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Forget 40-0. This is why Monday's Wisconsin-Duke Championship Game Matters


The most serious bid for 40-0 to date is complete and unsuccessful.

At the hands of Wisconsin’s 71-64 win over Kentucky, the Wildcats will be merely the only team in college basketball history to go 38-0 in a season. That season ended at 38-1.

History — at least for that round, undefeated number and the first unbeaten season since 1976 — will have to wait.

On Saturday, Kentucky lost for the first time since last year’s national championship game. What this loss means is tough to say. It was not a massive upset. It wasn’t the most unexpected result.

The word is probably significant. Kentucky was the most significant team to lose in the NCAA Tournament since the last bid for an undefeated season ended in UNLV’s 79-77 loss to Duke in the 1991 Final Four.

This is one of Kentucky’s greatest teams in program history, but the Wildcats’ most lasting note in the history of college basketball will be alongside that UNLV team — a great team ultimately doomed to find the one team that could be better on one particular Saturday.

Kentucky and its bid to go undefeated were the main draws for this season, but the final game of 2014-15 shouldn’t be defined by Kentucky’s absence. Wisconsin and Duke will meet Monday night for their own legacies

Only two decades ago, Wisconsin was an afterthought, and finally this program is seeking its first national title since 1941. 

Dick Bennett took the Badgers to one Final Four in 2000. Bo Ryan has taken Wisconsin to two more with this group. If he wins Monday night, the four-time Division III champion at Wisconsin-Platteville will become the first coach in NCAA history to win titles in two divisions.

T-shirts get made for attempts at 40-0, but Wisconsin’s record as far as Kentucky is concerned is far more important.

This Badgers team is an offensive force. Think about what Wisconsin has done the last two games. Arizona and Kentucky are two of the nation’s best defensive teams, and Wisconsin sliced through them. Against Arizona, Wisconsin shot 15-of-19 in the second half, including 10 3-pointers. No team in two years had scored 80 points on Arizona. Wisconsin scored 85.

Kentucky allowed more than one point per possession three times entering the NCAA Tournament and never more than 1.069. Wisconsin averaged 1.246. Kentucky hit more than 50 percent of its shots for most of the game and finished shooting 48.1 percent and still lost.

Wisconsin is that good.

Wisconsin’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating on is 128.5. The previous high since 2002 was last year’s Michigan team at 124.1. That qualifies as shattering a record.

On the other side, Duke’s bid for a championship is just as significant.

This year alone, Mike Krzyzewski has surpassed 1,000 career wins, passed Dean Smith for career ACC wins and tied John Wooden for the most Final Four appearances. A championship Monday would give him five titles, putting him in sole second place all time behind Wooden’s 10 championships.

This would also be Duke’s first title since Krzyzewski embraced the one-and-done era. His last championship team in 2010 was dominated by juniors and seniors. This year’s team starts three freshmen.

After the game, Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein likened this Tournament to a movie when the main character suddenly dies.

This much is true about this championship game. The supporting cast, though, is ready for its moment.