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Wisconsin vs. Duke: Observations on Wisconsin's NCAA championship loss, season

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Our writers have at least one more roundtable in them, discussing Monday's loss and what they'll remember about this team.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin had Duke on the ropes with a nine-point lead at one point in the second half. What did the Blue Devils do to get back in it and ultimately pull off the win?

Bart Torvik (@totally_t_bomb): Number one, they made plays. They took it to the rim, and finished. You can complain about some of those calls, but even without the and-ones, they made the shots. Think of the play where Grayson Allen elbowed Bronson Koenig in the jaw. I think that was a tough call on Koenig, but it's not going to be called an offensive foul -- at best you're hoping for a play on there. And yet Allen made an incredible teardrop shot through contact (granted, the contact was his elbow to Koenig's face, but still). Then, after the blown out-of-bounds call, Tyus Jones came down and nailed a contested three to more or less ice the game.

Jim Dayton (@TheDaytonFlyer): Grayson effing Allen. I mean seriously, does anyone like this guy? During his second half spurt (he scored eight consecutive points for the Blue Devils), plenty of national college basketball writers that I follow kept making Christian Laettner comparisons. And remember, everyone hates Christian Laettner. Allen was a pretty inconsequential player for Duke all year, but no team, in any sport, wins a championship without having someone unexpected step up in crunch time. Think Dave Roberts for the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Allen's 16 points were way more than just a stolen base.

Phil Mitten (@hoopsmarinara): Duke's defense was pretty good all game and phenomenal when it mattered. They swarmed to the ball and eliminated the offensive rebounding edge that had given Wisconsin 11 second-chance points on eight offensive rebounds in the first half (the Badgers only had two points on three offensive boards after halftime). Meanwhile, the Blue Devils found their advantage at guard and got aggressive with it down the stretch. Koenig couldn't guard Jones at all and Allen played out of his mind. Bart nailed it when talking about the simplicity of making shots. Regardless of fouls, those and-ones went through the hoop.

But first, Duke survived. The Dukies stole a little of Wisconsin's confidence with those five first-half blocked shots and managed to just hang around despite it's two lottery picks sitting with foul trouble. That first half kept them alive when Wisconsin made it's run and allowed Jones to bring it home.

Neal Olson (@olewr7): Duke made shots. Allen and Jones attacked on dribble drives and were able to take full advantage of all opportunities around the basket. They definitely kept their composure and seemed unafraid of the big moment. Additionally Duke's aggressive defense had the Badgers flustered and forced them into several scoring droughts which made the difference in a closely contested game.

What did or didn't the Badgers do that ultimately cost them the game?

Bart: I thought they didn't take enough advantage of Jahlil Okafor's foul trouble. When he got his fourth foul and sat, the Badgers played a very perimeter-oriented style. Frank didn't get many touches in the post. Of course, without Okafor in the game Frank probably had a tougher defender on him -- and the couple times they did go inside during that stretch Frank and Bo thought he got fouled -- but I think they should have forced the issue ever more.

Jim: Wisconsin had a 48-39 lead with 13:17 to play and seemed to be on another outstanding second half runs we've seen all tournament. But from that point on, the Badgers shot 6-for-20 the rest of the game. In the same stretch, Duke shot 9-of-17 while outscoring Wisconsin 29-15.

Credit the Blue Devils' defense for flummoxing one of the best offenses ever into tough shots. There were several times where you could just see the Badgers were thrown off and they could not readjust before it was too late. I haven't hit the anger stage of my grief yet so I'm not going to criticize the officials, but there was a 16-3 Duke advantage in second-half free throw attempts. At the very least, that was a major point of frustration for the Badgers and added to their second half struggles.

Phil: The Badgers didn't seize the moment. They left plenty of points on the table in the first half, whether it be at the free throw line, missed layups or sloppy possessions/turnovers. Sam Dekker kept shooting threes even though it wasn't a good night to force his jumper. He rarely catches fire after starting out so bad from deep. I believe they should have force fed him the ball on the block instead, where he very often would have had a smaller defender at his mercy. Those were more lost opportunities, as was failing to build a nice cushion while Okafor and Justise Winslow were out. Just seemed like an uncharacteristic lack of composure all night, but especially once Wisconsin had surrendered the lead.

Neal: Overall, the Badgers played well considering the emotion and physical toll they endured Saturday night against Kentucky. However, they definitely got rattled by the nature of the officiating in the second half. Without delving too much into the lose-lose world of officiating gripes, there was an unquestioned change in out how the game was called from the first half to the second. Wisconsin did not handle the adjustment well and those frustrations became visible on the faces of the players. The Badgers uncharacteristically (but understandably) lost a bit of their edge and focus. Teams have to survive a lot of adversity in order to reach the national championship summit, unfortunately the Badgers let the way the officials were calling the game get into their heads too much.

What will you remember most about this team?

Bart: We'll always have Kentucky. It will go down as the greatest win in team history, as it should. The disappointment of the last 13 minutes against Duke is still an open wound, but it will close and scab up in time. There will be no scar. There will be no aches during rainy weather. Instead of pangs of pain, we'll just have flashbacks to the the final moments of the Kentucky game, when we allowed ourselves to admit that it was over, that the Badgers had won. It's hard to imagine I'll ever have a more euphoric sports fan moment. But I'm not foolish enough to doubt that Bo Ryan has something even bigger in store for us.

Jim: This was the most fun I've ever had following a sports team. These guys were lovable goofballs that everyone could get behind. If anyone tells you their jovial press conferences and locker room celebrations caused them to lose focus in the title game, slap that person in the face. The Badgers were clearly one of the nation's best, but what made them so special and helped fuel this stellar tournament run was their camaraderie. It's going to take a long time to get over this loss, but eventually we'll all remember the players and personalities that made this season so great.

Phil: I will remember the unique personalities on the team and how proud I was to root for this group of talented and likable ambassadors that represented my alma mater so well. I'll remember Frank. Honestly, we didn't deserve to have two guys like Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes on the team at the same time. It was incredibly entertaining and the most enjoyable team I've ever followed.

Had they beaten Duke, they would have accomplished something more difficult than any college basketball team ever.

I will remember the incredible run that started with the second half against Purdue and culminated in the win over Kentucky to advance to the championship. Beating North Carolina, Arizona and Kentucky in order was probably the greatest sports feat I've seen a Wisconsin team accomplish and had they beaten Duke, they would have accomplished something more difficult than any college basketball team ever.

I will remember that this team lived up to the hype and became champions.

Neal: Back-to-back Final Fours is going to be a pretty sweet legacy -- but I think things like the team's fascination with the stenographer, "Nigel Burgundy" video series and all the other goofy, endearing stuff that underscored what a unique collection of talent on and off the court this team had. As a final example the underscores their brotherhood, the entire squad showing out when Kaminsky got the player of the year awards was pretty cool. A team to the very end.

Despite the loss, after to Final Fours do you believe Wisconsin is now a basketball powerhouse?

Bart: Yes. The Badgers have now finished in the top 13 of the Kenpom ratings for the sixth straight year -- every year this decade. No other team -- not one -- can say this. Before the last couple of years you could play Devil's Advocate and argue that the Badgers were consistent, sure, but not elite. No more. Back-to-back Final Fours are an historic accomplishment. When you combine consistently elite regular season performance with a run of post-season dominance -- well, that's a powerhouse.

Jim: It really depends on your definition of powerhouse. Wisconsin is never going to have the prestige of Kentucky, Duke or North Carolina, but they're still a damn good program. I'll say this: throughout the Bo Ryan era, the Badgers have always had good teams. However, there have only been a handful of seasons where they are legitimate title contenders.
When those blue blood programs have an off year, they can reload immediately through one massive recruiting haul. Wisconsin has to build and develop these great teams. Ultimately, the Badgers remain on the precipice of being elite, but I hesitate to call them a powerhouse.

People never hate irrelevant programs, only the special ones.

Phil: Semantics can get pretty slippery if you let them, but I vote "Yes" to Wisconsin's powerhouse status based on the results of the Bo Ryan era. The Badgers are amazingly consistent winners under Ryan and have proven that their ceiling is as high as any program's, even in the postseason. Sadly, after becoming America's Team for basically both games in this year's Final Four, I think the coaches and players soured things a bit by harping on the officiating so much. It wasn't a good look and opened the program up to unnecessary criticism. However, that comes with the territory -- people never hate irrelevant programs, only the special ones.

There are two to three things you could argue that prevent Wisconsin from being recognized as a truly elite program (a modern-era national championship, high-end recruiting, and prolonged success under more than one head coach), but there's no question UW is a powerhouse with the momentum to solve a couple of those remaining riddles.

Neal: I would say the consistency of top four finishes in the Big Ten and NCAA tournament appearances has already made them a powerhouse but clearly the national narrative of Wisconsin basketball is not quite ready for that same diagnosis. As sad as it is, the perception of slow, plodding, methodical basketball was alive as ever, even after hanging 85 points on Arizona, one of the top defensive teams in the country.

That plodding narrative, combined with losing out on several high profile in-state recruits, allows uneducated pundits easy talking points regarding Wisconsin as a "system" school. Quickly dismissing the consistent winning as some gimmick or trick. Luckily, B5Q readers are more clever than that. They realize Bo's "system" is winning, and all get to be a part of the "system" experience every season.