KENTUCKY WILDCATS (28-10)
vs. WISCONSIN BADGERS (30-7)
NCAA Tournament - National Semifinals
AT&T Stadium - Arlington, TX
Tip-off: Saturday, 8:50 p.m. ET
Line: Kentucky -1.5, Total: 140
Bo Ryan will look to keep his team rolling in his first Final Four appearance on Saturday night as his Wisconsin squad takes on young and talented Kentucky.
Neither of these teams was playing like a Final Four contender a month ago, as the Wildcats went through a 3-4 SU stretch before starting their current seven-game ATS win streak, with the only SU loss during this timeframe coming by one point to No. 1 Florida. They got to this point by beating a couple of favorites in undefeated Wichita State and defending champion Louisville before outlasting Michigan 75-72 on Sunday on a late three-pointer by Aaron Harrison. The Badgers were a dismal 1-5 (SU at ATS) from Jan. 14 to Feb. 1, but have gone 13-2 SU (9-6 ATS) in their past 15 contests, knocking off Arizona 64-63 in overtime in the West Regional Final. Wisconsin is a versatile offensive team that is as disciplined as any school in the country (nation-low 8.1 turnovers per game), and will test a freshman-laden Kentucky team that has really grown over the past month. In both the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in Indianapolis, the eighth-seeded Wildcats found themselves in a double-digit hole early in the game. Earlier in the season, this team would have folded, but it has developed a mental toughness to match all the young talent. Kentucky enters the Final Four with 10 straight NCAA Tournament wins and an outstanding 14-4 ATS mark (78%) in the Big Dance under head coach John Calipari. For this season, the club is a pedestrian 19-17 ATS overall, but 8-2 ATS on neutral courts. Wisconsin is similar in both regards, going 19-16-2 ATS overall, but 7-1-1 ATS on neutral courts. This No. 2-seeded team is also 7-0 ATS in the NCAA Tournament in the past three seasons when seeded fourth or higher. The only significant injury in this game is Wildcats C Willie Cauley-Stein, who is questionable with an ankle injury that kept him out of action in the Elite Eight. These teams have not met since 2003 in the NCAA Tournament when Kentucky prevailed 63-57 but failed to cover the big 11-point spread.
Which team will reach Monday's title game? For the latest college basketball picks, check out The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts selections every week throughout the entire 2013-14 season. The StatFox Experts have sizzled in the NCAA Tournament with a 61% ATS mark (53-34-3), making them a stellar 60% ATS (329-224-19) in college basketball Best Bets this season. StatFox Brian is on an amazing Best Bets run of 77% ATS (43-13-4) since Jan. 17, to give him a robust 69% ATS (75-34-5) record in Best Bets for the season. StatFox Dave is a phenomenal 74% ATS (14-5) in Best Bets for the NCAA Tournament, making him 65% ATS (53-28-1) in Best Bets since Dec. 18 and 62% ATS (70-43-2) this season. StatFox Scott is a strong 65% ATS (11-6-1) in Best Bets for the NCAA Tournament, 66% ATS (25-13-3) since Feb. 16 and 59% ATS (65-45-5) for the season. StatFox Gary is 59% ATS (59-41) on Best Bets since Nov. 22 and 56% ATS (63-49-2) for the season.
Kentucky was ranked No. 1 in the nation to start the season, and the youngsters didn't handle that pressure very well, as they were trying to do too much. But they have learned to let the game come to them, and are as confident as ever. The Wildcats have had a quality offense this season, averaging 75.4 PPG (60th in nation) on 45.4% FG (118th in Div. I). But they do not shoot well from long range (33.2% threes, 214th in nation) or at the foul line (68.5% FT, 220th in Div. I), and are not very efficient in handling the ball with a minus-1.4 TOPG margin (278th in nation) and a weak 0.92 Ast/TO ratio (249th in Div. I). They do a solid job on defense though, allowing 66.6 PPG (82nd in nation) on just 41.0% FG (54th in Div. I) and 32.0% threes (58th in nation). These numbers are helped greatly by their elite rebounding (+9.8 RPG margin, 2nd in Div. I) and interior defense (6.1 BPG, 10th in nation). Kentucky grabs 14.6 offensive RPG (5th in Div. I), which has helped the club lead the country in free-throw attempts (1,101). The biggest reason for the team's resurgence is the play of PF Julius Randle (15.1 PPG, 10.7 RPG) who leads the nation with 24 double-doubles. The freshman has been dominant in his first NCAA Tournament, recording a double-double in all four games with averages of 15.8 PPG (48% FG) and 12.0 RPG. The twin backcourt of Aaron Harrison (14.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.9 APG) and Andrew Harrison (11.0 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.1 RPG) continues to improve every game, and will have huge advantages when it comes to size against the Badgers guards with their 6-foot-6 statures. Both Harrisons are enjoying solid NCAA Tournament performances with a combined 28.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG and 5.8 APG, but Aaron has only two assists and seven turnovers, while Andrew has shot just 37% FG and 3-of-11 threes. While Aaron Harrison's game-winning three versus Michigan is getting all the talk, the Wildcats would not have won that contest if not for the huge performance by PF Marcus Lee (2.4 PPG, 1.5 RPG in 6.1 MPG). The freshman Lee, filling in for the injured C Willie Cauley-Stein, finished Sunday's game with 10 points and eight rebounds, with seven boards coming on the offensive glass. With Cauley-Stein (6.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.9 BPG) most likely out for the Final Four, Lee will be counted upon to have another big game. Swingman James Young (14.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG) scored 13 points on 3-of-4 from the three-point line in Sunday's win, but carries pedestrian season percentages of 41% FG and 35% threes.
The one thing you can count on from a Bo Ryan team is that it will not beat itself, leading the country in fewest turnovers (8.1 TOPG) and placing second in personal fouls (15.0 per game). This is usually a terrific defense, and this season hasn't disappointed, ranking 37th in the nation with 63.7 PPG allowed) while holding opponents to 42.7% FG (122nd in Div. I) and 34.0% threes (156th in nation). The biggest disadvantage for Wisconsin on Saturday will be on the boards, as this team has a pedestrian +1.6 RPG margin this season (134th in Div. I). The Badgers have some tall players, but they are not nearly as strong or as physical as the Wildcats. While the Wisconsin offense does not wow the crowd with ultra-athletic plays, the Badgers have a better offense than usual with 73.5 PPG (89th in nation) on 45.9% FG (85th in Div. I), 37.5% threes (55th in nation) and 74.1% FT (36th in Div. I). At most times during the game, Wisconsin will have at least four players that can hit the outside shot. The top shooter on the team is SG Josh Gasser (8.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG) who knocks down 44% threes and 87% free throws. He does a great job of moving without the ball, allowing himself to get many wide-open shots. SG Ben Brust (12.8 PPG, 39% threes, 4.5 RPG), PG Traevon Jackson (10.7 PPG, 38% threes, 4.0 APG) and SF Sam Dekker (12.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG) are all guys capable of having big scoring nights. Jackson has been consistently great in all four games of the NCAA Tournament with averages of 12.8 PPG (50% FG), 5.5 RPG and 4.5 APG. This great supporting cast makes it tough to double down on 7-foot C Frank Kaminsky (14.1 PPG, 38% threes, 6.4 RPG). Kaminsky was absolutely dominant in the Elite Eight win over Arizona with 28 points (11-of-20 FG, 3-of-5 threes) and 11 rebounds, increasing his NCAA Tournament averages to 18.5 PPG (55% FG) and 6.0 RPG.