Heading into the Final Four I wrote about the crazy comparisons between this season’s Michigan State team and last season’s UConn championship squad, and how fun it would be to see MSU meet an undefeated Kentucky team in the finals. Oops.
As fun as the MSU story would have been, and as amazing as it would have been to watch Kentucky shoot for 40-0, we have an awesome game tonight to wrap up college basketball. The main reason this game should be so good? It’s about as evenly matched of a game as you could have.
Kentucky has been the talk of the tournament, perhaps overshadowing how amazing both of these top seeds have been in their own right. Duke (34-4) has dominated the competition behind their freshman three-headed monster, while Wisconsin (36-3) has scrapped their way through the more difficult road powered by veteran leadership.
However, it was the Blue Devils with a 10 point victory over the Badgers in Madison back on December 3rd, 80-70. Of course, both Coach K and Bo Ryan will tell you that the game means very little now, and they are right in the sense that these are two totally different teams from four months ago. There’s still something to the first matchup, though. So here’s some keys to that first matchup, some that we can expect to be the same, and some that we can expect to be much different:
— Jahlil Okafor played only 27 minutes due to foul trouble. Okafor was able to finish out the game, never actually picking up his fifth personal, but it did limit him. He wound up with 13 points and six boards, and although he did shoot 6-for-8 from the field, this was clearly a below average game for him.
— Justise Winslow had not yet taken form. Winslow has been Duke’s best player in the tournament so far, and he has found his stride as the season has gone on. Despite playing big minutes, Winslow had just five points and five rebounds in the Blue Devils win.
— At this point you’re probably asking how the heck Duke won this game. The answer is Tyus Jones. Jones was huge for his team, stepping up as a leader despite his age. Watch the freshman play, and you’ll see he carries himself like a veteran. Jones’ 22 points, six boards and four assists in 37 minutes were too much in the first matchup.
— Rasheed Sulaimon still played for Duke. Sulaimon has since been released by the team, which is a big deal seeing he contributed 14 points off the bench the last time these teams met.
— Frank the Tank carried Wisco. Kaminsky played like the National Player of the Year in this one, posting 17 points and nine rebounds to go with a pair of dimes and a block. The Badgers are going to need their star to repeat this performance on Monday night, all signs point to him being able to.
— Sam Dekker was a no-show. Dekker has been as clutch as they come in the tournament, but on December 3rd he had only five points, while playing 24 minutes. Safe to say the Badgers can expect more from him in the championship game; if not, they will likely see the same result as their last meeting.
— Nigel Hayes was also not himself. Hayes was even worse than Dekker, scoring just four points in 23 minutes of action. Hayes and Dekker have been Kaminsky’s wingmen all tournament long — both on the court and at the podium — and all three are going to have to play as they have been of late if they want to get revenge on Duke.
— Wisconsin has a new point guard. Traevon Jackson, a senior, scored 25 points in 32 minutes against Duke in December. Jackson has played a total of 28 minutes for the Badgers in five NCAA Tournament games so far this season. Bronson Koenig has taken his role in the starting lineup; obviously, this has been something that the team has adjusted well to.
So take what you want from this. Use it to convince yourself who you think is going to win. Because as fun as it is to read about, once they throw the ball up on Monday night, all of it becomes absolutely meaningless.
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