The Duke Blue Devils and Wisconsin Badgers will meet up at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday night, with the 2015 national championship hanging in the balance.
This marks the 10th national championship game for Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, tying him with UCLA legend John Wooden. Coach K has won four national championships with Duke (1991, 1992, 2001 and 2010) and is the all-time winningest coach in Division I history with 1,017 victories. This year's squad didn't win the ACC regular season or tournament titles, but has peaked in the postseason, laying waste to the rest of the South Region with victories over Robert Morris (85-56), San Diego State (68-49), Utah (63-57) and Gonzaga (66-52) before blowing out Michigan State in the Final Four on Saturday (81-61).
Wisconsin's Bo Ryan has finally put his team in the national title game. The Badgers, who won the Big Ten regular season and tournament crowns, are playing in their 17th straight NCAA Tournament. They are 36-3 on the season (a school-record). Wisconsin has navigated the tournament field through the West Region, topping Coastal Carolina (86-72), Oregon (72-65), North Carolina (79-72) and Arizona (85-78) to reach its second straight Final Four. The Badgers then did what no other team in the nation could this season, knocking off then undefeated Kentucky on Saturday (71-64). Wisconsin seeks its first national championship since its only one in 1941. Ryan is a perfect 4-0 in national championship games, having won all four of his national title appearances with Division III's UW-Platteville.
This is just the fourth all-time meeting between these two teams on the hardwood, but the second this season. Duke holds a 2-1 series advantage after earning a 10-point win (80-70) in Madison back in December.
It was a tight battle with a number of big runs by both teams, but after relinquishing leads in both the first and second half, Wisconsin got hot late, going on a 15-4 run down the stretch to earn the win over Kentucky on Saturday night. It was efficient and timely shooting (.479) that proved to be the difference for Wisconsin, which went 7-of-17 from 3-point range and 18-of-22 from the free-throw line in the win. AP Player of the Year and First-Team All- American Frank Kaminsky led the way with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Sam Dekker poured in 16 points, while Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig finished with 12 apiece.
Wisconsin is a highly efficient squad (72.7 ppg on .482 shooting), but the success is not limited to that end of the floor, as the Badgers defend as well, limiting foes to just 57.9 ppg. Kaminsky is a rare breed, a 7-footer with great range. The senior leads the team in scoring at 18.7 points per game, doing so on .551 shooting that includes .412 from 3-point range. Kaminsky also is grabbing a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game, while pacing the team in assists (101). Dekker, a 6-9 junior, also has great range, with 50 3- pointers on the year. Dekker has a future in the NBA as well, and is netting 13.9 ppg on .529 shooting. A sophomore forward, Hayes (12.4 ppg) rounds out the double-digit scoring threats for Wisconsin. The backcourt is stocked as well, with solid contributors like the sophomore Koenig (8.7 ppg) and seniors Traevon Jackson (8.5 ppg) and Josh Gasser (6.8 ppg).
Kaminsky and Dekker have been really sharp in this event. They are the top two scorers in the NCAA Tournament this season with Kaminsky amassing 111 points (22.2 ppg) and Dekker a close second with 103 points (20.6 ppg).
It is Wisconsin's unique style that Krzyzewski is concerned with.
"Well, they can score from every position," said Krzyzewski. "Usually an efficient offense means that you can help off of everybody. It gives room for each of the really good players to have more room to operate. They don't turn it over, and they hit free throws at a high percentage. They put pressure on you the entire time. You have to play five guys. You have to play them hopefully without fouling. Then they have great spacing. They're just a very difficult team to defend. They usually play at their tempo. They're comfortable in that tempo and obviously very efficient."
Defense will be key in this game and Duke has really thrived at that end of the floor in the tournament, holding its five NCAA Tournament foes to just 55.0 ppg on .374 shooting. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils are shooting an efficient .504 from the field.
The offensive exploits aren't anything new for this team, as Duke enters this game averaging 79.6 ppg on .502 shooting. What is kind of new, is the team's reliance on so many youngsters. It starts with First-Team All-American Jahlil Okafor. Likely the top pick in this year's NBA Draft, the 6-11 Okafor leads the Blue Devils in both scoring (17.5 ppg) and rebounding (8.6 rpg), while ranking second nationally in field-goal percentage (.667). Senior Quinn Cook (15.6 ppg) is the perfect complement with his perimeter game. Cook is shooting .400 from behind the arc and leads the team with 102 3-pointers. Freshmen Justise Winslow (12.7 ppg) and Tyus Jones (11.5 ppg, 5.7 apg) have made immediate impacts for Duke as well and will probably join Okafor in the NBA sooner rather than later.
Duke fell behind early against Michigan State, but quickly turned things around and took control, en route to a rather easy win over the Spartans on Saturday night. The Blue Devils shot .520 from the floor in the game, outscored MSU in the paint, 42-26 and from the free-throw line, 27-10. Winslow just missed a double-double, pacing the squad with 19 points and nine rebounds. Okafor poured in 18 points and grabbed six boards, while Cook finished with 17 points.
The matchup between Kaminsky and Okafor should be fun to watch and one that Bo Ryan says he is looking forward to.
"There's no way I could match up with him (Okafor), he'd kill me. Is that what you're asking (laughter)? Whoa, I'd have to take him outside, get behind the three-point line and work him over a little bit. No (laughter). Do you mean as a coach, am I looking forward to it? Yeah, we just did it three or four months ago. But, yeah, two very good players. Two guys that are very important to their teams. It's should be pretty interesting for purists of the game to watch two bigs like that go against one another."