Final Four Previews: Wisconsin/Duke Will Win If…

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Tommy Lemoine on April 6th, 2015


Championship Monday is always bitter sweet for college basketball fans. On the one hand, it means the two best teams in the country will finally play for the ultimate crown and go down in the history books. On the other hand, it also means that the college basketball season is finally coming to an end. For this particular 2014-15 season, however, what an ending this is set to be. While the nation didn’t quite get the “dream” finals matchup, tonight’s contest is not a bad consolation prize by any means as arguably the best offensive basketball team in recent memory goes up against arguably the most traditional of traditional powers that the sport has ever seen. We’re just a couple hours away from tip-off, but in the meantime …

No shock here - Frank Kaminsky is the key player in tonight's National Title game. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

No shock here – Frank Kaminsky is the key player in tonight’s National Title game. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

Wisconsin Will Win If

  • It continues to play like the greatest collegiate offense in recent history, which it most assuredly is. For the year, Wisconsin’s adjusted offensive efficiency is 128.5, equivalent to 128 points per 100 offensive possessions against an average defense, the best by a rather significant margin. In the NCAA Tournament, with higher stakes and tougher opponents, the Badgers are still averaging 128 points per 100 offensive possessions, even after playing two of the season’s best three defenses in their past two games. While Duke’s is playing its best defensive basketball of the season (they’re allowing 87 points per 100 defensive possessions in the tournament), at this point doubting the effectiveness of the Wisconsin offense is questionable at best.
  • Frank Kaminsky gets the better of the Jahlil Okafor. The key matchup to watch, of course, will be Kaminsky vs. Okafor (the only two unanimous RTC All-American choices) although of course, it won’t always be a mano v. mano type of thing. However, it is a fascinating matchup. Okafor may be the best post-up big man since Tim Duncan, while Kaminsky’s ability to be equally effective inside or out gives him a great advantage. Much of Wisconsin’s offense is predicated on the ability of its talented big men to step away from the hoop, open up the floor and create opportunities for clean looks. Okafor is in no way foul prone, but if the relatively inexperienced freshman gets frustrated by Kaminsky’s veteran wiles, the Blue Devils could be behind the eight-ball.
  • Control Duke’s guards. Back on December 3, Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook combined for 35 points on 11-of-16 shooting (plus 4-of-6 from three) in a 10-point Blue Devil win in Madison. Since departed Rasheed Sulaimon added 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting (and a couple more threes) in 21 minutes off the pine. In that game, really, the Badgers did very little to effectively slow Duke’s offensive attack, but it was the Blue Devils’ guards who were the catalysts. Backcourt mates Bronson Koenig and Josh Gasser simply cannot let the Duke guards get on a roll early.
  • The Badgers need to defensive rebound like their lives depend on it. Kentucky was one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation. Against Wisconsin, on Saturday, the Wildcats managed exactly six offensive rebounds, good for a 21.4 OR%, about 17 percentage points below their season average. Duke’s quite good at extending possessions via offensive rebound themselves, with both Okafor and Amile Jefferson among the very best individual offensive rebounders in the nation. While the Badgers are in no way a terrific defensive team (they’re allowing 1.15 points per possession in the NCAA Tournament thus far), they’re very good at ending defensive possessions with a strong rebound. It is one of the things few things Wisconsin did well against Duke in December, relinquishing just three offensive boards. If the Badgers slip up on the boards and allow Duke extra chances, that will cause real problems.
  • Sam Dekker. For much of the year, Dekker was a distant Robin to Kaminsky’s Batman. In the NCAA Tournament, he has been every bit the equal of Frank the Tank. Hitting 15-of-30 three-point shooting in the tournament is one thing, but his ability to be equally adept creating offense off the bounce, or getting to the line or getting on the offensive glass, or making smart defensive plays, or making the smart extra pass, has upped the ante (and the margin for error) for the Badger offense.
  • Maintain focus after their big win. Following Saturday night’s win, the Badgers returned to their hotel conquering heroes. They pulled the upset of undefeated Kentucky and received congratulations from all over the college basketball world. But their work is not done. Head coach Bo Ryan on Sunday compared the Badgers’ situation to that of the US Olympic hockey team back in 1980 where, after knocking off the Soviet Union in the semifinal, they still needed to handle a quality Finland team in the gold medal game to avoid being just a minor historical footnote. The case is much the same here. If Wisconsin doesn’t complete the deal tonight, sure, we’ll remember the fact that they knocked off undefeated Kentucky, but it won’t have the same cachet. If there is any loss of focus, even for a few minutes at the start of the game, Duke is very much good enough to send the Badgers back to Madison with plenty of good memories, but no banner.

Duke will Win If

Duke is one step away from a National Title. (Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

Duke is one step away from a National Title. (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

  • It keeps on attacking. The Blue Devils attempted a whopping 37 free throws against Michigan State on Saturday night and scored one-third of their points from the stripe. Although the Badgers are very good at staying between their man and the basket – fouling at the lowest rate in college hoops – Duke’s dribble-penetration is especially difficult to stop, with guards Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook providing quickness off the bounce and forward Justise Winslow (who shot 11 free throws against the Spartans) proving exceptionally difficult to prevent from getting to the rim. Not only will attacking the lane early and often generate open looks from the perimeter and the charity stripe, but it will draw defenders away from Jahlil Okafor down low – creating more opportunities for high-percentage looks against Wisconsin’s defense. The big man shot 6-for-8 from the field in the teams’ previous meeting back in December.
  • Justise Winslow significantly limits Sam Dekker. Frank Kaminsky is probably going to get his own. The 7’0″ senior scored 17 points against Duke in December, dropped 29 against Arizona in the Elite Eight and poured in another 20 points and 11 rebounds against Kentucky on Saturday. Even if Okafor and help defenders throw different looks at him, the National Player of the Year will find a way to produce – just he’s done all season. Dekker, however, has emerged as something of an ‘x-factor’ in recent weeks, significantly boosting his output during the NCAA Tournament and enabling Wisconsin’s ultra-efficient offense to keep on humming against two of the country’s top three defenses. Despite Kaminsky’s production against the Blue Devils the first time around, Dekker – who was battling an injury – only mustered five points, rendering the Badgers’ offense more one-dimensional. If the athletic Winslow can use his length, quickness and a heavy dose of ball-pressure to slow down the 6’9” junior – who’s averaging 20.6 PPG and shooting 50% 3PT in the Dance – it will put extra pressure on Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and guards to carry the load. That might enable Duke to quell Wisconsin’s attack just enough to grab an edge.
  • It remains disciplined. Even Kentucky, the country’s top defensive unit, suffered mental lapses – poor switches, late rotations, etc. – against Wisconsin’s methodical and lethal offensive attack. But Duke’s defense has been among (if not the) best to this point in the NCAA Tournament, applying half-court ball-pressure, taking away the three-point line and doing an excellent job limiting opposing big men across all five games. In fact, the Blue Devils have held every opponent to well under one point per possession in the Dance. While they likely won’t accomplish that against the Badgers, they should put themselves in great position to win – especially considering their own ability to score on the other end – by staying disciplined against Wisconsin’s perimeter ball-movement and avoiding defensive mismatches. Again, this isn’t about stopping the Big Ten champs – it’s about slowing them down.
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