Saturday’s results in the 2015 March Madness NCAA basketball tournament saw two teams qualify for the Final Four in Indianapolis. The Kentucky Wildcats, with a victory over Notre Dame, claimed one spot in the national semifinals while the Wisconsin Badgers, with a win over Arizona, claimed another. Those two teams will now meet next weekend in what will be a highly anticipated match-up.
For Kentucky, the Final Four appearance is certainly nothing new. The Wildcats, including this season, have qualified for four of the last five Final Fours. The school was also a mainstay in college basketball’s final weekend for much of the 1990s. All totaled, the 2015 NCAA tournament will mark the school’s seventh appearance in the Final Four. Despite surviving a close shave against Notre Dame (68-66), Kentucky should enter the Final Four as the clear odds-on favorite to win the national championship.
For Wisconsin, the Final Four appearances are much less numerous. However the Badgers are making a second straight appearance in the Final Four following last year’s run. Overall Wisconsin has made the national semifinals on four occassions now, including a run in the year 2000 and also another way back in 1941, the only year the Badgers won the NCAA basketball championship.
The national semifinal between Kentucky and Wisconsin is a rematch from the same round in the 2014 tournament. Last year the Wildcats defeated Wisconsin 74-73, thanks in no small part to a deep three-pointer by Aaron Harrison in the dying seconds of the game.
Kentucky, who would go on to lose the NCAA championship game to the Connecticut Huskies, will looking to redeem themselves. They are under some pressure heading into the 2015 Final Four as the current group of Wildcats, many of which were not on the 2012 national championship team, stand to be tagged as chokers if they do not complete the 2015 tournament with a win.
There is further pressure on Kentucky as they were the No. 1 team entering the tournament and they remain undefeated heading into the final weekend.
Wisconsin, with a 35-3 record, will not feel the same pressure. However the Badgers are a better team than the Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish, a team that pushed Kentucky to the brink of elimination. With two blue chips in Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky the Badgers are more than capable of upsetting the Wildcats.
Another point that has to be made is that the Wildcats have not actually played a team as talented as Wisconsin this season. Kentucky’s 38-0 record is impressive but that is a record compiled against teams outside of the top five. Many of those teams they have absolutely drubbed, including West Virginia, but the 2014/15 Wildcats, in Wisconsin, will be facing their toughest opponent to date.
The national semifinals will take place on Saturday, April 4th. The Kentucky/Wisconsin game may very well be the “final before the final” as I think whoever wins between them will win the national championship. While odds on the game are not yet released, I expect Kentucky to be over-rated and I think Wisconsin may be more into the game than many will expect.