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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, April 2, 2015 at 7:00 PM

Kentucky’s dreams for an undefeated season and a National Championship almost came to an end last weekend when a fired up group of Notre Dame Fighting Irish battled tooth and nail until the final seconds. You can’t say Kentucky was lucky to win. But, they weren’t head and shoulders above ND during those 40 minutes. What’s going to happen Saturday in the Final Four when Kentucky has to face a Wisconsin group that’s even better than Notre Dame?

The Kentucky Wildcats can’t just coast and assume things will take care of themselves. They almost learned that the hard way vs. the Irish. And, now, they’re facing their toughest opponent of the season in terms of computer ratings, NBA-ready talent, and coaching acumen. Nobody in the SEC was as good. Nobody in pre-conference action was as good.

Of course, you can look through the same lens from the other direction for Wisconsin! They faced their toughest opponent to date last week vs. Arizona. They needed to shoot lights out from long range to escape with a victory as a 1-point underdog. Can they keep making ALL of their treys like that against an opponent who would have been about -4 over Arizona? What happens if the shots aren’t falling against what is now Wisconsin’s toughest opponent of the season?

Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key handicapping stats have to say about the matchup. You regular readers should have these virtually memorized by now. But, we’re assuming a lot of first time readers will be checking in for the Final Four. Shield your eyes when you get to Wisconsin’s defense!


Adjusted Offensive Efficiency

Kentucky: 119.4 per 100 possessions (#5 in the nation)

Wisconsin: 127.5 per 100 possessions (#1 in the nation)

The latest numbers from Ken Pomeroy’s statistical website show that both of these teams are great on offense once you adjust for pace and caliber of opposition. Wisconsin is extremely efficient because they wait for good shots…and then let their best shooters take them. Kentucky is much better than realized because they get a lot of second-chance points off offensive rebounds, and some cheapies off takeaways. You probably heard the TV announcers last week talking about how Wisconsin had the most efficient offense in the country. There’s been less hype about Kentucky being right up there in the national rankings with them.


Adjusted Defensive Efficiency

Kentucky: 85.6 per 100 possessions (#1 in the nation)

Wisconsin: 96.4 per 100 possessions (#54 in the nation)

This is where Wisconsin runs into big trouble. They’re not even top 50 after you adjust for pace and opposition. That’s hidden from too many by their slow pace. Announcers last week were suggesting Wisconsin had one of the best “defenses” in the country. That’s a scoreboard illusion created by holding onto the ball so long on offense. When it comes to GUARDING people, the Badgers aren’t very good by Dance standards. You saw that last week when all they could do was grab Arizona and send them to the free throw line through the second half. Kentucky is championship caliber on both sides of the floor. Wisconsin has a championship caliber offense (that might be due to cool off!) but a defense that is overmatched by quality. They made up for that last week with red hot shooting. They will need to do so again.


Pace Ranking

Kentucky: #250

Wisconsin: #345

Wisconsin is one of the slowest teams in the country, which can be a problem if they fall behind and have to play catch up. Kentucky is slower than average, though some of that is created by their offensive rebounding. They “shoot” faster than their pace ranking would make it seem, but extend possessions with offensive boards. Wisconsin will try to slow things WAY down to stay within striking distance. Kentucky may fall into the trap of letting them do that.


Against the Spread

Kentucky: 19-17-2

Wisconsin: 20-17-1

Fantastic job from both teams. It doesn’t seem that way because Kentucky is barely above break-even after the vigorish, and Wiscy is only up about a unit. But…these teams have been priced like champions all season…and have to play to near-perfection to cover spreads. That ATS mark for Kentucky suggests they are championship caliber because they’ve been priced as champions from the get-go. Wisconsin’s right there with them. A reminder to sports bettors that you can’t get rich betting on most superpowers during the regular season! The lines are just too high.


Las Vegas Line: Kentucky by 5, total of 131.5

Fun price to play around with. Kentucky is never that low. Wisconsin is never getting that many points. If you’re a fan of either team, the price seems like a steal! Note that Kentucky -5 is less than half of the -11 we saw vs. Notre Dame last week. The Wildcats can play under par for half the game and still get the money. Wisconsin may have had trouble covering +5 vs. Arizona if they had a “normal” shooting game from long range. Very tough call in that light…because Wisconsin’s three-point performance will probably determine the final margin. That can be the hardest thing to handicap in a 40-minute spring (as Arizona backers will remind you!)

This is an early look at Kentucky/Wisconsin. We’ll cover Duke/Michigan State tomorrow. Our official releases won’t be up until Saturday morning. You can build your bankroll Friday night with some great NBA! Game day BEST BETS can always be purchased right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours Friday, or Saturday before the Final Four tips off.

Here’s what’s coming up the next few days in the NOTEBOOK…

Saturday: NCAA Final Four Preview…Duke vs. Michigan State

Sunday: NBA Preview…Golden State vs. San Antonio (big one!)

Monday: NCAA Championship Preview (Saturday’s Survivors clash!)

Tuesday: MLB Preview…Los Angeles Angels vs. Seattle Mariners (budding rivalry!)

Wednesday: MLB Preview…San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers (same here!)

Will Kentucky beat Wisconsin on the way to a historic championship run? The man with the answers is always just a few clicks away. When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!


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Jim Hurley on twitter @vsm_hurley

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