INDIANAPOLIS—Saturday night’s Final Four showdown between top seeds Kentucky and Wisconsin has all the ingredients to be an evenly matched contest, as the country’s most efficient offense will take on the nation’s most stout defense. Since Ken Pomeroy started tracking tempo-free statistics back in 2002, no team has posted a higher offensive efficiency rating than this Wisconsin team.
As for the Wildcats, their 85.6 adjusted defensive rating is tied for the second-best mark over the last 13 years, according to CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander.
It’s a classic example of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, with Kentucky of course also continuing its pursuit of perfection.
“Our style of play this year has been fast-paced, but efficient at the same time,” senior forward Frank Kaminsky said in an Indianapolis press conference. “Kentucky is a great team. You’ve seen what they’ve done this season. They’re undefeated at this point.”
Though the Badgers enter the game as underdogs, they have the offensive firepower to take down the Wildcats, plus they also seem to be peaking at just the right time.
Wisconsin successfully navigated a tough path to earn a return trip to college basketball’s final weekend, defeating Coastal Carolina, Oregon, North Carolina and Arizona along the way. Though the Badgers have yet to put together a full 40 minutes of stellar basketball during the NCAA Tournament, they’ve gotten progressively better along the way.
“Okay, we've been efficient,” head coach Bo Ryan said. “You know what? What you can't do is you can't lie with the numbers that our players have put on the board this year for points per possession and everything else."
“It still is quite amazing, and actually people help us when they ignore the fact that we can score points 'cause it tells us a lot about the other people who think that we don't. Again, who led the NCAA tournament last year in scoring? It seems like I'm the only one that ever says it. You know why? 'Cause one of my assistants told me. Does anyone know who led the tournament? Wisconsin did."
This culminated in an utterly phenomenal effort in the second half of Wisconsin’s Elite Eight win over Arizona, where the UW offense turned into an absolute machine that torched an excellent Wildcat defense and left it in a smoldering pile of ashes.
Junior forward Sam Dekker led the charge for the Badgers against Arizona in that torrid second half, going 6-for-6 from the field, including 5-for-5 from 3-point range, and scoring 20 of his 27 points in the game’s final 20 minutes. This included a high-arcing, cold-blooded triple with less than 30 seconds to go that ended up being the final dagger in Wisconsin’s victory.
“I wanted to come out confident in the second half,” Dekker said. “Toward the end of the first half I wanted to start driving it. I was getting to the paint, drew some fouls, just trying to get my confidence up. It opened up the hoop for me to shoot free throws, then get my feet set for some open shots and started hitting those.”
As a team, the Badgers were an astonishing 15-of-19 from the floor in the second half, the peak in a month that saw the offense steadily improve.
According to Pomeroy’s website, Wisconsin’s offense improved from an adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 122.3 for the season at the beginning of the month to 127.5 following their win against the Wildcats, an incredible number for today’s college game.
With Dekker continuing to shine in the tournament and Kaminsky continuing to show why he’s a frontrunner for the Wooden Award, the Badgers are as ready as they’ll ever be to square off against unbeaten Kentucky.
Though there have been some close calls, no team has been up to the task of taking down Kentucky and its sensational defense. However, if there’s any offense in the country that can answer the call, it’s the Wisconsin Badgers.
Jack Baer contributed to this report.