From a field that started with 68 teams now has been narrowed down to just 4. The Final Four teams heading to the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas are the Florida Gators, UConn Huskies, Wisconsin Badgers and the Kentucky Wildcats. March Madness has already exceeded all its expectations and come Saturday, college basketball fans better buckle up and prepare themselves for consecutive classics.
The more intriguing and anticipated Final Four match-up will come in the second game featuring Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin Badgers and John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats. The tip-off is scheduled for 7:49 PM on TBS following the Florida and UConn game.
Bo Ryan will be coaching in his first ever Final Four while Kentucky head coach John Calipari is no stranger to college basketball’s biggest stage. Although both coaches are arguably among the nation’s best, their approaches to recruiting and their coaching styles are complete polar opposites.
It’s no secret that Calipari’s approach to recruiting is to find the most talented and gifted athletes in the country. These players can be summed up as “one and done” type of players. Players like Derrick Rose, John Wall and Anthony Davis, to name a few, fled for the NBA after their freshman seasons. His methodology has been criticized over the past years but it’s hard to argue with a guy who’s been to a previous 4 Final Fours and won a National Championship in 2012 with freshman phenom Anthony Davis. Throughout the 2014 NCAA tournament Calipari has started 5 freshman in every game thus far and has begun drawing comparisons to Michigan’s “Fab Five”. The country has been witness to the maturing of these young Wildcats, watching them beat Wichita State, Louisville and most recently Michigan in the Elite 8.
While Calipari is making headline news, Bo Ryan is out recruiting players who are true student-athletes that will buy into his Wisconsin basketball system. Meaning that Ryan looks for players who are coming to college to earn a degree and play basketball. Since taking over 13 years ago, he has preached to his players that being a student at the University of Wisconsin comes before playing basketball on his team. It may have taken 13 years, a career record of 321-120, 2 Big Ten tournament championships, 3 regular season Big Ten championships to get to the Final Four but, there isn’t a more deserving head coach than Bo Ryan to have finally made it.
With that being said, this is definitely no where near your typical Wisconsin Badger basketball team we’ve come accustomed to watching. This Wisconsin basketball team is one of the best in offensive efficiency in the country and that has certainly been on display this tournament. Most notably, the Badger’s overcame a 12-point halftime deficit and outscored Oregon 48-28 in the second half as they went on to defeat the Ducks 85-77 in the third round. In the sweet sixteen, Wisconsin put on a clinic against one of the nation’s top zone defenses in Baylor. They picked apart the Bear’s all night long leading to a very convincing 69-52 victory.
Wisconsin was put to the test in the Elite 8 against the top-seeded team in the West region, the Arizona Wildcats. The 2 teams put on a March Madness classic that had anyone watching on the edge of their seat’s and heart’s pounding out of their chest’s. The Badger’s point guard Traevon Jackson had a chance to put the game away during regulation but missed a pull-up jumper as time expired. All game long, the Badger’s took advantage of having the country’s biggest match-up problem, Frank “The Tank” Kaminksy. The 7-footer was the difference in the game, Arizona simply had no answer for him and he finished the game with 28 points and 11 rebounds.
During the final seconds of overtime, Arizona’s Nick Johnson was called for a controversial offensive foul that could have been called either way but was called against him. That’s when things in the game to say the least got interesting. On the assuming Wisconsin in bounds play, Sam Dekker tried forcing a pass to Jackson that was tipped out of bounds and ruled Badger’s ball. Upon further review, which lasted around the better half of 5 minutes, the ball was given to Arizona with 2.3-seconds remaining. With Wisconsin leading the game 64-63, Nick Johnson gathered in the in bounds pass, took one to many dribbles left of the key and was unable to get the shot off in time.
Wisconsin and Kentucky are both playing the best basketball they have played all season and with a week to prepare you can bet Bo Ryan and John Calapari will have their teams prepared and ready to play. The Badger’s starting line-up will consist of the same 5 players it has been all season, senior Ben Brust, juniors Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser and sophomore Sam Dekker. For Kentucky, it will be Calipari’s freshman fab five, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young, Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson.