All previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule
Conference: Big Ten
Date: Saturday, April 4
Time: 8:49 pm Eastern
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Wisconsin won the rematch with Arizona; can they win the rematch with these Wildcats too?
SportsRatings Power Ratings
Strength: #1 Strength: #2
Median play: #1 Median play: #5
Other Power Ratings
Sagarin(predictor):#1 Sagarin: #3
Pomeroy: #1 Pomeroy: #3
Offense: #5 Offense: #1
Defense: #1 Defense: #55
BPI: #1 BPI: #2
Power Rating Derivatives
2nd half/season: #2 2nd half/season: #4
Last 6 games: #2 Last 6 games: #5
Consistency: #308 Consistency: #192
Kentucky has been #1 across the board in the power ratings since the start of the tournament, and Wisconsin has been right up there, too—they're now #2 in Strength, and #2 in the BPI, taking 3rd in Sagarin (behind Duke) and Pomeroy (behind Arizona). Their offense is #1 in efficiency, but their defense lags tremendously at #55. This would seem to prohibit the upset, except that Notre Dame—#2 offense, #102 defense—very nearly beat the Wildcats.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (17): Buffalo+19, =Kansas+32, Providence+20, Texas+12, North Carolina+14, =UCLA+39, @Louisville+8, Mississippi+OT, Georgia+11, @LSU+2, Arkansas+17, @Georgia+8, =Arkansas+15, =Hampton+23, =Cincinnati+13, =West Virginia+39, =Notre Dame+2
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (5): North Carolina+14, =UCLA+39, @Louisville+8, =West Virginia+39, =Notre Dame+2
- Wins vs. Final Four (0): none
- Losses to tournament teams (0): None
- Other losses (0): None
Key Info: The chart and the 13 tournament team wins—and the lack of losses, tournament or otherwise—speak for themselves. Not only is it pretty amazing, but it refutes the last possible objection to Kentucky's march to going 40-0—consistency. The team has become perhaps the most consistent team in the country over the last 9 games or so. They dipped to #4 over the last six games, but playing at that high level without variation is something else. It looks exactly like Louisville's chart before they won the tournament two years ago—except without any red in it. What else can we say about Kentucky? They have too many good players to even address, so we'll use tournament game results to highlight them.
The Hampton game was a notch down from their last 10 games—their worst since the 2-point LSU win. Against the Pirates Karl-Anthony Towns led with 21. They were held to 37% shooting by Cincinnati but held the Bearcats to 32%; Aaron Harrison led with 13. Five players were in double figures for the West Virginia rout, but it was defense that won the game as UK held WVA to 39 points on 24% shooting; Andrew Harrison had 4 steals and a block. Aaron Harrison injured his finger during the game but it seems he will be ready to play against the Irish. Towns was unstoppable against Notre Dame, scoring 25 points, and they needed every bucket.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (17): Boise St.+24, =UAB+29, =Georgetown+3, =Oklahoma+13, Buffalo+12, Purdue+7, Iowa+32, @Iowa+11, Indiana+14, Michigan St.+7, @Ohio St.+24, =Purdue+20, =Michigan St.+OT, =Coastal Carolina+14, =Oregon+7, =North Carolina+7, =Arizona+7
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (5): =Oklahoma+13, Michigan St.+7, =Michigan St.+OT, =North Carolina+7, =Arizona+7
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (2): Michigan St.+7, =Michigan St.+OT
- Losses to tournament teams (2): Duke-10, @Maryland-6
- Other losses (1): @Rutgers-5
Key Info: It's hard to pinpoint Wisconsin's most dominant win of the year. Was it early on, when they beat Chattanooga by 44 points, almost doubling the Mocs' score (game 2)? Or beating Milwaukee by 39 on the road (game 10)? Those had big margins but not the best of competition—what about beating 7-seed Iowa, 82-50, in game 19? Or maybe it was beating 10-seed Ohio State on the road, 72-48 (game 31)? On the other hand, it's easy to find their worst loss, since there are only 3 to choose from. It wasn't the loss to 1-seed Duke, even if it was by double digits and at home. Nor was it the late loss at 4-seed Maryland. Clearly it was the 67-62 loss at Rutgers, ranked #219 by Pomeroy. The Badgers were without star 7-footer Frank Kaminsky (18.2 ppg, 8.0 rebounds) that game and lost #4 scorer Traevon Jackson during it. Jackson returned against North Carolina and scored 4 points, playing 9 minutes; he played just 7 minutes against Arizona and didn't score, but now has a full week to recover.
Kaminsky had a Wooden-award level performance with 27 points and 12 rebounds against Coastal Carolina. Forward Sam Dekker led with 17 against Oregon, then scored a career-high 23 against North Carolina. Kaminsky had 29 and Dekker 27 to thwart Arizona's bid for revenge.
Game Analysis: The Notre Dame game played out exactly as we expected, with the Irish hanging close the whole time but coming up just short at the end. And if Notre Dame can do it, why not Wisconsin? The Badgers are the only team that ranks higher in offensive efficiency than the Irish, and their defense is almost 50 rungs better than Notre Dame's. But it's still not in the top 50 overall, and that's a concern—it's the one thing that could give Kentucky a comfortable win.
Kentucky might have gotten their "test" out of the way with Notre Dame, but it also made it clear that Kentucky hasn't faced many elite teams this year. If you look at the top 25 in Pomeroy, the Wildcats have defeated just Kansas (#14), Texas (#25), Louisville (#16), and now Notre Dame (#9). They did beat #26 West Virginia by 39 points, but followed that with a 2-point squeaker.
Wisconsin has Traevon Jackson back, and although he didn't do much in his first two games, he'll have an entire week to further his recovery. Couple that with the slight downgrade Kentucky took when they lost Alex Poythress and the teams are nearly identical in quality. Wisconsin showed a lot of toughness in turning back Arizona, a team that was bent on revenge for last year's loss. Now they're the team motivated by revenge for last year's 74-73 defeat.
The teams both have many of the key players from that contest. Ben Brust and Sam Dekker led Wisconsin with 15 each; Brust is gone. Kaminsky managed just 8 points. Kentucky was led by James Young (17 points) and Julius Randle (16), neither of whom returned, and Poythress had 8 points. But they've added Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Townes, and have Willie Cauley-Stein back who missed the game. In all they've lost 41 points from the game but added about 52 in average scoring.
Kentucky by 5 1/2
Power rating: spread
Kentucky by 4.0
Game-comparisons: % Chance to win
Following their near-loss, and facing a much tougher opponent, it's no surprise the Wildcats are not a double-digit favorite as they were in their first four games. The 5.5 point spread reflects exactly what the Strength power rating says is the difference between these teams over the four games of the tournament; for the season, it's Kentucky by 4.
Bottom line: Kentucky withstood their test, now it's just a matter of beating a very, very good team. This time it's supposed to be a test. Kentucky might have been overconfident after winning by 39 points, but they won't make that mistake again. The Wildcats probably can't stop Kaminski like they did last time and Dekker is getting better every game, but the Badgers need to stop a whole slew of players. Another close game, another Kentucky win; like last year only lower-scoring.
Final prediction: Kentucky 64, Wisconsin 63
More previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule.