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If Any Team Can Beat Kentucky, It Is Wisconsin
Is the 2015 NCAA Tournament starting to look rather familiar to backers of the University of Wisconsin? Last year in the third round,. UW beat No. 8 Oregon 72-65. This year in the same round, Wisconsin beat the Ducks 85-77. In the 2014 Elite Eight, Wisconsin upset Arizona 64-63 in overtime. Last weekend in the Elite Eight, the Badgers upset Arizona 85-78. In the 2014 Final Four, Wisconsin lost to Kentucky 74-73. That loss was largely what convinced Wisconsin star and national player of the year favorite Frank Kaminsky to pass on the NBA Draft and return to Madison.
So it's fitting that Wisconsin is the team facing unbeaten Kentucky in Saturday's Final Four nightcap in Indianapolis, with UK as a 5-point favorite at Bovada.
If this year's game is anything like last year's, basketball fans are in for a classic. Aaron Harrison took a pass from his twin brother Andrew, spotted up from NBA range and watched the ball rattle in for the lead with 5.7 seconds left. Wisconsin's Traevon Jackson had a last-second shot to try to beat the Wildcats (29-10), but the desperation jumper rimmed out. Wisconsin set a Final Four record by going 95 percent from the free throw line -- 19 for 20. But that one miss cost the Badgers. Jackson got Andrew Harrison to jump into him while attempting a 3-pointer with 16.4 seconds left. His first free throw rimmed out, and -- after he made the next two -- Wisconsin had a 73-71 lead and Kentucky had the ball. The winning shot was Harrison's only attempt from 3 all night; the Wildcats went only 2-for-5 as a team.
This is only the sixth time that two teams have faced each other in consecutive years this late in the tournament. In the previous five instances, the team that won the first meeting went on to win the second meeting four times. The lone exception should give the Badgers hope at ending the Wildcats’ historic run: In 1991, Duke beat undefeated UNLV in the Final Four after losing to the Runnin’ Rebels in the 1990 title game.
Rematches between nonconference opponents in the NCAA tournament are more common than it might seem. It has already occurred twice this year (UCLA vs. UAB and Gonzaga vs. UCLA), with the team that won the regular-season showdown prevailing again in the tournament. Overall, the school that won the regular-season game went on to win the tournament game in the last six instances, and 28 of the last 39 since 1996-97. This doesn’t include Arizona and Illinois in the 2000-01 season, when the teams split two regular season games.
UK has the fifth-most efficient offense in the country thanks in large part to its ability to attack the offensive glass and get to the free-throw line. The Cats rank sixth nationally in offensive-rebounding percentage (0.399) and 25th in free-throw rate (44.5). Wisconsin, meanwhile, is fourth in defensive-rebounding percentage (0.741) and first in defensive free-throw rate (22.1).
UK and Wisconsin are also evenly matched in effective field-goal percentage, the Cats ranking 75th on offense and the Badgers 99th on defense. Interestingly, the Badgers struggle guarding the 3-point line. Wisconsin is 301st in 3-point percentage defense (0.374), but allows 3-point attempts so infrequently (only 26.3 percent of opponents' shots come from 3) that it doesn't often hurt the Badgers.
Wisconsin is the only team with an offense rated better by kenpom.com than Notre Dame, which just scored more points per possession than any UK opponent this season. Thanks in large part to Kaminsky, Wisconsin is 16th nationally in effective field-goal percentage (0.55) and facing the best effective field-goal percentage defense in Kentucky, which holds opponents to 0.392.
Kentucky is the -150 favorite at Bovada to cut down the nets Monday night with Wisconsin No. 3 at +400. By the way, if the Badgers win they have faced both Duke and Michigan State this season.
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