Calipari: Wisconsin is plenty talented offensively

Despite Kentucky's perceived offensive advantages heading into Saturday's national semifinal against Wisconsin, the Wildcats average only 1.9 more points per game -- 75.4 to 73.5 -- than Ben Brust and the Badgers do.

Eric Gay/AP

ARLINGTON, Texas — Wisconsin players already know what you’re thinking about their Final Four matchup against Kentucky. They’ve heard all the talk this week about the so-called discrepancies in talent level between the two teams.

In fact, allow Badgers center Frank Kaminsky to break down what seems to be the single most pressing angle of the week.

First, for Kentucky.

"They’re athletic. They have a bunch of first-round picks on their team."

And now, for Wisconsin.

"We’re a bunch of white guys who aren’t that great athletically."

Kaminsky’s response? Some variation of telling college basketball enthusiasts to go suck on a cheese curd.

"That doesn’t really mean anything to us," Kaminsky said.

No. 2 seed Wisconsin (30-7) plays No. 8 seed Kentucky (28-10) at approximately 7:49 p.m. CT Saturday in the second national semifinal at AT&T Stadium. And though the storyline appears to center on the teams’ varying degrees of athleticism, Wisconsin players insist perception is not reality here. They’d like to point out that they’re not as athletically challenged as some people might like to believe.

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"That’s just because of the history of Wisconsin," Badgers point guard Traevon Jackson said. "Nothing against our older guys. Our older guys were really good. We just didn’t necessarily have the Kentucky type of guys or the team that we have now. So at the end of the day, it still comes down to playing basketball, no matter if you’re Larry Bird or Michael Jordan. If you win, you win."

The statistics one might correlate to athleticism and speed are actually not skewed far in Kentucky’s direction. The Wildcats rank 200th nationally in possessions per game (66.8), while the Badgers rank No. 326 (63.6). Both teams have the exact same number of steals this season (179). And Kentucky averages only 1.9 more points per game: 75.4 to 73.5.

Where Kentucky has its biggest advantage is in the rebounding department. The Wildcats possess the second-biggest rebounding margin in the country (9.8), while the Badgers rank No. 124 (1.6).

Wildcats center Dakari Johnson, one of several projected future NBA lottery picks at Kentucky, acknowledged he and his teammates have heard plenty about Kentucky’s athletic advantage.

"But at the same time, our athleticism, we also have to use it," Johnson said. "We have to be engaged on defense. Wisconsin is a really good team, so I don’t think we have that many advantages. We’ve just got to go out there and fight."

Badgers coach Bo Ryan noted he couldn’t easily define what athleticism even meant in terms of how it pertained to his basketball teams over the years. This is the highest scoring bunch Ryan has had in 13 seasons at Wisconsin, with a special ability to space the floor offensively and bury open jumpers.

But does that make it more athletic than previous Wisconsin teams?

"I’ve had more athletic teams as far as if we did a race, I’ve had teams that would win one through 15 over this group one through 15," Ryan said. "But I don’t think it’s all about the race, the foot race. It’s about other things, too. So they’re athletic in the sense of their eye-hand coordination, passing skills, basic movement, just that eye of the tiger, so to speak, as being competitors. They’re very competitive guys."

Kentucky coach John Calipari added Ryan was not running his patented swing offense in the same manner as past teams. The reason, he said, was because the offense did not fit the impressive skill set of this year’s team.

"I will tell you that they’re more athletic than you think," Calipari said. "They’re more skilled than you think. They’re not relying solely on an offense. They run great iso’s for all their guys. So they put them in a position where it’s one-on-one. Bo hadn’t done a whole lot of that in the past, but what I’m seeing, now they are."

Ultimately, Wisconsin players say, only one thing should matter in the discussion of talent and athleticism.

"We’re both here," Badgers forward Sam Dekker said. "People always say Coach doesn’t get talent, but he ends up winning."

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