The common opinion around the nation in college basketball is the two best coaches never to reach a Final Four are the Wisconsin Badgers’ Bo Ryan and the Arizona Wildcats’ Sean Miller.
One of them will finally achieve that goal this season.
The West Regional final will tip at 5:49 PT at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA and feature the top-seeded Wildcats and second-seeded Badgers.
Wisconsin is one of the hottest teams in the tournament. They destroyed the American Eagles in the Second Round by 40 points, escaped a dangerous Oregon Ducks team in the round of 32 by only eight points, and most recently overwhelmed a very good Baylor Bears team on Thursday by 17. They shoot the ball very well and are a very tough matchup because of their ability to control tempo.
This is arguably the best offensive team Ryan has ever coached, led by versatile 7’0” junior center Frank Kaminsky. Arizona has its own 7-footer in Kaleb Tarczewski but the difference between these two giants is that Kaminsky can shoot it from the outside. He has made 36.6% of his attempts from behind the arc. The starting five of Wisconsin (Kaminsky, Ben Brust, Traveon Jackson, Sam Dekker, and Josh Gasser) combine to shoot 38.5% from 3-point range this season. When the big men are dragged out to the perimeter this gives the rest of the team an opportunity to attack the basket or kick out to another shooter. The Arizona defense better bring it versus this dangerous Wisconsin offense.
Tarczewski is going to have a really tough time guarding Kaminsky. This means other players are going to need to rebound for Arizona. It is unusual for the Wildcats to be outrebounded like they were Thursday night versus San Diego State (37-29). This cannot happen again tonight or else it could be a long night for the Cats. Nick Johnson clearly struggled offensively Thursday night, missing his first ten shots before saving the day and scoring 15 points in the final four minutes. Johnson did, however, record a team-high eight rebounds. Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon only had seven boards combined.
Wisconsin has faced many tough opponents this year. They defeated NCAA Tournament 1-seeds Florida and Virginia during their nonconference schedule. They split the season series 2-2 versus fellow Big Ten Conference Elite Eight teams Michigan and Michigan State. The Badgers have been ranked as high as No. 3 this season. They are definitely prepared to face the Wildcats.
Tempo is going to be crucial in this game. Wisconsin allows 63.8 points per game, while Arizona allows 58.4 points per game. No team has scored over 75 points versus Arizona this season. The Badgers are very good in their half-court offense because of their shooting ability and versatility. The Wildcats like to push the ball and are extremely dangerous in transition. If Wisconsin is not making their shots and Arizona rebounds well and pushes the ball, the Badgers are going to have a hard time stopping the attack led by Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell. However, if Wisconsin is making their shots and Arizona is forced to play in the half-court offense, it could get ugly for the Wildcats.
Arizona’s defense has been their anchor this entire season, but a strong offensive game will help their chances a lot versus a tough Wisconsin team. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been outstanding attacking the basket and drawing contact to perform the “Rondae Shimmy” at the free throw line. If you add in some Gabe York and Elliot Pitts three-pointers, the Wildcats will be in great shape to come out with a win.
This is going to be a hard-fought, physical, and intense game between two of the best programs in all of college basketball. Kaminsky may score 30 points but if Arizona can stop the rest of the Badgers offense, I do believe Arizona will pull off a victory. The Johnson who showed up in the last four minutes of last game needs to continue to score and be the clutch factor down the stretch for Arizona. When it comes down to it, I feel Arizona’s defense will grind out another win for the CardiacCats. Prediction: Sean Miller finally reaches his first Final Four as the Wildcats go on to win 59-56.
And always remember, “Nastiness is required.”
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