basketball-men-d1 flag | April 6, 2015

Wisconsin vs. Duke for all the marbles a culmination of under-appreciated season

Duke, the four-time national champion. Wisconsin, the once-a-long-time-ago champion. Sounds like a mismatch, at least from an historical perspective.

Good thing they don’t play the games on paper (or in History 101 class). I mean, if they did who would fill 70,000 seats in Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday night?

In the 2015 Division I men’s basketball championship, Duke is not the favorite. Neither is Wisconsin. In fact, this could play out as one of the all-time great national title games.

(1) Wisconsin vs. (1) Duke
9:18 p.m. ET Monday | CBS

Both teams have able-bodied big men. Both teams have a backcourt that can do damage outside – as well as driving the lane. Both teams play aggressively on defense.

It’s the matchup basketball fans should appreciate for its complex simplicities (and that is not an oxymoron). Duke vs. Wisconsin is the culmination of a season that has been poked, prodded, socially skewered, over-examined and – most importantly – under-appreciated.

The "game" isn't about scoring 90 points each night, winning a nip-tuck shootout at the buzzer. The "game" is about playing the system to perfection, relying on teammates to do their job, handle their responsibilities. Duke and Wisconsin are the epitome of handling their business with the guys on the court. It really is that simple.

On Monday night, Naismith Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky will go toe-to-toe against Naismith finalist Jahlil Okafor. Sam Dekker will be one-on-one with Justise Winslow. Nigel Hayes, Josh Gasser, Bronson Koenig, Traevon Jackson will go round-and-round with Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, Matt Jones, Bryn Forbes. Maybe it will come down to Duje Dukan or Matt Costello. Ultimately, Bo Ryan will match wits against Mike Krzyzewski and one coach will be fetted with a confetti shower.

Will it be a chess match? Probably not; it’s basketball, so don’t muddy the waters with high-brow comparisons. Duke will try to create mismatches, switching defenders off Wisconsin screens (much like the Blue Devils did against Michigan State). Wisconsin will try to create mismatches on offense by moving the ball inside – and taking the perimeter shot when available (much like the Badgers did against Kentucky).

For Duke, it will be about limiting the open looks for Kaminsky, Dekker and Hayes. The Badgers are averaging 9.3 made 3-pointers per game.

For Wisconsin, it will be about limiting second-chance opportunities – especially inside for Okafor. The Badgers have allowed four tournament opponents only 29 offensive rebounds.

Statistically, Wisconsin has been 10 points per game better than Duke in the NCAA tournament (80.5 ppg to 70.5 ppg). Defensively, Duke has been almost 20 points better than Wisconsin (53.5 ppg vs. 71.8 ppg). Duke has won its games by an average of 17 points; Wisconsin, 8.8.

From the field, Duke is hitting 50 percent of its shots. Wisconsin is at 49.8 percent. Defensively, Duke is limiting opponent to 36.8 percent; Wisconsin, 48.1. From behind the 3-point line, Duke is at 42.9 percent; Wisconsin is 41.6.

On the boards, Duke is averaging 33.8 rebounds per game; Wisconsin, 31. In rebounding margin, Wisconsin is plus-3.8; Duke is plus-0.8. In four games, Duke has 15 blocked shots; Wisconsin, five.

So how does Duke solve the Wisconsin offense? How does Wisconsin solve the Duke defense? That’s the beauty of this national championship game. It will take Duke’s offense – or Wisconsin’s defense – to be the difference-maker. Solving the problem isn’t the issue. Working both ends solves the problem, and that makes for an unpredictable, history-in-the-making matchup that college basketball fans should appreciate.

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