Game #2 of today’s (or, in CET time, tomorrow morning’s) doubleheader of 2014 NCAA Championship game-determining matchups pits the Julius Randle and the Immovable Objects vs Bob Ryan’s Unstoppable Forces. All right, so officially that’s the University of Kentucky Wildcats and the University of Wisconsin Badgers – by any name a scintillating matchup.
Grabbing the lion’s share of headlines (not to mention boards and blocks) among Kentucky Wildcats coverage in 2013-14 has been the massive Julius Randle; on either side of the ball, the opposition is forced to respond to the versatile 260-pounder in the paint – whether he’s menacingly driven in or established himself in the post is the Badgers’ (big) problem in this matchup.
Not that Kentucky suffers any paucity of smaller potential mismatches – after all, this side began the season in the top five of most pundits’ rankings. Aaron Harrison and James Young have combined for a ridiculous 50% shooting (16-of-32) on threes in this tournament. With Willie Cauley-Stein presumably out, the options for the drive-and-kick as well as offensive rebounding are reduced, and thus this twosome can be expected to tee off just as frequently.
However, this sort of game plan can play directly into Wisconsin’s hands. With so many deadeye shooters from Nigel Hayes and Josh Gasser in the backcourt, to Ben Brust and Sam Decker in the frontcourt, to the marvelous 7-foot wunderkind with the full skill set Frank Kaminsky. The latter four can fairly well pick their spots on the floor while Kaminsky may give Randle his biggest (so to speak) challenge off the glass in this tournament, if not in all of 2013-14. The Badgers will need this guy to step up, as Cauley-Stein’s absence gives Wisconsin its only size advantage anywhere on the floor.
(Hey, maybe Bo Ryan will implement Charles Barkley’s strategy for the team again…)
Wisconsin has demonstrated some amazing patience in finding the open man while winding down the clock this season; given that the battle in the trenches well favors Kentucky and even within the tournament Wisconsin is allowing about 38% three-point shooting, the Badgers will likely attempt to slow things even further. Any attempt to make things physical against a team this much larger (even without Cauley-Stein) would be disastrous.
At the sportsbook, the over/under on this game is 139 points, a very convenient benchmark indeed. So we’re aboard: Figure a score in the 70s means a Kentucky win, lower gives the W to Wisconsin. This official fearless prediction says Young and Aaron Harrison manage to sink just enough threes to make the difference in a relative barnburner: Kentucky 75, Wisconsin 69.