NCAA Championship Game Preview by @RandyDunson: Duke Blue Devils vs. Wisconsin Badgers

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Game Preview

Duke Blue Devils (34-4] vs. Wisconsin Badgers (UW) [36-3]

Saturday, April 4, 2015 • 9:18 PM (ET) • CBS • Indianapolis, Ind. • Lucas Oil Stadium • NCAA Championship Game

By Randy Dunson

1. Snapshot

Duke

Duke (34-4, 15-3 ACC) faces Wisconsin (36-3, 16-2 Big Ten) Monday, April 6 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in the NCAA Championship game. Tipoff is set for 9:18 PM with Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, and Tracy Wolfson calling the action for CBS. The Blue Devils were tabbed the No. 1 seed in the South Region. Duke has received a No. 1 seed 13 times, second most in NCAA Tournament history. The Blue Devils are 50-9 (.847) as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Duke is 104-34 (.754) all-time in NCAA Tournament play, including an 87-26 (.770) mark under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. He has led Duke to nine NCAA Championship game appearances, second most in NCAA history. The Blue Devils enter Monday’s game ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll and No. 5 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Duke is 80-15 (.842) overall when ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll. Duke is playing its 292nd consecutive game as a ranked team in the AP Poll. The Blue Devils are 242-49 (.832) in that span. Wisconsin is ranked No. 3 in the AP Poll and USA Today Coaches Poll. Duke is 13-22 (.371) all-time against the No. 3 team in the AP Poll. Duke is 10-2 (.833) on the year against ranked opponents, including a 5-1 (.833) mark against teams ranked in the top 10 of the AP Poll. The Blue Devils are 9-2 (.818) in NCAA Tournament play in the state of Indiana. Duke is 8-2 (.800) in Indianapolis, including a 4-1 (.800) mark at Lucas Oil Stadium. Duke completed NCAA Tournament championship runs in Indianapolis in 1991 and 2010. Duke has limited its five NCAA Tournament opponents to 55.0 points per game on 37.4 percent (108-of-289) shooting from the field. The Blue Devils are shooting 50.4 percent (131-of-260) from the field, including 39.7 percent (29-of-73) from three-point range in NCAA Tournament play.

Wisconsin

The Badgers have advanced to the National Championship for the second time in school history and the first time since 1941. Wisconsin is 1-0 all-time in NCAA championship games, having defeated Washington State, 39-34, to win the 1941 NCAA title in Kansas City, Missouri. Bo Ryan is 4-0 in NCAA title games, having won all four of his championship game appearances with UW-Platteville at Division III. With a record of 36-3, Wisconsin has already shattered the school’s single-season wins record and now sits one win shy of the Big Ten mark of 37 set by Illinois in 2004-05. UW is now one of just 10 teams with at least 36 wins in Division I history. The Badgers are now 34-19 all time in the Big Dance, including 25-13 (.658) under Bo Ryan. UW’s 25 NCAA tournament wins since 2002 (Bo Ryan era) ranks 9th in the nation. On the season, UW is 18-2 (.900) against 2015 NCAA Tournament teams. Josh Gasser has played in 16 NCAA tournament games in his career. UW’s record in those games is 13-3 (.813). The Badgers have scored at least 70 points in 10 straight games and are averaging 78.6 points per game during the 2015 NCAA Tournament. UW is 22-1 this season when scoring 70+ points. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker are the two top scorers in this year’s NCAA tournament. Kaminsky has scored 111 points (22.2 per game) and Dekker has poured in 103 (20.6 per game). The duo has combined to make 75-of-131 (.573) field goals, 21-of-41 (.512) 3-pointers and 43-of-53 (.811) free throws. Senior Frank Kaminsky is averaging a tournament-high 22.2 PPG during the Big Dance and shooting 53.6% from the field. He has it 6-of-11 3FGs and 31-of-36 FTs while averaging 8.8 boards per game. Junior Sam Dekker is averaging

20.6 points per game during the NCAA tournament, including 16 points vs. Kentucky. He is shooting 61.3% in the tourney and has hit 15 of 30 (.500) from 3-point range. Dekker has scored in double figures in 8 of 10 career NCAA tournament games. He is averaging 15.3 PPG over his 11 career NCAA tournament games. Sophomore Nigel Hayes has scored in double figures in 7 of the Badgers’ 8 postseason games, averaging 12.4 points per game. He is pulling down 6.3 rebounds per game.

Last Time Out

Duke

In its last outing, two star freshmen, a solid senior, and some of the trademark defense Duke has long been known for have the Blue Devils back in the national championship game. Justise Winslow scored 19 points, fellow freshman Jahlil Okafor added 18, and senior Quinn Cook had 17 to lead top-seeded Duke to an 81-61 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday and into yet another title game. The start against Wisconsin did not look too promising for a trip to Monday night’s title game. The Spartans were ahead 14-6 just four minutes into the game, making five of their first seven shots and the first four they took from beyond the 3-point line. Things changed in a hurry. Defensively, it was a team effort, just the way Krzyzewski has stressed for his 35 seasons at Duke. What had been wide open 3-pointers early for Wisconsin became contested shots, and when the Blue Devils started getting up and into the Spartans, the points were suddenly tough to come by. The two Duke freshmen put up some impressive stats in their first Final Four game. Winslow, who played through some early foul trouble, had nine rebounds and was 5-for-7 from the field while Okafor grabbed six rebounds and was 7-for-11 from the field. For MSU, Valentine had 11 rebounds for the Spartans (27-12) while Travis Trice added 16 points. Wisconsin shot 40 percent from the field (22-of-55) for the game, but the Spartans were just 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) in the first half.

Wisconsin

In its last outing, the hard-nosed Wisconsin Badgers did what nobody else could this season, knocking off the Wildcats 71-64 on Saturday night behind 20 points and 11 rebounds from Frank Kaminsky and a clutch comeback down the stretch. Now, instead of Kentucky going for history, it is Wisconsin heading to the final to play Duke, an 81-61 winner over Michigan State in the earlier semifinal. The Badgers, who lost 80-70 to Duke in December meeting in Madison, opened as one-point favorites over the Blue Devils. Trailing by four and gasping for breath with their hands on their knees after going 6 minutes without a bucket, the Badgers (36-3) responded with an 8-0 run to take a lead Kentucky could not overcome. Kentucky led 60-56 with 6:37 left and did not score again until there were 56 seconds left. Future NBAer Sam Dekker did most of the damage during that stretch. He started the run with a tough, twisting shot, then Nigel Hayes tied the game by tipping in an air ball after the shot clock had clearly turned to ”0.” No violation was called, and in a game full of shaky officiating that left both coaches screaming, it generated momentum for the Badgers and left Kentucky flat. Ahead 64-63 with 24 seconds left, Kaminsky, who was celebrating his 22nd birthday, hit two free throws. He and Bronson Koenig went 7 for 8 from the line over the last 24 seconds to seal the win.

Duke vs. Wisconsin – Round 1

UW and Duke met earlier this season with the Blue Devils winning 80-70 on December 3 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Of UW’s three losses this season, that is the only one by double digits. In that first matchup, Traevon Jackson had a game-high and career-high 25 points for Wisconsin and Frank Kaminsky added 17 points and a game best 9 rebounds. Tyus Jones had 22 points and 4 assists for Duke, which shot 65 percent (30-for-46) from the field and 7-for-12 from 3-point range. Duke’s shooting percentage was the best this year against Wisconsin, which held opponents to only 43 percent entering the Final Four.
2. Head-to-Head

Monday night’s  game will mark the 4th all-time meeting between Wisconsin and Duke. The two schools have met 3 times in the last 8 seasons, having faced off in the 2007, 2009, and 2015 Big Ten/ACC Challenges. The Badgers’ only victory over Duke came in a 73-69 win at the Kohl Center in 2009. Mike Krzyzewski and Bo Ryan are 2 of 6 active coaches with at least 700 wins. The duo ranks 6th and 7th, respectively, in career win percentage among all-time coaches with 700 wins.

3. Key Points to Consider

First, a few points regarding both teams’ overall profile at this point:

Duke

  • Two main scorers (Cook/Okafor); Jones/Winslow close behind
  • Makes the most of its possessions
  • Does not send teams to the line often
  • Hard to score against

Wisconsin

  • Methodical on offense
  • Two main scorers (Dekker/Kaminsky)
  • Highly efficient attack
  • Stingy defense
  • Commits few fouls

Now, a few key points to consider. These may often carry over to future games but keys specific to a current opponent will always be mentioned.

  • Free Throw Shooting (Emphasis onOkafor) [I choose to leave this as a key as it applies for all of Duke’s remaining games in theNCAAT]
    • This has been Duke’s Achilles Heel at times this year. Unfortunately, Okafor can be a huge detriment here.
    • Okafor will need to prove he can hit at a respectable rate from the line if Duke is to threaten -for the national title.
    • Update: During the Gonzaga game, there appeared to be a concerted effort to keep the ball out of Jah’s hands in the last couple of minutes.
  • 3-point Shooting [Holdover from Previous Games]
    • When Duke has struggled, it is because the Blue Devils are not connecting on the three-point shot.
    • As a team, Duke is averaging around 39 percent from deep, while Wisconsin has held opponents to an average of just 31.6 percent from behind the line.
    • Even with a dominating presence like Okafor inside, when Duke is not hitting 3-pointers, results like its 74-64 loss to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament semifinals can happen.
  • Key Match-ups
    • Center/Forward: Duke’s JahlilOkafor vs. Wisconsin’s FrankKaminsky
      • Okafor is the kid, the ultra-talented youngster who can do everything on the court. He is big, he plays defense, he has great hands, and a variety of post moves. Okafor makes a living overpowering opponents inside, and when he establishes position on the low block, he is nearly unstoppable. The key will be for Duke to consistently feed the post.
      • Kaminsky has a bit more depth to his game. He can put the ball on the floor, and his ability to knock down the perimeter jumper puts pressure on opposing defenses. He is also a fantastic passer, and his passion for the game shows through on every possession. Kaminsky is Wisconsin’s security blanket, and his array of moves is going to test Okafor’s skills.
      • Advantage: Draw. These two will cancel each other out, although foul trouble could come into play.
    • Forward: Duke’s Justise Winslow vs. Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker
      • Winslow is enjoying a fantastic NCAA Tournament, a breakout moment for a kid who has toiled in the shadow of his more-heralded teammate. Winslow can score inside and out, and his athleticism and quickness sets him apart. He can get to the free-throw line, and he knows how to play through contact to earn 3-point plays the old-fashioned way. Winslow can run into foul trouble and make some silly plays.
      • Dekker is enjoying a fantastic NCAA Tournament, a breakout moment for a kid who has toiled in the shadow of his more-heralded teammate. Dekker’s game is based on toughness, and he does a great job of protecting the ball and finishing through contact on the way to the bucket. He also can handle the ball a bit, and his step-back jumper can be a thing of beauty. When the shot clock is winding down, Dekker has ice in his veins. Dekker’s ability to do the little things on the court also make him special, and his experience is going to be a huge plus for Wisconsin.
      • Advantage: Wisconsin. Winslow is great, but Dekker is the more complete player.
    • Wing: Duke’s Matt Jones vs. Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes
      • Jones is a bit overlooked in the Blue Devils’ lineup. He is more of the fourth- or fifth-option on offense, and he does the bulk of his work from the perimeter. He is a fine spot-up shooter, and his ability to make himself available in the drive-and-kick game will leave Wisconsin scrambling a bit. He is also a solid defender who has quick hands.
      • Hayes plays with a lot of confidence and is fearless on the floor. He can knock down the open three, and he does a great job of going to the boards and scoring off put-backs when opponents do not put a body on him. He can do a bit too much on the floor, which leads to mistakes, but Hayes also is a solid all-around player whose experience makes him valuable.
      • Advantage: Wisconsin by a hair. Hayes is more important to UW than Jones is to Duke, and he is the better talent.
    • Guard: Duke’s Quinn Cook vs. Wisconsin’s JoshGasser
      • Quick, who was Duke’s second-leading scorer this season? No, it was not Justise Winslow. It was Cook, a kid who is great off the bounce and plays with his motor always in high gear. Cook can score inside or out, he gets to the line and is an active defender. He can lose focus at times and try to do too much, so finding a balance between being intense and being out of control will be critical for Duke.
      • Gasser does many of the little things for Wisconsin on the perimeter. He is not going to light anyone up, but he also is not going to make the kind of mistakes that hurt his team. He plays good positional defense, and his recognition on the court and defensive awareness allows him to stick with more athletic players. He also hits the glass more than a little bit.
      • Advantage: Duke. Cook is a key to the Blue Devils’ success, and he will try to get Gasser into foul trouble early.
    • Guard: Duke’sTyus Jones vs. Wisconsin’s Brandon Koenig
      • Jones is the lightning-quick point guard who breaks down opponents off the dribble and can get big men into foul trouble. He is a great passer, has fantastic vision, and thrives in the open court. He also can get to the free-throw line, and Jones’ leadership makes him a special player. He plays with a lot of energy, and Jones’ ability to get the transition game rolling off missed shots will be key.
      • Koenig will not blow anyone away with his scoring, but he has a nice first step and can knock down the three with a hand in his face. He runs the Badgers’ offense with confidence, and he is not afraid to drive to the bucket with the shot clock winding down. Koenig is another one of those Wisconsin players who makes up for what he lacks in quickness by using good position and anticipation to stay in front of opponents.
      • Advantage: Duke. Jones’ quickness makes him a handful.
    • Bench: Duke’s Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee vs. Wisconsin’s DujeDukan,Traevon Jackson and ZackShowalter
      • Neither team is blessed with great depth, but Duke’s size off the bench will help if the Blue Devils run into foul trouble. Jefferson and Plumlee have both played a lot of basketball, and they are great at recovering when they make mistakes. Neither of them is a quality back-to-the-basket scorer, but they do play solid defense and clean up on put-backs. Allen can be a bit up-and-down, but he also can take advantage of mismatches.
      • Wisconsin leans heavily on its starters, but guard Traevon Jackson will play a major role. He is coming off a foot injury, but his 25 points vs. Duke the first time around showed what he is capable of on the floor. Jackson can go into hero mode, which is an issue at times. How he reacts in the spotlight of a title game will be key. Dukan and Showalter will see important minutes, but they are not there to score. Their job is to defend and rebound.
      • Advantage: Duke. Better depth and talent give the Blue Devils the nod.

4. Endgame

Wisconsin ended the undefeated run of Kentucky at 38 games to earn a place in the national championship game against Duke on Monday night. The Blue Devils will be seeking their fifth NCAA tournament title, while the Badgers are playing for their second.

What the game may lack in hype with the Wildcats’ perfect season no longer being on the line, it should make up for in entertainment value. These two teams are extremely evenly matched statistically and by the odds makers who have the game as a ‘pick’em’.

Let us first look at all of the important details for the 2015 NCAA Championship Game, which will be followed by a preview and prediction for the final.

It is the first championship game rematch of a regular-season meeting since the Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Kansas Jayhawks in 2012. The past three times regular-season opponents met for the national title, the team that won the first meeting won on Monday night, as well. That goes for the Connecticut Huskies beating Kentucky in 2011 and the North Carolina Tar Heels beating the Michigan State Spartans in 2009.

How much of a difference can four months make? That is the question that will likely get answered Monday night.

In December, Duke went to Madison as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Blue Devils shot 65.2 percent, never trailed by more than four points and pulled away in the second half for an 80-70 victory. Tyus Jones scored 22 points, Okafor made six of his eight shots and Dekker was held to a five-point evening in what was an impressive early-season win for Duke. Throw that game out and move along as  it does not mean much. Both teams have changed since that point. This is a whole new ballgame and may end up being a tossup.

Thrown on a neutral floor that will probably seat more Blue Devils fans than Badgers fans for the title game, it only makes a certain amount of sense that Duke opens as the favorite—well, except for the whole Wisconsin-taking-down-Kentucky thing.

That puts a damper on everything. While it is not an upset of Chaminade proportions, Wisconsin going head-to-head in a heavyweight brawl with the Wildcats was impressive nonetheless. Wisconsin held on despite Kentucky shooting a solid 48.1 percent from the field and doing nearly everything it set out to do offensively until the final five minutes.

The Badgers, led by Kaminsky and Dekker, dominated the nation’s best defense by following the same blueprint they had all season. They knocked down seven three-pointers, got a critical 22-10 edge in free-throw attempts and kept their heads composed in crunch time. Opinions will differ on how much Wisconsin’s defense truly stepped up and how much Kentucky’s offense choked down the stretch—it was a little of both—but the fact remains that John Calipari’s team was held to one field goal in the final six minutes.

Credit goes to Bo Ryan and Co. all the way for making that happen. The question is whether the Badgers can continue that trend against a Duke squad that is playing off-the-charts two-way basketball.

The point about getting over the Kentucky win is a good one. Beating the previously undefeated Wildcats can almost feel like winning the title itself. Head coach Bo Ryan must make sure his team is able to turn the page quickly and refocus on the task at hand.

Heading into the tournament, defense had been the Blue Devils’ Achilles’ heel all year long. They were barely a top-100 defensive team during the regular season. After a brilliant tournament-long run, the Blue Devils have ascended into the top 20 and were among the finest teams overall over the last few weeks.

Wisconsin has not had quite the same renaissance on that end. North Carolina, Arizona, and Kentucky, all teams with so-so outside shooting, each managed to penetrate the Badgers defense and force close games. If Calipari had a go-to scorer on his roster rather than what appeared to be an amalgam of non-alphas, it is likely that the Wildcats would be in the title game.

Predicting the outcome realistically comes down to whether Wisconsin’s dominating offense can keep pummeling its way through opposing defenses. The team that showed up Saturday would seem to indicate that the answer is yes. Despite being at a length and talent disadvantage at nearly every position, Wisconsin held a composed disposition and consistently got good shots against what had been the nation’s best defense all year.

All told, this should be a tremendous championship game. Kaminsky and Okafor provide the star power, and the polarizing nature of Duke adds to the intrigue. It also helps that all signs point to a close contest, of course.

Look for guard play to make the difference down the stretch. Constant drives to the basket and drawing fouls on Wisconsin may just help Duke pull this out with a 70-67 victory over a solid Wisconsin team.

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