In Bahamas, Wisconsin proving to be more than just Frank Kaminsky
Frank Kaminsky began the year as the frontrunner for national player of the year awards, and Wisconsin's senior forward seemed to separate himself from other candidates through the first five games of the season. Then, Thursday against Georgetown, he hit his first snag, scoring just six points on 1-of-8 shooting from the floor and getting only four rebounds in the No. 2 Badgers' 68-65 win. But his weak performance let Wisconsin show its true strength -- it is much more than just Frank the Tank.
Before we get to the rest of the Badgers, let’s start with what went wrong for Kaminsky. He came into the game with the Hoyas at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament with an offensive rating of 137.2, which peaked with a 202 (!) performance against Boise State last Saturday, a game in which he went 7-for-8 from the field, including 4-5 from beyond the three-point line. Against Georgetown, his offensive rating was 60, his lowest since November 2012. What happened? The most obvious problem was that the Hoyas presented a matchup unlike any he’ll see again this season. Joshua Smith, Georgetown’s center, is 6-foot-9 and a whopping 350 pounds. He’s an overgrown defensive tackle manning the middle of the floor. Kaminsky is 7-foot but a svelte 234 pounds. The weight mismatch allowed Smith to push Kaminsky around in the paint, though it also allowed Kaminsky to wear out Smith, who recorded a season-low four field-goal attempts.
Smith wasn't the only reason for Kaminsky's sub-par performance. As SI's Luke Winn showed in his Power Rankings this week, Kaminsky rarely shoots deep, low-percentage two-pointers -- he either pops out for a three or heads down to the paint. And he didn’t deviate from the plan against the Hoyas; he simply missed the type of shots he always takes. He missed opened threes and layups at the rim. He didn’t score his first field goal until 6:05 remained in the first half, when he found himself wide open a couple feet from the basket off a pick-and-roll. On its next possession, Wisconsin ran the same play, and when Georgetown switched to defend Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes was left open to crash the lane, where he made a layup and drew a foul.
Even the threat of Kaminsky getting hot was enough to get the Hoyas off balance and allow other Badgers to get open and score. And Wisconsin showed just how many players it has available to make up for lost production if Kaminsky’s shot is off. Hayes scored 15 points and Sam Dekker led the Badgers with 17. And Duje Dukan and Bronson Koenig added eight and 14, respectively, off the bench. Consider for a moment that Koenig, in terms of possessions used, is essentially Wisconsin’s ninth man. Every single player in the Badgers' top nine has an offensive rating of 104 or better. That may not be Kentucky-style depth, but Wisconsin is definitely deep enough to make life difficult for its opponents.
On Friday, that will be Oklahoma in the Battle 4 Atlantis final. The Sooners’ strength on defense is in the halfcourt, in which they’re only allowing 0.59 points per possession. But they haven’t faced a team like Wisconsin yet, which runs a package on offense that features the 6-8 Dekker at shooting guard, with Hayes, also 6-8, at small forward, Dukan (6-10) at power forward and Kaminsky at center.
On offense, Oklahoma likes to score in transition, where it averages 1.18 ppp. If the Sooners have to slow down and run a halfcourt offense, their output dwindles down to 0.72 ppp, one of the lowest rates in the country. Wisconsin, of course, prefers to force opponents to play halfcourt basketball on both ends. The test of wills should yield to the more talented team, which is certainly the Badgers.
Kaminsky should be more comfortable as well. The tallest player in the Sooners’ regular rotation is Khadeem Lattin, a 6-9 freshman who weighs 200 pounds and played only two minutes in the semifinals against Butler. Expect Kaminsky to return to form, and the Badgers to leave the Bahamas with a championship heading into the game -- and the test -- that the college basketball world is eagerly anticipating: Wisconsin hosts No. 4 Duke and freshmen center extraordinaire Jhalil Okafor next Wednesday.