All previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule
Duke Blue Devils
Conference: Big Ten
Date: Monday, April 6
Time: 9:18 pm Eastern
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Even without Kentucky this is a pretty powerful National Championship game, featuring two 1-seeds with a combined 70-7 record.
SportsRatings Power Ratings
Strength: #3 Strength: #2
Median play: #2 Median play: #5
Other Power Ratings
Sagarin(predictor):#2 Sagarin: #3
Pomeroy: #4 Pomeroy: #3
Offense: #3 Offense: #1
Defense: #12 Defense: #55
BPI: #7 BPI: #2
Power Rating Derivatives
2nd half/season: #5 2nd half/season: #4
NCAA tournament: #1 NCAA tournament: #5
Again we note that Duke started the tournament ranking just 58th in defensive efficiency per Pomeroy, and after 5 games they've moved up to #12. Compare that to Wisconsin, who started the tournament ranked #30 on defense and has slipped to #55 despite beating North Carolina, Arizona, and Kentucky. The Badgers have been winning with offense, and they've increased their lead over the #2 offensive team by around 4 points per possession since the tourney started.
All of the power ratings put Wisconsin ahead of Duke except for Sagarin's predictor, which has the Blue Devils one spot ahead. The others are close except the BPI, which has Wisconsin 5 positions ahead. In median game play Duke ranks better than in straight-up Strength. When we look at sub-sections of the season, it's still very close in the 2nd half of the year but for the 5 tournament games Duke has clearly played the best.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (15): =Michigan St.+10, @Wisconsin+10, Wofford+29, @Louisville+11, @St. John's+9, @Virginia+6, Notre Dame+30, North Carolina+OT, @North Carolina+7, =North Carolina St.+24, Robert Morris+29, San Diego St.+19, =Utah+6, =Gonzaga+14, =Michigan St.+20
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (10): =Michigan St.+10, @Wisconsin+10, @Louisville+11, Notre Dame+30, North Carolina+OT, @North Carolina+7, =North Carolina St.+24, =Utah+6, =Gonzaga+14, =Michigan St.+20
- Wins vs. Final Four (3): =Michigan St.+10, @Wisconsin+10, =Michigan St.+20
- Losses to tournament teams (3): @North Carolina St.-12, @Notre Dame-4, Notre Dame-10
- Other losses (1): Miami FL-16
Key Info: Duke's first game was a 113-44 win over Presbyterian and technically, that's the best they ever did. Realistically, their wins over Michigan State, Stanford, and especially beating 1-seed Wisconsin 80-70 in Madison were more impressive. For a time the Blue Devils looked unstoppable but then they were stopped by North Carolina State, and shockingly by Miami at home, 90-74. Duke rebounded to win 15 of their next 16, and even that loss, 77-73 at 3-seed Notre Dame, was a strong game. Their only weak game in the stretch was game 28, an overtime win at Virginia Tech that almost spoiled their 1-seed bid. They held onto that despite the final loss to Notre Dame playing in Greensboro. Due to beating both Big Ten reps and all 4 of the other ACC reps, Duke has 9 wins over the Sweet Sixteen, and even more remarkably, they've beaten 5 of the Elite Eight. After beating Michigan State for a 2nd time they have 3 wins over the other 3 Final Four teams—including a 10-point win at Wisconsin.
As always Duke has tons of weapons but by far the most important is 6-11 freshman center Jahlil Okafor, whose 17.7 ppg and 9.0 rebounds have made him a leader for the Wooden Award. He scored 21 against Robert Morris but Quinn Cook led with 22, hitting 6 of 10 3-pointers. Okafor added 26 against San Diego State. Utah denied Okafor (6 points) but Justice Winslow picked up the slack with 21 points. Winslow and guard Matt Jones (4 of 7 3's) each had 16 points as the Blue Devils surged late to beat Gonzaga, 66-52 to make the Final Four. The rout over Michigan State saw Winslow, Okafor, and Cook score 19, 18, and 17 points as they held the Spartans to 40% shooting.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (18): Boise St.+24, =UAB+29, =Georgetown+3, =Oklahoma+13, Buffalo+12, Purdue+7, Iowa+32, @Iowa+11, Indiana+14, Michigan St.+7, @Ohio St.+24, =Purdue+20, =Michigan St.+OT, =Coastal Carolina+14, =Oregon+7, =North Carolina+7, =Arizona+7, =Kentucky+7
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (6): =Oklahoma+13, Michigan St.+7, =Michigan St.+OT, =North Carolina+7, =Arizona+7, =Kentucky+7
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (3): Michigan St.+7, =Michigan St.+OT, =Kentucky+7
- Losses to tournament teams (2): Duke-10, @Maryland-6
- Other losses (1): @Rutgers-5
Key Info: It's hard to pinpoint Wisconsin's most dominant win of the year. Was it early on, when they beat Chattanooga by 44 points, almost doubling the Mocs' score (game 2)? Or beating Milwaukee by 39 on the road (game 10)? Those had big margins but not the best of competition—what about beating 7-seed Iowa, 82-50, in game 19? Or maybe it was beating 10-seed Ohio State on the road, 72-48 (game 31)? On the other hand, it's easy to find their worst loss, since there are only 3 to choose from. It wasn't the loss to 1-seed Duke, even if it was by double digits and at home. Nor was it the late loss at 4-seed Maryland. Clearly it was the 67-62 loss at Rutgers, ranked #219 by Pomeroy. The Badgers were without star 7-footer Frank Kaminsky (18.2 ppg, 8.0 rebounds) that game and lost #4 scorer Traevon Jackson during it. Jackson returned against North Carolina and scored 4 points, playing 9 minutes; he played just 7 minutes against Arizona and didn't score, but had 6 points in 12 minutes against Kentucky.
Kaminsky had a Wooden-award level performance with 27 points and 12 rebounds against Coastal Carolina. Forward Sam Dekker led with 17 against Oregon, then scored a career-high 23 against North Carolina. Kaminsky had 29 and Dekker 27 to thwart Arizona's bid for revenge. The duo scored 20 and 16 in the astounding win over previously-undefeated Kentucky; Kaminksy also had 11 rebounds.
Game Analysis: Wisconsin just had an amazing win over Kentucky. Duke just beat the piss out of Michigan State. Which game sets up the winner better for the championship game? Beating an undefeated team as an underdog, or beating the Final Four's "Cinderella" by 20 points?
Some have suggested that Wisconsin might feel like they already won the national championship by beating the Wildcats, and that they won't have a lot of emotion left for Duke. Duke also has a lot more experience as a program playing in the biggest of big games—but then, perhaps Wisconsin is the hungrier team.
All of the above probably cancels out. Both teams are playing great and have raised their game to its highest level lately. We highly doubt either team will have an emotional letdown game nor will the results of their last game affect their performance.
What then, to go on? Well there was one game that is exceptionally relavant to this one: Duke's 80-70 win at Wisconsin on December 3rd. That was a long time ago, but it should be looked at. In that game, Duke shot a whopping 65.2% from the floor, including 7 of 12 three-pointers and an incredible 79% of 2-pointers. Wisconsin shot 40.7% (9 of 21 3s, 39% on 2s). Normally you can diminish the importance of a result that was based on freakish 3-point shooting, but here there was a huge discrepancy in "normal", 2-point shooting. That seems more likely to repeat in a rematch.
Frank Kaminsky had a good game in the first meeting, scoring 17 points. But Traevon Jackson had a great one, with a career-high 25. He kept them in that game and played 32 minutes, whereas since coming back from injury he has averaged less than 10 minutes and 3.3 points. The Badgers will need Sam Dekker (5 points in the first game, but averaging over 20 points during the tournament) to pick up the slack. Meanwhile Duke got 14 points off the bench from Rasheed Sulaimon in the first meeting and he's no longer with the team. But the Blue Devils have played just as well or better without him.
The focus will be on Kaminsky and Okafor, and rightly so. But Sam Dekker's play will be critical for the Badgers. And Duke has so many offensive weapons it's hard to know where to focus. Both teams have an inside and outside game, while both teams' defense has been questioned. But it appears that Duke has solved their defensive issues—they've gotten better and better lately. Meanwhile Wisconsin has executed on offense better than they have all year.
Wisconsin by 1
Power rating: spread
Wisconsin by 0.09
Game-comparisons: % Chance to win
The Vegas line opened as a pick'em, very appropriate for this game between two great 1-seeds. Given Wisconsin's win over Kentucky, it's not surprising the line nudged toward the Badgers. The Strength power rating shows that, for the full season, these teams are about as even as can be, with Wisconsin favored by less than 1/10 of a point.
When game-ratings are cross-compared, however, Duke wins a very slim majority. In other words, the mean average goes to Wisconsin. But the median, as we saw above, favors Duke. These teams are just too close to call, and Duke's inconsistency (#343 of 351) doesn't help.
Bottom line: Duke lost to Notre Dame (#2 offense) two of three times this year. But they beat Wisconsin, making them 2-2 against the top offenses. They—the Blue Devils—have the #3 offense. And their defense has been making leaps and bounds lately. We don't subscribe to the Wisconsin letdown theory, but of two teams playing great basketball lately, Duke is probably playing just a bit better.
Final prediction: Duke 73, Wisconsin 67
More previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule.