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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

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

ESPN.com was the first to report White’s commitment.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.