post or send a double and hope that the rest of Duke’s starters lose their touch. The Blue Devils are simply too talented for me to see this game going any other way than sending Coach K on his way to yet another finals appearance.