Finally. The madness ends tonight … and not in the way that many were expecting. No, we won’t see Kentucky getting a shot at 40-0. (You can thank — or curse — Wisconsin for that.) Instead, we get a rematch of a December game in Wisconsin and Duke. Two No. 1 seeds with loaded rosters and storied head coaches. That, in and of itself, is a story worth watching.
The game tips off at 9:18 p.m. ET on CBS.
How They Got Here
Although Michigan State came out hot hitting 3-pointers in Saturday’s semifinal, Duke handled Sparty pretty easily, taking down Tom Izzo’s team by 20. It was a great match-up coaching wise, but on the court the Blue Devils were on point. Duke was led by two freshman (Jahlil Okafor/Justise Winslow), who combined for 37 of Duke’s 81 points. Coach K is leading his team to his ninth national championship game, and has a chance Monday night to win his fifth in his tenure.
Wisconsin and Kentucky’s match-up was a back and forth battle, and the Badgers did what no one else could this season … beat the Wildcats. The Badgers finished the game with a 15-4 rally and with the help of the birthday boy, Frank Kaminsky, (20 points/11 rebounds) stopped Kentucky from cutting down any more nets this year. How did the Badgers do it? They won the battle on the boards, and seemed to just want it more. Was it the lack of experience in big games for Kentucky, or simply that Wisconsin wanted pay back from last year’s loss in the Final Four?
Match-ups to Watch
The obvious matchup is going to be the two bigs — Okafor for Duke and the recently-named Naismith Player of the Year Kaminsky of Wisconsin. These two boys from Illinois have a lot in common: They both lead their respective teams in points per games and rebounds per game, and they both are impact players that their teams rely on. Kaminsky is a mismatch for Okafor from 3-point land, but Okafor has the advantage on the inside. Expect a lot of pick and rolls, and a very physical match-up between these two.
If not more important than the first match-up the match-up of the forwards in Duke’s Winslow and Wisconsin’s Dekker will also be intriguing. These two have have emerged as go-to players throughout the course of the tournament, and this match-up will play a critical role if one of the teams plays a double team defense against the bigs. A double team would allow this match-up to be a major key in determining the next national champion.
Last, but certainly not least, we can’t ignore the coaching match-up between Coach K and Bo Ryan. Both of these coaches have storied histories at their schools and are hoping to add to their legacies. Ryan has been at Wisconsin for 14 years where he has made the NCAA Tournament every year, although this is the first where he has led his team to the championship game. On the other hand, Coach K has won four titles while leading his teams to eight national championship games during his tenure.
With the emergence of Winslow and his fellow freshman Okafor, I predict that Duke will sweep this series against Wisconsin and win, 76-73. The Dukies will cut down the nets for the fifth time in the Coach K era.