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Next Up For Basketball - Wisconsin Badgers

A serious challenge for a talented young team.

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Jahlil Okafor will get a different sort of a challenge from Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky Wednesday night.
Jahlil Okafor will get a different sort of a challenge from Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky Wednesday night.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

When Wisconsin came to Cameron the first time, when the Badgers lumbered out on the court, we were stunned: it was the biggest team we'd seen in years. They were absolutely huge. It was like watching a bunch of giants come down from the hills and just overwhelm the town folks.

Fortunately, as it turned out, being big didn't equate to being quick and Duke didn't have that much trouble that afternoon.

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Wisconsin is not quite as big this time, and not nearly as slow. Still, Bo Ryan, who looks sort of like a badger when you think about it, has a preference for big guys and there are plenty on this team too.

Frank Kaminsky is the biggest at 7-0, but there are four guys  6-9 or taller and three more at 6-8.

The focus, naturally, is on the battle between Kaminsky and Duke's star freshman Jahlil Okafor.

The inch difference (Okafor is listed at 6-11) isn't as important as whose arms are longer, but there is big weight discrepancy.

Kaminsky is listed anywhere from 230 to 242; Okafor checks in at 270.

He has much more of an inside-outside game than Okafor currently, but having watched Okafor's wicked spin move a few times - it's unbelievable that a man his size can move that fast, it really is - Kaminsky, who is a wonderfully rangy athlete, may nonetheless be surprised by that move.

Junior Sam Dekkar, 6-9 and 230, is also starting, but he's had a bum ankle for a while. He's playing but not practicing full-time. His rebounding is about 50% off from last year, possibly because of his ankle.

Like Kaminsky, he's not afraid to take threes. He's not as prolific, but he shoots them.

Wisconsin's other frontcourt starter is 6-7, 250 lb. junior Nigel Hayes.

He's hitting 13.6 ppg and 8.3 boards.

Wisconsin brings Duje Dukan off the bench, and he can shoot too.

In the backcourt, Josh Gasser (6-4) and Traevon Jackson (6-3) start, and Jackson is, with the possible exception of Kaminsky, Wisconsin's key player.

Neither player scores  lot - Jackson averages 8.4 and Gasser 5.9 - but Jackson is one of those guys you want on your team when things get tense. He can handle it.

Worth remembering: this may be the best foul shooting backcourt we've ever come across: Gasser is clocking in at 90%, while Jackson is hitting a highly impressive 92.3%. That may be an aberration though. In his previous three seasons, he never got above 77% .

Duke counters with Okafor, Amile Jefferson, and Justise Winslow up front. It's going to be an interesting challenge since Wisconsin's bigs can stretch the defense. It's harder to switch with Okafor since both Kaminsky and Dekkar can light it up.

And Jefferson is going to play some beefy guys, too, which is probably not his best case scenario right now.

Duke's size disadvantage, such as it is, probably hinges on Winslow. He's listed at 6-6 but his power and athleticism allow him to play bigger than he really is.

And someone is going to have to keep up with him.

And there you have Duke's advantage.

The starting backcourt of Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook is pretty quick, and bringing in Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones doesn't exactly slow things down. Neither does Grayson Allen, but we probably won't see him  lot in this one as he's being brought along more slowly.

And Duke also has a powerful and snarling backup big man in Marshall Plumlee. What we love about him is the intensity he brings. Once or twice during his career we've seen people trying to rein him in a bit.  Usually most guys have to be jacked up.

And Ojeleye is beginning to find his niche. He's a talented player, but last year he tended to get lost on defense. He's certainly gotten better on that end.

It's not entirely fair to say that this game is Wisconsin's size vs. Duke's quickness, but in a very rough analysis, that's reasonable.

But it may also come down to three point shooting. Wisconsin's bigs like to chunk it from deep, which tends to lead to longer rebounds. Those balls are much more likely to be picked up by mid-sized guys, and Duke's are generally quicker. Those longer boards can help Duke challenge Wisconsin's deliberate pace - as could Duke's defensive pressure.

Ryan uses a swing offense, which incorporates elements of the flex, the UCLA offense we see at NC State now, and the triangle made famous by Tex Winters and Phil Jackson.

It builds off of a 4-out and 1-in which obviously puts pressure on the inside defender.

It's not easy to defend as we see by Ryan's 76% winning percentage (by comparison, Coach K's is 78.8%).

Most of the freshman focus has been on the big guys, but in the last couple of games, Jones has really been hitting his stride as a floor general.

We saw it against Army when he started finding much sharper angles for leading passes which led to layups.

Both starters will be giving up size to Badger guards, but how many teams can bring a pair of superior defenders at 6-4 and 6-5 off the bench?

Duke should, at a minimum, be able to keep heavy pressure on Wisconsin's guards.

Wisconsin is also going to face a real challenge if Duke heats up from three point range. Okafor won't be part of it, nor Jefferson, but just about everyone else this side of Plumlee can nail a three.

Still, it's likely to come down to pace and defense. Wisconsin's offense is elaborate but not necessarily explosive.

What they do do very well though is to find each other and get good shots.

And generally speaking, that's usually, though not always, enough.