Before I devote the rest of this article to Kentucky and Wisconsin, I’ll pause here and make a quick note on the other Final Four game between Michigan State and Duke. The Blue Devils looked incredible and are now poised to win their fifth title under Coach K. Jahlil Okafor continues to be a beast inside, Justise Winslow has hit another gear this tournament and they’re getting meaningful contributions from Matt Jones and Grayson Allen. Not many teams could take that Spartans team and embarrass them. March Madness continues in April. — A.T.
After 38 consecutive wins this season, Kentucky finally fell 71-64 to Wisconsin. Coming into the tournament, I thought there was no way Kentucky would lose. Sure, other teams would play well, and Kentucky is not one of the greatest teams of all-time, but an undefeated regular season means something. It has so much length at every position that I figured it would just overwhelm other teams with size and find mismatches. Wisconsin is a really good basketball team, but it still feels like the Average Joes just defeated the Purple Cobras. If Kentucky’s march to the perfect season had to run off the tracks, at least it played in college basketball’s best game since…Kentucky-Notre Dame last weekend.
The game started off at a blistering pace, but it was destined to slow down. Kentucky had stretches of looking like the most dangerous team in America, but then the Badgers had runs that neutralized the Wildcats. The Harrison twins made some big shots throughout the game but really disappeared at the end and relied way, way, way too much on hero ball as if it were 2014. I kept thinking they needed to feed the post and find Karl-Anthony Towns, who showed why I believe he’ll be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft this year. On one possession in the second half, Towns collected two offensive rebounds before scoring himself.
Even as Wisconsin pulled away a bit in the last 10 or so minutes, the threat of a Kentucky run loomed in the shadows. Any second now, Tyler Ulis could drill a three or Willie Cauley-Stein might slam home an alley oop. For every Kentucky bucket, the Badgers would go right back and allow either Sam Dekker or Frank Kaminsky to work.
It’s important to make one qualifying comment about the Wildcats: As great as they were this year and as great as a 40-win season would be in the history books, they still weren’t considered one of the best teams of all-time. They ran into some close calls during the year, like an overtime win versus Ole Miss followed by a double overtime squeaker at Texas A&M.
Weaknesses are much easier to see in hindsight though. If you’ve read this wondering how I could continually praise a team that just lost: A perfect regular season still means you’re a really good basketball team. That’s also just a testament to Wisconsin’s gelling and team of destiny feel. If you chose Kentucky to win it all this year, you’re in my boat. I would say it can just prepare for next year, but that’ll be an entirely different roster in all likelihood.
So where does that leave us for Monday’s game? Probably a good bet for more fun* college basketball. (*except for the occasional terrible call by the college refs.) You’ve got the top (Wisconsin) and third-best (Duke) teams in adjusted offensive efficiency. This won’t be the same 10-point win in Madison for the Blue Devils. Both teams have drastically changed – Winslow is the x-factor of Duke, but Dekker has also played out of his mind in March. We should have a battle in the post between (probably) the top two college basketball players in the country. But before then, someone, somewhere in Kentucky will get a 2016 national champions tattoo, probably.