Perhaps no team in the 2014 NCAA Final Four is as balanced or complete as Wisconsin. The Badgers have 30 wins and seven losses on the season, but five of those losses came in a mid-season slump that saw them lose five out of six games in the second week of January. Their undefeated non-conference schedule features wins over five tournament teams including Virginia, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Eastern Kentucky and fellow Final Four-qualifier Florida.
The Badgers can play type kind of game their opponents want to play. They won by scoring 48 points against Virginia, and they scored 103 points in a win over North Dakota. Their top shot-blocker and inside-threat, 7-foot forward Frank Kaminsky, also has made 37 three-pointers. Each of their starting five has attempted at least 86 long-range shots. In other words, Wisconsin can play inside or outside and take whatever the defense gives them. On defense the Badgers aren’t going to impress you in any statistic except the one that matters the most—scoring defense. They rank no better than 129 in defensive rebounds, blocks and steals, but are number-37 in the nation in points allowed, giving up less than 64 per game.
Their road to the Final Four saw the Badgers beat an assortment of teams who play an assortment of styles. After a relatively easy 40-point win over American they got a battle from up-tempo Oregon and fell behind by 14 in the first half. Half-time adjustments were made, including getting the ball inside to Kaminsky, and the Badgers escaped with a hard-earned 85-77 win. Their next assignment, as they moved on to the regional finals in Anaheim, was to find a way to beat Baylor and their inside shot-blocking tandem of Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson. The answer for the Badgers was to turn up the defense, holding the Bears to 31.6 percent from the field, including only 13 percent from the 3-point line, and coast to a 69-52 victory. The final step to the Final Four was a matchup against number-one seeded Arizona, the team that perhaps most resembled the Badgers in balance and toughness on the court. The Badgers leaned on their big man this time, as Kaminsky poured in 28 points, and Wisconsin escaped with a 64-63 win. In beating the Wildcats, the Badgers became the only team in the nation to have wins over the regular-season champions of the SEC, ACC, Pac-12 and Big 10 conferences.
Wisconsin does not have a decorated history in the NCAA Final Four. They have almost no history at all. This is only their third appearance on the final weekend, their last being in 2000 when they lost to Michigan State in the semi-finals 53-41. Their other appearance was in 1941 when they won their only National Championship. What the Badgers have in 2014 is what coach Bo Ryan and every other coach in the country crave. They have a true team. They don’t rely heavily on a specific player to win the game for them because that player can, and will, change from game to game. The average points per game of their starters ranges from 8.9 to 14.1. Their average rebounds go from 3.8 to 6.4. There are no player-of-the-year candidates on the Wisconsin Badger team, and that is probably exactly what Bo Ryan had in mind when he built his team this season.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky