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National Championship Game Preview and Predictions: Duke vs. Wisconsin

Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor

As Kentucky lost its first game of the season Saturday night, the comparisons to the 1991 NCAA Tournament were apparent.

That year, 34-0 UNLV, a team mthat like this year’s Kentucky seemed unstoppable. lost to Duke 79-77 in the Final Four.

Both Wisconsin and Duke in 2015 hope history repeats itself.

If this year’s Final Four looks like the one 24 years ago, Duke will hope it’s because the Blue Devils will win a national title.

If this year’s Final Four looks like the 1991 semifinals, Wisconsin will hope it’s because the team that toppled the unbeaten — in this case, the Badgers — will win the national title.

This may not be the national championship game that many envisioned, mainly because Kentucky is back in Lexington, but the championship game has plenty of storylines to make it a classic.

Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski is going for his fifth title, putting him in sole second place behind John Wooden, and to do it, he’ll have to win a championship starting three freshmen. And Wisconsin will go for its first title since 1941. Bo Ryan is also going for his fifth title, but his first outside of Division III.

Duke is here with nine McDonald’s All-Americans. Wisconsin is here with none. Duke is all business. Wisconsin may as well be a comedy troupe.

By Monday night, only one will be a champion.

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31 Reasons This Will Be The Best Final Four Ever

Ranking Every National Champion since 1985

The Top 20 Players in the 2015 Final Four

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 1 Wisconsin

Time: 9:15 p.m. ET, Monday


Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill

Line: Even

Matchup to Watch: Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker vs. Duke’s Justise Winslow

The championship game will match up the two hottest players in the NCAA Tournament, potentially with Most Outstanding Player on the line. Winslow is averaging 15 points, 9.4 rebounds and three assists per game in the Tournament, but his defense (1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per game) will be the key against Dekker. The 6-foot-9 junior is averaging 20.6 points and shooting 61.3 percent in the Tournament.

Player on the Spot: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor

Okafor had a quiet regional, scoring 15 total points against Utah and Gonzaga. The All-America center roared back for 18 points against Michigan State. He’ll need more of that Monday night. The question, though, might be more on the defensive end. Wisconsin was able to solve Kentucky’s size by getting Kaminsky into better matchups away from Willie Cauley-Stein. Duke held Kaminsky to 17 points and 5-of-12 shooting in the matchup back in December, but Wisconsin has shown an ability to adjust.

Duke is playing its best defensive basketball of the season in the last five games, and the Blue Devils will need it against the Badgers. Duke’s opponents are shooting 41.2 percent from 2-point range in the Tournament (compared to 46.3 percent during the season as whole) and 26.9 percent from 3 (compared to 31.4).

Number of Note: 5-of-11

That’s combined 3-point shooting for Arizona (2-of-6) and Kentucky (3-of-5) against Wisconsin. The Badgers don’t give their opponents many looks at 3-point shots, and they don’t put their opponents at the free throw line very often, either. Duke will have to score around the basket, or the Blue Devils will have to do what Arizona and Kentucky couldn’t and hit shots from beyond the arc.

Duke will win if...

The Blue Devils get an all-around offensive effort. John Calipari was astounded. His team shot 48.1 percent from the field and 90 percent from the free throw line, it turned the ball over only six times and still lost. Wisconsin did everything right in the margins — the Badgers got 12 offensive boards and had more than twice as many 3s. Wisconsin is a historically efficient team, so Duke will have to make every trip down the court count.

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Wisconsin will win if...

The ride isn’t over. Wisconsin now feels like the team Kentucky once was, only the wave the Badgers are riding is on the offensive end rather than the defensive end. Wisconsin has averaged better than 1.1 points per possession in 12 consecutive games and 1.25 points per possession in the NCAA Tournament. Kaminsky and Dekker are both averaging better than 20 points per game, and they’re doing it against two of the best defensive teams in recent years. This is a historical run.

Athlon Sports Staff Predictions

David Fox: Wisconsin 78-75

Braden Gall: Duke 73-70

Mitch Light: Duke 77-73

Jake Rose: Wisconsin 76-72