John Calipari has yet again brought a dynamic group of freshman to the Final Four. The teenagers have reawakened the nickname of “The Fab Five” by storming through the tournament’s most daunting region.
Standing out of the bunch is forward Julius Randle. Randle is Calipari’s prized gem and Bo Ryan’s biggest obstacle.
Here’s Randle dominating in high school.
Randle is Kentucky’s leading scorer and rebounder. The big lefty plays mean. What makes Randle so special is the combination of talent and intensity. For the state of Wisconsin, he’s public enemy number one.
Randle lives for contact. His massive frame allows himself to seal his way around defenders resulting in easy buckets. Being left-handed also gives Randle deceptiveness. Wisconsin hasn’t seen many lefty’s this year, especially at the forward position. UW’s defense must understand Randle’s movements and tendencies early. Forcing Randle right will force the young Wildcat into challenging shots.
Kentucky averages 36 rebounds per game, 10 of which come from Randle. Randle is a strong rebounder that the Wildcats rely on. With backup center Willie Cauley-Stein likely out, the burden of Julius to crash becomes that much greater. Keep an eye on Randle’s minutes here; his fatigue may become a major factor on the glass.
Wisconsin should still be concerned of Randle’s rebounding ability. Last week they were punished by Aaron Gordon, who swallowed up 18 rebounds. UW doesn’t match up well at the power forward position. Sam Dekker is 30 pounds lighter than Randle and by the looks of it, it’s all muscle. The Dallas Native is living proof that everything is bigger in Texas.
Don’t get me wrong, Dekker can rebound, but his battle with Randle won’t stop there. Julius is 250 pounds of grade-A beef. A beating from him every trip down could take a guy like Dekker completely out of a game.
Expect Bo Ryan and his staff to move players around on defense. Sixth-man Nigel Hayes is far better suited to guard Randle. Their games are oddly similar. On average, they each shoot a free throw every four minutes. Both rely on their strength to move players down low. Last week, Hayes had a similar assignment against Aaron Gordon and Hayes never left Gordon’s side, preventing any kind of post look. A similar plan may have to be executed against Randle.
Outside the paint is right where Wisconsin wants Randle. The freshman turns the ball over 2.6 times a game. That’s more than any Badger, even Traevon Jackson who averages 2.2. Randle will make mistakes when he puts the ball on the floor. UW’s guards should help on Randle to increase their chances of forcing turnovers.
If Randle chooses to stay outside, let him. His shooting is suspect. According to draftexpress.com, it took over nine games for Randle to make his first jump shot as a collegian (0-8). From three he shoots only 17 percent. Wisconsin will pray for Randle to shoot. When Randle catches the ball at the arc, there should be a decent size gap between him and the defender. Also take into consideration that whenever he shoots, his teammates are the ones who have to rebound, not him.
Ultimately, the deciding factor is Randle’s maturity. Yes, Julius Randle has shown that no stage nor opponent is too big. Yes, he will likely be selected in the opening hour of the NBA draft. But Bo Ryan doesn’t care about all of that.
Ryan is still going to run his swing offense at the speed of a glacier. Kentucky will try to push the ball, but Wisconsin will not allow it. Trust me, growing up in Wisconsin you learn first hand how frustrating Badger basketball can be. Now imagine playing in the Final Four; 19-year-old with your hometown watching.
How can you possibly keep focus?
That’s for Julius to figure out. The advantage is his if he patiently takes what the Badgers give him. A few bad decisions however, will leave his homecoming cut short.