Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky heading home for Big Ten tourney
GENARO C. ARMAS
Mar. 11, 2015
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Frank Kaminsky is finishing his impressive Big Ten career at No. 6 Wisconsin in familiar surroundings.
The conference tournament starts this week in Chicago at the United Center, where Kaminsky watched games while growing up in the Windy City suburb of Lisle.
"I can't even count how many games that I've seen at the United Center, from when I was born until I graduated high school," Kaminsky said. "Even in college, too, I was going back and going to (Chicago) Bulls games."
Time to create some new memories for the standout big man.
The top-seeded Badgers open tournament play on Friday against Michigan or Illinois, benefiting from byes for the first two days of the tournament given to the top four seeds.
There are higher stakes at play for the Badgers, who can boost their resume for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament by winning the conference tourney.
Kaminsky downplays such talk.
"A lot of people talk about that we could potentially by a No. 1 seed, but that's not necessarily what we're playing for," he said. "We just want to make the tournament. I think we've made a strong case to make the tournament so far."
Put the Badgers (28-3) in the "sure thing" category.
Wisconsin has rebounded from a loss at Maryland to finish with three straight wins, including a 72-48 victory at Ohio State on Sunday. Kaminsky has been downright dominant during that period, averaging 25.3 points on 67 percent shooting.
Kaminsky was named Big Ten player of the year to cap this memorable stretch, though with the notoriety comes more attention. The coaching staff knows what is coming as defenses try to slow Kaminsky.
Double teams. Triple teams. Pinches in the lane to cut off entry passes.
Kaminsky is a skilled enough dribbler and passer to get out of trouble. But teammates must be ready.
"Crisper passes, just moving without the ball. That's the key thing, because guys are going to be so cognizant of where he is, they'll lose track of where you're going," reserve forward Duje Dukan said.
This is already a strength for the efficient Badgers, who are third in the nation at 1.20 points per possession. Spacing and making the extra pass are important in coach Bo Ryan's swing offense.
Making things worse for opponents is that the Badgers have two more versatile scorers in the frontcourt in Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker; and two guards who can shoot 3s in Bronson Koenig and Josh Gasser.
"We don't really need to adjust much. If they're going to double down on Frank, we have guys who can score, who can make plays and the great thing about Frank is that he's unselfish," Gasser said. "He's a great passer and a willing passer."
What could hurt Wisconsin is foul trouble, since the Badgers have been lacking punch off the bench. It has especially been the case since senior Traevon Jackson went down with a right foot injury, forcing sixth man Koenig into the starting lineup. Then again, these are Ryan's disciplined, veteran Badgers. They lead the nation in fewest fouls (12.5 per game) and fewest turnovers (7.6).
And against Ohio State, the bench played well too, led by Dukan. Like Kaminsky, Dukan is from a Chicago suburb (Deerfield).
The son of a Chicago Bulls executive, Dukan served as a ball boy during the team's championship run in the 1990s. He's hoping to make another run this week in the conference tournament, with a top seed in the NCAAs still a possibility.
"Absolutely, but then again we don't want to overlook any competition," Dukan said. "But at the end of the day, we would love to have a No. 1 seed."