Coach Speak: Wisconsin vs. Kentucky

In an essay for, former Wisconsin assistant coach Howard Moore breaks down the best and toughest matchups for the Badgers when they play undefeated Kentucky this Saturday in the national semifinals as Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

If anyone knows Bo Ryan and his game planning, it’s Howard Moore.

A three-year letterman at Wisconsin from 1993-95, Moore was an assistant coach under Ryan for five years from 2005-10, working alongside current assistant coaches Gary Close and Greg Gard. As a team, Wisconsin went 124-45 during Moore’ tenure.

After finishing a five-year stint at Illinois-Chicago, Moore wrote this essay for on how Wisconsin’s matches up with Kentucky from a coaching perspective.


Wisconsin does match up with Kentucky. The first thing that gets talked about is their size and their athleticism. Well, Wisconsin isn’t a bad, slow team in either of those perspectives. Size wise across the front line I think Wisconsin can match up. At the guard spots, I think Bronson Koenig and Josh Gasser match up pretty well with the Harrison kids and when they go to the bench with (Tyler) Ulis. They can still stay in front of him.

The key is the big kid, Karl-Anthony Towns. He was just did the work against Notre Dame in the post. I was disappointed to see that Notre Dame didn’t do anything to help (forward Zach) August out. They left August on an island and let Towns go one-on-one with him, and Towns was just in a groove.

Obviously Wisconsin isn’t going to just let Towns sit on top of them like that. If that kid catches the ball anywhere near the paint, Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and those guys are going to make him catch it way off the block. That’s going to be the first key in making sure the post players don’t catch it as deep on the block. When you’re talking defense, that’s going to be the biggest thing.

Coach Ryan doesn’t like to double team the post. In the Kentucky situation, that’s even more prevalent because you’re going double big-on-big in the post, you are really exposing yourself to offensive rebounds and put backs from the opposite side of the rim. They are going to stay at home, but you are probably going to see more hard digs from the perimeter defender or the top of the key as opposed to just a straight post-to-post double on any of their bigs.

Post defense is going to be a huge emphasis. Kentucky has had a lot of success going to the post lately, especially late in the Notre Dame game. I know they are going to try to challenge, Frank, Sam and Nigel early in the game.

Offensively the one thing Wisconsin is going to do is be patient. We know they aren’t going to start jacking up shots, which some teams do against Kentucky. They are in such a hurry to get up a quick shot and hurry up and beat them to a shot that the percentage goes down because it’s not a good shot. You know Wisconsin is going to be patient. They are going to work the ball around the perimeter, get the ball inside, get post touches, dribble penetration at opportune times and kick it out for wide-open looks, or get one-on-one situations on the block with Frank or Nigel. Sam Dekker might even have some matchups they can take advantage of.

Obviously the guards can go into the post as well with the swing offense. If you have Tyler Ulis in a situation where he’s guarding the block against Bronson or Josh, I think that’s to Wisconsin’s advantage. And the bigs won’t be so quick to leave Nigel or Frank because they are worried about their outside shooting ability. What Wisconsin does offensively will keep Kentucky from being able to sag into the paint and have double team opportunities like they’ve had against other teams. Wisconsin can stretch the floor and make Kentucky have to come out and guard its bigs. Notre Dame kind of did that a little bit. They weren’t able to make shots, but they were able to spread them out and prevent them from being able to just play in the paint. If you spread Kentucky out, that’s to your advantage because it’s going to open up driving lanes and more drive-and-kick opportunities for their shooters.

Who is the toughest matchup for Wisconsin against Kentucky? Take your pick. You look at the type of player that they have, Willie Cauley-Stein is good, but he needs dribble penetration to make him good. He’s not going to get the ball on the perimeter and break you down or having an array of post moves on the block. He’s one of those guys who is an activity guy. Tyler Ulis breaks down the defense or one of the Harrisons break down the defense, Cauley-Stein is looking to score from a drop off or a dish or an offensive rebound put back.

Towns is really more of a post presence and that’s the one match up that concerns me, especially with his confidence he has coming out of the Notre Dame game, where all of a sudden they are going to feature him in the post against Frank. Frank has got to be careful. Now they are starting to call that back tip that Frank does in the post a foul. Obviously now coaches are saying something to the officials either before the game or during the game about Frank’s back tips on the post.

All of a sudden, late in games, the officials are calling a foul on that where earlier they weren’t. They called it early in the Arizona game. So I could tell (Arizona coach) Sean (Miller), and I know Sean, he’s watched film and seen him do this a few times. It’s a pretty good play, but officials are going to decide to call it a foul. That’s a foul I am sure Coach doesn’t want him to get. He would him rather get one in a rebounding situation or to make sure he’s not giving up an easy basket, but not on a flake or a back tip on a post feed. He’s got to be careful with those, and if they are going to feature Towns again in the post, Frank has got to be very sound with his feet and make sure his arms and hands don’t get caught in situations where he’s getting cheap fouls and can’t give up easy buckets with Towns going inside. That’s the one matchup I worry about because a kid coming out of a game like that, he’ll be extremely confident going into this game on Saturday.

I think Josh can match up with the Harrison twins. I think Koenig can match up as well, but Aaron Harrison – the kid who always makes the big shot – had one the other day against Notre Dame. With three minutes left and they were down, he hit one from right by the coaching box. That was the momentum boost that they needed. He’s always making those timely 3s in late-game situations. You’ve got to be aware of that, especially after he burned the Badgers on the one that I thought Josh guarded pretty well in that situation. He still made it.

Frank, Sam and Nigel all have to play well. We’ve got to match that front line, and we’ve got to do it with defense and scoring. The biggest key is the rebounding. That is a very good rebounding team. Our front line has got to show up. Nigel doesn’t have to have a big scoring night; he’s got to have a big rebounding night. He’s got to go and help Frank and Sam and go and get eight or nine rebounds. Sam has got to keep going and stick his nose in there and try to get rebounds.

The guards have got to get in there. Josh has got to go in there and get five or six. I think there front line is going to be huge, so the front line of Hayes, Dekker and Kaminsky have got to show up to win the game. Guard play is going to be important. You know we’re going to take care of the ball and make good decision, but I really and firmly believe that our front line has got to show up.

Watching them play against Purdue and Michigan State in Chicago in the (Big Ten) tournament, the biggest thing I took away from those two games there was the poise. No matter if Purdue was making shots, the bigs were getting going or Michigan State went on its run to be down nine late in the game, Wisconsin’s poise was never shook. The whole time you saw them counter the runs and they always had an answer.

Bo keeps talking about the experience of this team. That’s a huge factor. When you’ve got seniors and juniors that have played together for three or four years and they have that knowledge of each other, they don’t get down on each other, they don’t jump down each other’s throat, they just got hey, let’s make sure we get this stop next time, get a basket and get to the free throw line. They have that poise that you rarely see at the college level, but you definitely see it from experienced teams, from players who have been around and who know the system and each other. That’s what you see from this group. Their poise in both of those games got them over the hump.


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