basketball-men-d1 flag | April 7, 2015

Why They'll Win: Duke vs. Wisconsin

  The national championship is a rematch of a Dec. 3 matchup, which Duke won 80-70.

Duke will win the national championship because the Blue Devils will defend more relentlessly than Wisconsin. Really, it’s that simple.

OK, so statistically Wisconsin’s rebound margin is greater than Duke’s through five NCAA tournament games. I still believe the Blue Devils will create problems for the Badgers. Why? The numbers do lie.

Duke is shooting 50 percent from the field; there are limited opportunities for Duke players to corral errant shots. Offensively, the Blue Devils have been out-rebounded 60-38 – minus-22. Defensively, Duke is out-boarding its opponents 133-105 – that’s plus-28.

OK, so Wisconsin is shooting 49 percent from the field. There are limited opportunities for Wisconsin players to corral errant shots, too – correct? Offensively, the Badgers are plus-15 (50-35). Defensively, Wisconsin is plus-12 (108-96).

But here’s a glimpse as to why: The Badgers shoot more, which gives them more opportunities to rebound. Total shots – 2- and 3-pointers – in the NCAA tournament: Duke is 160-for-333 (48 percent); Wisconsin is 173-for-378 (46 percent). The Badgers have had more chances to snare an offensive rebound, which skews the numbers.

Frank Kaminsky (22.2 points per game) and Sam Dekker (20.6 ppg) are going to get their shots. They also are going to miss – and that’s where Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Quinn Cook become integral pieces to the Duke process.

“It won't be a one-on-one matchup,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Sunday. “It won't be one guy against another. I know how you like to do it in the papers, put one guy, it's like a boxing match each time. It hardly ever works out that way, but it's cool to put it down that way.

“Kaminsky has been a great player. Again, he and Dekker, end of clock, end of game situations – they love it, they respond. They'll be really a tough team to beat.”

Wisconsin is going to shoot the ball – that’s as much a given as death, taxes and Bo Ryan (or so says some dude on Twitter). The question is: Will the Badgers make enough of those shots?

Duke is yielding only 55.0 points per game in the tournament. Opponents are shooting 37 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3-point land. The Blue Devils’ defense is playing at a championship-caliber level. On the other hand, Wisconsin is giving up 70.2 ppg and opponents are hitting 48 percent of their shots, and 51 percent from behind the arc.

“When you have a veteran team where guys have been in your program for three and four years, you can teach the defense better,” Krzyzewski said. “Then also the older guys can help teach the younger guys. When we have a young group like that, you’re only going to get to a certain level of playing team man-to-man defense. So you have to do some other things and do more variations within the man-to-man defense.

“These guys have learned at a quicker rate, though, than I would have expected from a young team. We’ve been outstanding on the defensive end, primarily in the man-to-man, but with some modifications.”

Duke’s defense will man-up. The “modifications” the Blue Devils will make throughout the game will prove to be effective enough to withstand the Wisconsin onslaught. In the end, the year of #Coach1K will have another number: five – national championships.

-- Duane Cross,

♦ ♦ ♦

Frank Kaminsky may have won the 2015 Naismith Award for the nation’s top player, but he’s not a one-man band.

He’s got a group of Badgers around him who compliment him better than any other winner in quite some time. It isn’t everyday you find a Sam Dekker to go alongside a Naismith winner.

It’s also not every day that you find the tournament’s two leading scorers on the same team. But Kaminsky and Dekker have combined to be the most dynamic duo in March, combining for 42.8 points per game.

“Obviously a lot of stuff starts with Frank,” Dekker said. “I think that's what obviously helps us to be a good offensive team, when we run a lot of things through Frank. I just like being another option for him and for our team. I can go inside and out, so I think that helps our whole team with spacing and getting open looks, just drawing defenders.”

It’s Wisconsin’s system, the ability to stretch the floor with their big men, that could give Duke a lot of problems. Especially when there are only eight players in the Blue Devils’ rotation.

“Just with Sam's ability to put the ball on the floor, to post up, to shoot the ball, it makes my job a lot easier,” Kaminsky said. “If you look at some plays at the end of games here, it's me setting ball screens for Sam. Not many times do you see a 7-footer setting a ball screen for somebody who is 6-foot-9.”

Head coach Bo Ryan always seems to have a team that doesn’t turn the ball over. And this year’s version is no different. The Badgers average a nation-leading 7.5 per game, which is 1.3 less than anyone else and ahead of Duke’s 10.9.

But it’s not just Wisconsin’s lethal offense, which seems to only get better in crunch time. It’s the Badgers’ defense. A defense which forced three consecutive shot clock violations in Saturday night’s win against Kentucky in the final minutes to help turn a four point deficit into a semifinal victory.

Part of the reason? They are seemingly never in foul trouble with just 12.5 fouls per game. And when you are facing a Duke team which is 10th in the country with 22 free-throw attempts per game, that’s a lot of potential points left off the board thanks to the footwork of Ryan’s squad.

Sure it’s easy to look back at December 3, 2014 in Madison when the Blue Devils shot a blazing 62 percent from the field to hand Wisconsin its first loss of the season. But some things are different. Rasheed Sulaimon scored 14 points for Duke and he won’t be in uniform Monday night. As for the Badgers, Dekker only played 24 minutes and scored just five points in a game, which didn’t see him at 100 percent. Five months later, these two teams are completely different.

And if you want a historical reason why the Badgers will win their first national title since 1941 … look no further than Ryan’s record in national championship games. He’s 4-0 in NCAA championship games, after winning all four of his appearances with Wisconsin-Platteville in Division III.

Death. Taxes. Bo Ryan.

-- Douglas Kroll,

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