clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2015 NCAA Championship Game: It's Duke And Wisconsin, One More Time

TV wanted Duke-Kentucky, but this could be even better.

Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook enjoy meeting the media before the NCAA 2015 championship game.
Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook enjoy meeting the media before the NCAA 2015 championship game.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Now there's just two hours left in the college basketball season, barring overtime, just 40:00 minutes on the clock and just two teams left standing.

Neither is Kentucky, which comes as a surprise to many, but Wisconsin took care of that knocking the Wildcats out Saturday night.

It's not a big deal anymore, and it won't be at all soon enough, just a set of arrogant footnotes, but after UK lost look what happened: the Harrisons left the court without shaking hands, followed by Willie Caulie-Stein (though Caulie-Stein said there were too many people on the court to get there). In the press conference, Aaron Harrison uttered a slur aimed at Frank Kaminsky, for which he subsequently apologized. John Calipari went on to tweet that "[a]ll of us need to look at this season for what it was. This season changed college basketball." And this: "Not only historic 38-0 start, but it showed that All-Americans can be selfless & servant leaders that care about others more than themselves."

That might be a surprise in Lexington, but in Durham, Chapel Hill, Tucson, East Lansing, Bloomington, Louisville and yes, Madison, it's old news.

It's really old news that John Wooden was familiar with along with Phil Woolpert, Pete Newell, Bob Knight, Doggy Julian, Joe Lapchik and Henry Iba. What's surprising is that Calipari is taking credit for the basic nature of the game. He gets full credit for getting a talented group of guys to play together, but you can look at any number of teams that have accomplished the same thing. For one big example, look to UNC's 1983 team which featured James Worthy, Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan. It's nothing new.

There's a school of thought which assigns entitlement to Duke, but when it comes to a sense of entitlement in college basketball, no one comes close to Kentucky. And for the record, the team which has most changed history lately is Wisconsin.

Can they do it again tonight? Well, yes. Not only is Wisconsin superbly coached and filled with ideal players for Bo Ryan's system, but it's a team which has the look of champions. The win over Kentucky was brilliant, but it's just one in a brilliant season. Remember, this team has lost to just two others: Maryland (at Maryland) and Duke (at home).

Ah, Duke. Duke is incredibly young, at times uneven and prone to youthful mistakes. But nonetheless, this Duke team has stepped up to the high standards of past Duke teams.

It faces a great - and we mean that absolutely - Wisconsin team which is older, has played together for a long time and has tremendous on-court chemistry. It's hard to underestimate just how polished Wisconsin is.

But Duke is capable too. And while Wisconsin's win over Kentucky is instantly iconic, a classic, legendary victory, Duke's had a very solid tournament run too. Surprisingly, given how this team started, it's centered around defense. Only Utah has lost by less than 10 points.

But the most striking aspect to us is that as well as Duke has played, it hasn't brought its full game yet.

Yesterday we compared Wisconsin to a more talented Butler. By that we meant that both teams have a deliberate, methodical style, and that like Butler, Wisconsin counterpunches extraordinarily  well.

Could we imagine a game where Duke forces turnovers, gets out and runs, and builds a big lead? Sure. Can we also imagine a game where Wisconsin's patience results in a lot of three point shots? No doubt.

The truth is likely to be in the middle. We don't expect to see either team run away from the other. Duke will pressure defensively; Wisconsin's pressure will come more from offense as the Badgers force the Blue Devils to work hard for 30-35 seconds each trip.

We expect the key, for Duke fans anyway, will be this: will Duke's young players continue to excel on the biggest stage possible for college players? And will Duke find a game like it found against NC State in Greensboro? We don't mean to equate the Pack with Wisconsin, because State's not in that league. But Duke's effort in that game was superb. That Duke team, on that night, found a higher gear. It found it against Notre Dame in Durham as well.

When Duke is playing at its absolute peak, it is an amazing team. And to beat this Wisconsin team, it'll need to play very well indeed.

But we do think that Duke has an advantage. Bo Ryan has talked a lot about Duke being Finland (Duke might not fully appreciate that comparison, by the way), the team the US hockey team had to play after beating the Soviets in Lake Placid.

We take his point. Our point is this: it's very, very hard to match your best effort one game later. Wisconsin could win without playing as well as the Badgers did against UK, much as Duke beat Kansas in 1991 after knocking off UNLV.

Kentucky was their best game of the tournament.

Duke has not had that game yet.

Like Wisconsin, the Blue Devils could win without hitting that peak. But if they do, it'll take a huge effort from the Badger to overcome it.