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Wisconsin vs. Duke: Preview, prediction for NCAA basketball championship

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After a program-changing victory over Kentucky, Wisconsin faces Duke for the NCAA tournament championship. Can the Badgers keep the magic rolling?

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Seventy-four years.

That's how long it's been since 1941, the last time the Wisconsin men's basketball team played for the right to be named the NCAA Division I national champion. The Badgers won that game, played against Washington State, by a final score of 39-34.

Of course, the NCAA tournament was much different back then. Instead of the 68 teams that consist of the modern field, the 1941 tourney had only eight teams vying for the title. That Badgers squad was led by the great Bud Foster, who coached Wisconsin to its only title-game appearance.

Today, Wisconsin could score those 39 points in one half. Although they still operate at a slower pace than the rest of the country, the Badgers have evolved just like the country's other teams, and their offense has taken on a whole new form of efficiency.

Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, that notion will be put to the test as Wisconsin battles Duke for the NCAA tournament championship. Seventy-four years after they first tasted glory, can the Badgers do it again?

Duke player analysis

PG Tyus Jones

The stud freshman floor general was the most essential player in Duke's road win over Wisconsin on Dec. 3. Jones scored 22 points that night, hitting two of three shots from behind the arc and knocking down six of eight free-throw attempts. He also dished out four assists and grabbed six rebounds.

However, Jones has connected on only two jumpers from deep in Duke's last four tournament games. The 6-1, 190-pound guard averages 11.5 points and 5.7 assists per game, and shoots 37.2 percent from downtown, so Jones can be a legitimate playmaker with a solid shot from behind the arc. If the Badgers are able to drive him off it, however, and take away his interior passing lanes, their championship odds grow dramatically.

G Quinn Cook

Cook sacrificed his role as point guard for Jones, though he did not relinquish his scoring role and place in Mike Krzyzewski's defense. What Cook has lost in his positioning, he has also gained in leadership. As Duke's only senior receiving significant minutes, Cook has been counted on to guide the extremely talented youngsters to success in Durham. He has also been the Blue Devils' primary efficient three-point shooter and weapon on both sides of the ball.

Expect Cook to be the biggest threat to the Badgers' chances at the national crown tonight, as Wisconsin has struggled against fast guards who can knock down three-point jumpers on a consistent basis. Just look at the outputs of players like Penn State's D.J. Newbill and Nebraska's Terran Petteway.

G Matt Jones

With the suspension and dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon, who scored 14 points off the bench on 2-of-3 shooting from outside in the early-season matchup with the Badgers, the Blue Devils are in a bit of a bad situation here. Jones is their weakest link on the starting line and he will have to perform at a very high level if Duke wants to add a fifth national championship to its already impressive arsenal of titles.

Jones is a solid defender, as he ended up with two swipes against Michigan State in the the national semifinals, but he has been a liability on the offensive end due to his lack of size and scoring versatility. Expect the Blue Devils to send out 6'5 Amile Jefferson a ton against the lengthy and strong Badgers. Jones shoots 38 percent from three-point range and has the ability to be a threat both inside and outside. However he doesn't match up well with a Wisconsin frontcourt that has three players standing 6'8 or taller.

F Justise Winslow

Winslow turned it on in the NCAA tournament, just when Duke needed his energy and drive on both ends of the court. He scored 19 points against Michigan State and added nine rebounds and two steals. At 6'6, one would expect Winslow to match up with Nigel Hayes, but Winslow could also defend Dekker, who has simply been outstanding in the tournament. Duke will need to counter his production with an elite defensive stopper and energy plug like Winslow.

Whether the undersized Winslow will be a factor on the other end may not matter. He can be a killer in the lane and in transition, although I think Dekker will be able to keep up with the stud youngster. However, Winslow poses a threat on the perimeter as well, shooting 41 percent from three-point range and with 45 treys on the year. Dekker and co. will have to make sure to cover him on the edges.

C Jahlil Okafor

At this point, an introduction isn't needed for the stud freshman from Chicago. Okafor will likely be a top-two selection in the NBA draft this summer and has an incredibly diverse and incredible array of post moves. The fact that we will watch the two best players in college basketball (Okafor and one Frank Kaminsky) Monday night with everything on the line is absolutely delightful and gravy on the top of an already magnificent and historic college basketball season.

Okafor stands 6'11, 270 pounds, and averages 17.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. He shoots over 66 percent from the floor and it will be crucial that Wisconsin gets the big man in foul trouble, and as quickly as possible. Although Kaminsky is taller, Okafor is stronger and could be tough in the post. The Badgers' front line will have to be disciplined on defense and avoid fouling Okafor, even with his horrendous 51.3-percent mark from the charity stripe.

Okafor isn't a great defender, but he averages 1.5 blocks per game. Kaminsky should be able to stretch the floor and open up second-chance points for the taller Badgers squad.

X-Factor: Nigel Hayes

Hayes is among the more overlooked participants in Monday night's game. Many think the performances of Kaminsky and Okafor will essentially cancel each other out, and with Winslow being a stout defender, he could pose problems for Dekker on each side of the court.

Hayes will be Ryan's biggest matchup nightmare for Duke. Jones will likely start the game on Hayes, and expect the Badgers to attack, attack and attack some more. Hayes could bombard the Blue Devils with from deep and quick drives to the lane, likely getting fouled or making the layups straight up. He should also be able to grab second-chance points at will, using his 3-inch height and strength advantage over the smaller Jones. This would force Coach K's hand into either switching the stronger and more talented Winslow onto Hayes, or bringing in the weaker, yet taller Jefferson or Marshall Plumlee.

In either scenario, Wisconsin would appear to have one of their best offensive threats in mismatches, and as many experts are saying, the Badgers are a team that capitalizes on almost every mismatch opponents offer. If things go well for UW, expect Hayes to be a catalyst.

Prediction: Wisconsin 74, Duke 72

Aside from Hayes, I expect Dekker and Kaminsky will score in double-figures. If not, significant pressure would fall on the sophomore duo of Hayes and Bronson Koenig. If Dekker and Kaminsky do perform as usual, expect a victory and the first national crown for Wisconsin in over 70 years.

Call it double-figures for Kaminsky, Dekker, Hayes and Koenig -- this game will come down to the wire, but Wisconsin's height advantage and overall talent gap in the frontcourt will be the biggest key.