With the size, skill and experience to go toe-to-toe with any team in the country, the second-ranked Wisconsin Badgers (7-0) will be favored at home against any opponent who ventures inside the Kohl Center -- even a reloaded Duke squad that features the leading candidate for National Player of the Year.
While the Big Ten's fast start in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge could be a good sign that it's top-rated member can hold serve on its home court against No. 4 Duke, the Blue Devils (7-0) are more well-rounded than last season's 26-9 edition that featured Milwaukee Bucks rookie Jabari Parker.
Who are the key players on the Duke side in this gigantic contest? We invited Duke insider Adam Rowe from 247 Sports' Blue Devil Lair to answer that question and more.
B5Q: This is as hyped a game as there has been in the history of the Kohl Center in Madison. For a program like Duke, which is used to having a target on its back for so many years, how anticipated is this matchup for Blue Devils fans?
Blue Devil Lair (Adam): This is a heavily anticipated matchup. It doesn't matter how many Top Five contests a program has been a part of, they're still exciting. Especially in an environment like the Kohl Center, one of the top five college basketball venues in the country. It's also a chance for Duke to shake the reputation that they can't win true road games (they've lost their last five season-opening true road games).
B5Q: Averaging 17.7 points on 63.6 percent shooting so far, it's clear that freshman pivot Jahlil Okafor is as good as advertised. For those that haven't seen him yet, tell us what makes him so good and so advanced at this stage in his career?
BDL: Okafor has been able to score basically whenever he's wanted in the early going. He's got great footwork for a guy his size and has shown a variety of post moves, which is rare for many college big men but especially freshmen. Having multiple shooters around him and a point guard like Tyus Jones who is able to get him the ball in scoring opportunities helps too. Not many teams are able to double up on Okafor due to the numerous other offensive weapons on Duke's team so life has been somewhat easy on him so far. How he does in an environment like Wisconsin and against an experienced big like Kaminsky will be telling as to how far he's come and how far he's got to go.
B5Q: When this year's talented freshman class arrived in Durham, several upperclassmen saw their roles shift. How have these players -- especially junior Rasheed Sulaimon, who is playing much less than he did in his first two seasons -- adapted to their new reality?
BDL: Much has been made of how Quinn Cook has accepted a leadership role and stepped over to the shooting guard spot so that Tyus Jones could take over at point. Cook's selflessness has been an example that many players on the team have followed as the freshman class has come in. Sulaimon doesn't seem to have adjusted as well as Cook, as he's been looking for his shot at a rapid clip when he's in. That's not necessarily a bad thing, except when he comes in with the second unit he's usually been playing point guard. If he can look to setup his teammates as point guard with the reserves, Duke's offense should flow much smoother when both Tyus and Quinn are sitting down.
B5Q: Frank Kaminsky vs. Jahlil Okafor will obviously be a fun matchup to watch, but to me the guard play might be more important. The Badgers start a pair of veterans that occasionally struggle defensively against quick guards. How will Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook be able to cause trouble for Wisconsin on either end of the floor?
BDL: Cook is probably the more dangerous player against guards that struggle to defend quicker players, but Tyus will make guys pay with the pass. He's got that "point guard feel" to the game where he just seems to know where every player is on the court and where they need the ball. The problem with those two is that they'll return the favor on the defensive end (they struggle with quick guards too). If that starts to happen, you'll see K insert a Matt Jones or Sulaimon to help with the defense.
B5Q: Pick a player from either team that you think will be the x-factor in Wednesday night's game and explain why.
BDL: Justise Winslow is the x-factor in my mind. He's a versatile guy who can defend from the one to the four and is able to score with ease both in transition and in the halfcourt. I also think he'll be called on to try and slow down Sam Dekker, which isn't going to be easy.
Duke not a one-man show
While all eyes will focus on the Player of the Year matchup in the post, Wisconsin and Duke both feature incredible offenses that can hit you from multiple angles.
B5Q: Legions of Duke haters like to talk about the most-hated Dukies, but I want to flip that on its head for a minute and ask you (a) who has been your favorite Blue Devil to root for over the last 5 years and (b) who is your favorite Dukie of all-time?
BDL: A) Nolan Smith, by far. He's always been great to the Duke fans and really opened up the program and changed the perception of it.
B) Favorite Duke player of all time is Bobby Hurley. Used to emulate him in the driveway late at night and on the basketball court.
B5Q: Is Coach K a robot that can stay on the sidelines forever? Bo Ryan gets questioned about his age and how long he wants to coach, yet Krzyzewski is a year older than Ryan. How much longer do you think will coach at Duke? Has he shared any thoughts on the topic?
BDL: Yes, Coach K is a robot. With perfectly painted black hair. He says he's not thinking about retirement and it certainly seems that way. The Olympics have rejuvenated him every year and he's got a great setup at Duke now. I think he's on for about five to six more years personally.
B5Q: Care to make a prediction?
BDL: I think Duke wins a squeaker 74-72. And people will complain about Duke getting all the calls.
I agree with that last sentiment -- people will certainly complain about the winner getting all the calls. Let's just hope the Badger fans are the ones fielding the Blue Devils' complaint. Thanks again to Adam for breaking down the matchup with us. If you'd like to give him a follow on Twitter, you can find him @BlueDevilLair.
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