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Final Four Preview: No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Kentucky

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Today we will be breaking down Saturday’s Final Four matchups. Here is our look at No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Kentucky:

WHEN: Saturday, 8:49 p.m. ET (TBS)

WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX (Midwest Region)

MAJOR STORY LINES: Bo Ryan has been the most consistent coach in college basketball this side of Bill Self. In the 13 seasons that he has been at Wisconsin, he’s never finished worse than a tie for fourth place in the Big Ten’s regular season standing. That’s impressive. But until this year, Ryan had never made a Final Four, and he did it this season just eight months after his father, Butch, passed away. Butch and Bo were mainstays at the Final Four every year.

Kentucky’s story lines are as obvious as they are intriguing. This is a team that struggled for the first four months of the season before finally finding a way to play up to their potential in the NCAA tournament. There is a reason that this team was ranked No. 1 in the preseason, and we are starting to see why. And if this group does manage to win a national title, it will be the second for John Calipari in the last three years. He’s now been to three Final Fours in the last four seasons as well. I guess his one-and-done strategy actually works, doesn’t it?

KEY STATS: Kentucky is the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the country. Wisconsin is the No. 12 defensive rebounding team in the country. That’s a matchup of strength on strength, but the key stat on Saturday night is going to end up being how Kentucky shoots from three. The Harrison twins and James Young combined to shoot right around 31% from beyond the arc during the regular season. In the NCAA tournament, they are hitting 44.9% from deep (22-49). The game-winning shots against Louisville, Wichita State and Michigan were all threes from either Aaron Harrison or James Young.

KEY PLAYERS: Shabazz Napier is the biggest star in the Final Four, and he is probably the best collegiate player that we will have in Dallas, but the most important player left in the tournament is Frank Kaminsky. Not only is the big fella the biggest matchup nightmare — he’s a seven-footer with a refined post game and the ability to bury threes and drive by slower defenders — but he’ll be the biggest deterrent that the Badgers have against Kentucky’s horde of big, physical athletes that want to attack the offensive glass.

POINT SPREAD: Kentucky (-1.5)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes: I have a feeling that Wisconsin is going to spend a lot of time playing with a bigger lineup given the size and athleticism that Kentucky has, which means that the heavy-lifting when it comes to hitting the defensive glass is going to be done by these two. I also would not be surprised to see Kentucky play some zone, and given their ability to make plays in the paint, these two and Kaminsky will be the key to beating that zone from the inside.

2. Who adjusts their lineup first?: Will Wisconsin force Kentucky to play small or will the Wildcats make Wisconsin use their bigger lineup? I’d predict the latter, given how Kentucky’s size can be physically overwhelming.

3. Foul trouble: If there is a weakness on this Kentucky team, it is that they simply do not have much in the way of depth on their perimeter. If the Harrisons or James Young have to sit, the options are either Alex Poythress, who is more of a power forward than he is a small forward at this point, or one of Jarrod Polson and Dominique Hawkins.

CBT PREDICTION: Kentucky

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.