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Can Anyone Stop Kentucky? The Week In Sports


It's time for sports. Just three more games to play until we know the champion of the men's NCAA basketball tournament. Two of those games happen tonight. The Kentucky Wildcats take on the Wisconsin Badgers and Michigan State will face Duke. Here to tell us exactly what to expect is NPR's Tom Goldman. Good morning, Tom.


WERTHEIMER: I think we have to start with the number on everybody's mind - zero. As in if Kentucky wins their next two games, they will have zero losses for the season, and that, of course, is a big deal.

GOLDMAN: It is. First team to win the title, if they do it, and go undefeated since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. The Wildcats have a good chance to do it. They are incredibly talented and big with a deep bench. And they also have experience, which is rare for a John Calipari coached team in this one and done era, when he normally goes out and gets the best freshman in the country and keeps them for a year before they had to the NBA. The Harrison twins, the Wildcats' great guard combo are sophomores. The team's most important defender, seven-footer Willie Cauley-Stein is a junior. And the maturity showed, Linda, when Kentucky nipped Notre Dame in the Elite Eight with smart, effective play at the end when the Wildcats needed it most.

WERTHEIMER: So which team do you think has the best chance to beat them? Does any team have a chance to beat them?

GOLDMAN: Well, sure. And certainly Wisconsin enters today's game with a lot of confidence and the all-important chip on the shoulder. Kentucky beat the Badgers by a single point in last year's Final Four. And for Wisconsin, it's time to get even.

The Badgers have a couple of stars who will keep Kentucky's great defense busy. Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker, who was so good in the win over Arizona in the Elite Eight. And then there's big man Frank Kaminsky. He's mister do everything for Wisconsin. He leads his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. I can't even think of anymore categories. And he's a wonderful story too. Sports Illustrated chronicled Kaminsky's evolution from a tall, awkward kid in grade school who didn't get many play date offers - that's kind of sad, isn't it?


GOLDMAN: To a player in college who had to use all four of his years to steadily grow into what he is now. And Kaminsky said in the article he didn't think he would've made it at Kentucky because of the need to perform right away with the Wildcats as a freshman. So it all sets up a great match tonight between these two teams. Should be very exciting.

WERTHEIMER: Now if there is an underdog in the Final Four, it would be Michigan State. It's the only team left that is not a number one seed. But somehow not much of a surprise to see a Tom Izzo coached team in the Final Four, is it?

GOLDMAN: No. There's a - apparently a Michigan State T-shirt circulating that says on the front, January, February, Izzo, April.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: Tom Izzo apparently defines March. The Spartans under Izzo have made the tournament 18 consecutive years. Thirteen of those, they've gotten to at least the Sweet Sixteen. This is his seventh Final Four. So how does he do it? He uses the whole season as a kind of laboratory for concocting a winning team. Izzo is famous for scheduling tough nonconference opponents early on in the season that often beat Michigan State, but it serves to make the Spartans tougher near the end of the season. He tinkers with his line-ups and he uses the season to get a feel for his players. And then, you know, the Spartans peak time.

Now all that said, he's going against an even bigger coaching legend in Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke. The Blue Devils feature three super freshman and they are favored to win this game against Michigan State.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Tom Goldman. Always a pleasure.

GOLDMAN: Thanks Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.