Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, April 4, 2014 at 7:00 PM
The nightcap of Saturday’s Final Four basketball fast features a pair of top quality teams who go about things in very different ways. The contrasts between Wisconsin and Kentucky aren’t as extreme as they used to be. Wisconsin is a touch faster and a bit more athletic this year than in the past (which is why they’re having such a deep run!). Kentucky is a bit slower this year and was late to find their killer instinct (which is why they were only a #8 seed). But, we still have two very distinct approaches to basketball.
*Wisconsin patiently works the ball around on offense, trying to find an open look. Kentucky gets the ball to a star who attacks the basket quickly and aggressively. That leads to some big days from long range for Wisconsin, and some big days at the free throw line for Kentucky.
*Wisconsin tends to back off in the paint if the ball goes in deep. They’re particularly soft when center Frank Kaminsky isn’t near the rim discouraging shots. Kentucky’s athletes try to make high impact plays when you get the ball inside.
It’s possible that we’re going to have one of the all time Dance scoring shows if Wisconsin is draining treys while Kentucky is flying unchecked to the rim. It’s possible that we’re going to have a blowout if either team falls slightly off their norms while the other hits on all cylinders.
A challenging game to handicap. Let’s go to our key information resources…
Wisconsin: #6 in Pomeroy, #4 in Sagarin
Kentucky: #8 in Pomeroy, #6 in Sagarin
College basketball guru Ken Pomeroy and USA Today computer whiz Jeff Sagarin both see Wisconsin as two positions better. But, the margin for error when you’re evaluating about 350 teams is such that you might as well call it a dead heat. Interesting that such varied philosophies can lead to virtually the same level of excellence and success. The legal betting markets tend to weight recent form more heavily. That’s why Kentucky is the betting favorite. It’s a dead heat over five months…but Kentucky’s had the more impressive Dance run.
Offensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)
We mentioned that both teams get a lot out of their offenses. Wisconsin makes treys, and does a fantastic job of avoiding turnovers. Kentucky picks up so many bonus points at the charity stripe that they can live with more turnovers. The slightest of edges overall to Wisconsin…but relying on treys is a bit more risky than relying on inside points. Yesterday we talked about how “defense wins championships” much of the time in this tournament. The survivor of this game will try to win with offense in Monday’s final.
Defensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)
Both of those represent good rankings nationally, but poor rankings in terms of playing championship caliber basketball. By Dance standards, these are just generic defenses. This is a HUGE fall-off for Kentucky, a team that usually ranks very highly under coach John Calipari. Wisconsin just doesn’t recruit dynamic defensive athletes in depth…which prevents them from playing dynamic defense. Their slow offensive pace helps create the illusion of great defense some years. The media still hasn’t figured that out.
We talked about this at the top. Wisconsin is usually in the 300’s…so there a bit faster this year than normal. Their fans thanks them! Kentucky is slower this year than normal because they don’t have super-fast guards who fly at the basket. Their best weapons are slower big guys, and Calipari has been smart to play to those strengths. Given the nature of the matchup, it may be a high scoring game with a slow pace.
Against the Spread
Kentucky’s recent run has launched them past the .500 mark. They were struggling late in the season until really clicking in the SEC tournament. There’s been no looking back since. Wisconsin has posted a solid profit, also thanks to a postseason run.
Vegas Line: Kentucky by 1.5, total of 139.5
Respect there for Kentucky’s recent form (sharps and oddsmakers have been impressed with a win streak over the likes of Wichita State, Louisville, and Michigan). And, that’s a high total for a slow game…so the market has been doing its research on the teams.
As we pointed out yesterday, JIM HURLEY can’t wait to unleash his annual COLLEGE BASKETBALL PARLAY OF THE YEAR in Saturday’s Final Four doubleheader. You’ll be able to purchase that right here at the website with your credit card any time before tipoff of the Florida/Connecticut game. If you have any questions, or if you’d like to talk to a live person about full season options, call our handicapping office Saturday morning or afternoon at 1-888-777-4155.
Our final college basketball edition of the NOTEBOOK will be Monday when we preview the championship game featuring Saturday’s winners. We’ll devote Sunday to baseball, featuring the San Francisco Giants at the Los Angeles Dodgers in the ESPN game in prime time.
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