By Peyton Wesner
With another memorable, heart-racing moment in Indianapolis on Saturday, maybe the Final Four should always be held at Lucas Oil Stadium. With an undefeated season on the line and the Kentucky Wildcats down three points, Kentucky's star Freshman Karl-Anthony Towns stepped to the free throw line for two shots. The first was made by the future NBA lottery pick, but the second was missed causing the Badgers lead to stay at two points. A missed free throw in a Kentucky/Wisconsin Final Four game? Isn't that familiar? Wisconsin's Sophomore Bronson Koenig was then fouled by Andrew Harrison with a berth to the Championship Game on the line. Koenig, unlike Towns, swished both attempts making the Badgers lead four with thirteen seconds remaining. Aaron Harrison then rushed the ball up-court with precious time wasting away and fired a three-pointer with the chance to keep his team in the game. Airball! Airball! New year, new result as the Wisconsin Badgers avenged their 2014 Final Four loss by sending John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats home two nights earlier than expected without the hardware they coveted all season.
9:18 PM EST-CBS
36-3 (16-2) #1 Wisconsin
34-4 (15-3) #1 Duke
(At Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana)
36-3 (16-2) #1 Wisconsin
---Big Ten Regular Season Champions
-Georgetown 68-65 in Semi-Final of Battle 4 Atlantis.
-Oklahoma 69-56 in Championship of Battle 4 Atlantis.
-#25 Iowa 82-50 (Home)
-Michigan State 68-61 (Home)
-#23 Ohio State 72-48 (Road)
-Michigan State 80-69 in Overtime in Big Ten Championship (in Chicago)
-#4 Duke 80-70 in ACC/Big 10 Challenge (Home)
-Rutgers 67-62 (Road)
-#14 Maryland 59-53 (Road)
NCAA Tournament Run:
-#16 Coastal Carolina 86-72 in Round of 64 (in Omaha)
-#8 Oregon 72-65 in Round of 32 (in Omaha)
-#4 North Carolina 79-72 in Sweet Sixteen (in Los Angeles)
-#2 Arizona 85-78 in Elite Eight (in Los Angeles)
-#1 Kentucky 71-64 in Final Four (in Indianapolis)
---#44 Frank Kaminsky (SR)
-18.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.7 APG, & 1.5 BPG.
---#15 Sam Dekker (JR)
-13.9 PPG & 5.4 RPG.
---#10 Nigel Hayes (SO)
-12.4 PPG, 6.3 RPG, & 2.0 APG.
---#24 Bronson Koenig (SO)
-8.7 PPG, 1.8 RPG, & 2.4 RPG.
---#12 Traevon Jackson (SR)
(Played first game since suffering foot injury against #4 North Carolina.)
-8.5 PPG & 2.6 APG.
---#21 Josh Gasser (SR)
-6.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, & 1.7 APG.
---#13 Duje Dukan (SR)
-4.7 PPG & 2.6 RPG.
34-4 (15-3) #1 Duke
-#19 Michigan State 81-71 in Champions Classic (in Indianapolis)
-#2 Wisconsin 80-70 (Road)
-#6 Louisville 63-62 (Road)
-#2 Virginia 69-63 (Road)
-#10 Notre Dame 90-60 (Home)
-#15 North Carolina 92-90 in Overtime (Home)
-#19 North Carolina 84-77 (Road)
-NC State 77-53 in Quarterfinal of ACC Tournament (in Greensboro)
-NC State 87-75 (Road)
-Miami (FL) 90-74 (Home)
-#8 Notre Dame 77-73 (Road)
-#11 Notre Dame 74-64 in Semi-Final of ACC Tournament (in Greensboro)
NCAA Tournament Run:
-#16 Robert Morris 85-56 in Round of 64 (in Charlotte).
-#8 San Diego State 68-49 in Round of 32 (in Charlotte).
-#5 Utah 63-57 in Sweet Sixteen (in Houston).
-#2 Gonzaga 66-52 in Elite Eight (in Houston).
-#7 Michigan State 81-61 in Final Four (in Indianapolis).
---#15 Jahlil Okafor (FR)
-17.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG, & 1.5 BPG.
---#2 Quinn Cook (SR)
-15.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, & 1.0 SPG.
---#12 Justise Winslow (FR)
-12.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, & 1.3 SPG.
---#5 Tyus Jones (FR)
-11.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5.7 APG, & 1.6 SPG.
---#14 Rasheed Sulaimon (JR)
(Dismissed from team on January 29 for sexual assault allegation.)
-7.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, & 1.0 SPG.
---#21 Amile Jefferson (JR)
-6.2 PPG & 5.8 RPG.
---#13 Matt Jones (SO)
-6.2 PPG & 2.3 RPG.
Here we go again! The Duke Blue Devils are once again in the Championship Game of a Final Four in Indianapolis as they rolled over the Michigan State Spartans by twenty points. At the beginning of the match, the Spartans looked as if they were going to bury Duke as Junior Denzel Valentine racked up nine early points to give his team a quick 14-6 lead. Coach Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils had an answer though, and started a comeback spurred by a combined fifty-five points from the team’s Freshmen (Justise Winslow 19 points, Jahlil Okafor 18 points, Tyus Jones 9 points, and Grayson Allen 9 points) to swipe the lead back from Tom Izzo's team and never relinquish it again. Duke Senior Quinn Cook ended up neutralizing his counterpart, Travis Trice's, production by outscoring him seventeen to sixteen in points. The Freshmen (Okafor, Winslow, Jones, and Allen) and the Senior (Cook) were moving on to Monday night to face off with the Freshmen and Sophomores from Kentucky...or that's what the majority of America thought.
The first punch was thrown by the Wildcats with an Andrew Harrison three from downtown and a thunderous slam by Willie Cauley-Stein, but Wisconsin did not roll. The Badgers fought back and the slugfest was on. The teams traded runs and leads the whole game until Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns missed a free throw that put the Wildcats in an unescapable steal trap. Towns finished with a team-high sixteen points and nine rebounds while Aaron and Andrew Harrison chipped in twenty-five total points (13 points from Andrew and 12 points from Aaron). Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker continued their great play by the Player of the Year Kaminsky scoring twenty points and grabbing eleven rebounds while Dekker bucketed sixteen points on an efficient six for nine shooting evening. Wisconsin Sophomores Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig proved to be the difference on the night as both scored twelve points apiece. Kaminsky and Koenig made five of their six free throws in the final thirteen seconds to keep the Badgers ahead by at least one possession and suffocate the Wildcats. Perfection was gone for Kentucky, but a Championship was still within reach for Wisconsin.
Keys to Championship for #1 Wisconsin:
-Contest every shot and keep Duke from shooting over 45%. The Blue Devils shot 65.2% at Wisconsin earlier this season and 52.0% against Michigan State on Saturday.
-Keep Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes involved in the offense with Kaminsky and Dekker because without production from the prior, victory will be harder, if not impossible for the Badgers.
-Limit offensive errors specifically turnovers and defensive mistakes such as offensive rebound opportunities for Duke.
-Keep an eye on Quinn Cook at all times.
Keys to Championship for #1 Duke:
-Play four guards around Okafor in the post to allow for facilitation from the paint to open shooters for easy three pointers.
-Make someone other than Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker beat you.
-Box out the Badgers on both the offensive and defensive glass and do not allow for Wisconsin to out-rebound or out-hustle.
Is there anything better than the two best players in college basketball facing-off for the National Championship crown? Exactly! Tomorrow night the champion of the 2014-2015 NCAA Men's Basketball season will be crowned and I believe that team will be the Wisconsin Badgers. In the first meeting between the two in December, Duke shot the ball at 65.2%, which is a percentage that will be almost impossible to replicate. In addition, now suspended Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon played extremely well in Madison and scored fourteen points while Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, and Bronson Koenig were no factors and combined for only twelve points for Wisconsin. So, really the previous matchup does not matter since both teams have improved greatly and in the Blue Devils case, kicked off one of their key contributors from the team. At this point in the season, experience really should not play a factor since Duke's Freshmen have competed in some of the biggest moments of the season.
Early on, the Blue Devils will jump ahead just like Kentucky did in the national semi-final against Wisconsin, but by halftime I foresee the Badgers being down by five points or less. In the second half, Wisconsin will take the lead on a three pointer from Sam Dekker and will never let it go again. Duke will have multiple opportunities to take the lead back in the final ten minutes of regulation, but will not be able to get their shots to fall. The Badgers will sink their free throws down the stretch, where they have shot 77.8% (91-117) during the NCAA Tournament, which will increase the margin of victory. Personal-wise, Bronson Koenig will outplay Tyus Jones and Frank Kaminsky will take advantage of his matchup against Jahlil Okafor by taking him outside on the perimeter. Duke does have the matchup advantage of Quinn Cook versus Josh Gasser, but in my eyes that is the only one. Also, Badgers' forward Nigel Hayes will expose Matt Jones providing another area where Wisconsin will be able to thrive and succeed. Justice Winslow against Sam Dekker is truly a toss up and, in fact, I think they will null each others production. The Blue Devils starting lineup is small, but placing Marshall Plumlee in the five will not change my pick nor opinion on how the game will play out. Tomorrow night we will see that the third time is not the charm for Coach K's Duke Blue Devils in the great city of Indianapolis.
---#1 Wisconsin 70, #1 Duke 68
PW's NCAA Tournament Pick'em Record (Since Sweet Sixteen): 10-4
PW's Postseason Pick'em Record: 18-5
PW's Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Prediction Record: 8-1
PW's Regular Season Prediction Record: 205-70 (81-18 in the MVC)