It just doesn't get any bigger than this. Coach Calipari's Wildcats were undefeated, but that game merely won the Badgers a bid to compete for the national championship tonight. Coach Krzyzewski is one of the most respected coaches in the game and his Duke Blue Devils are as talented a group as Krzyzewski's 2002 or 1999 Duke teams. Meanwhile Bo Ryan has what is certainly the most talented Wisconsin Badgers group we've seen in his time in Madison. With two great coaches leading two very talented teams, the game will most likely come down to which team can win one or both of the two big matchups most decisively.
Matchups to Watch
We're in for a treat. Duke and Wisconsin boast some of the most talented players in all of college basketball and we'll actually get to see these guys go up against each other on offense and defense. Frank Kaminsky, the Naismith Player of the Year, will take on Jahlil Okafor, who will be selected no later than second in the upcoming NBA draft. Surging swingmen Sam Dekker and Justise Winslow will also seek to put pressure on one another and lead their respective regimens to the top of the college basketball world.
Okafor vs. Kaminsky
While Frank doesn't enjoy the same potential of hearing his name called first by commissioner Adam Silver on draft day, he is probably one of the toughest matchups Jahlil will face this season. Frank is extraordinarily quick and his ability to put the ball on the floor gave Okafor trouble in the first matchup, the freshmen phenom picked up 4 fouls and scored just 13 points in that game. The Blue Devils won on the back of the fantastic Tyus Jones, but the Blue Devils will be a lot more comfortable on Monday night if Jahlil is more assertive offensively and forces Kaminsky to prove that he can guard without fouling.
Frank, on the other hand, just needs to keep the pressure on. That looks to be a given. In the tournament, Kaminsky has averaged 13.8 field goal attempts and 22.2 points. If Kaminsky puts another four fouls on Okafor, the Badgers have a chance to win this matchup.
Dekker vs. Winslow
Sam Dekker, the Wisconsin Badgers' most intriguing NBA prospect, has had himself quite a tournament. The big wing has boosted his scoring output to over 20 points per game from around 13 throughout the regular season. His ability to drive to the rim at his size has given his defenders fits, and Sam has been much more aggressive when he has gotten his hands on the ball. Justise is a similarly charged player at this point. He has been the X-factor for the Blue Devils, jump starting their defensive surges and powering their transition offense. He hasn't quite matched Sam Dekker in scoring in the tournament but his all-around impact has been huge for Duke.
In their first meeting, Winslow slowed Dekker down considerably but couldn't get his own offense going. They each scored just 5 points. Expect more from the athletic wings in Monday's matchup - each player has found a grove within their team's offense and is now an integral player for their club.
The game will probably hinge on one of the matchups above, but both of these teams have talent to spare. Guys like Quinn Cook or Bronson Koenig could win the day as well, to say nothing of more heralded players like Tyus Jones or Nigel Hayes. Though both teams are deserving only one can win and one group will have to go home disappointed. A national championship would be huge for any of these players, but let's quickly consider what it would mean for either of the men helming these teams.
What a Championship Would Mean to Bo Ryan
Bo Ryan is a proven winner. He won 4 Division III championships at Wisconsin-Platteville. He has won 4 Big Ten regular season championships. He has won 3 Big Ten Tournament championships. He has just reached his 2nd consecutive Final Four and now he's playing for the chance to win his first Division I national championship. Bo missed the cut to join the Naismith Hall of Fame this weekend, but winning on Monday night would ensure his enshrinement in the next class, to say the least. Winning a title would silence Bo's critics - everyone who said Wisconsin could never attract enough talent to win at the highest level because of their pace of play would be faced with undeniable proof otherwise. Bo Ryan is known as one of the top coaches in the Big Ten. With a win Monday night, the world would recognize him as one of the best coaches in the country.
What a Championship Would Mean to Mike Krzyzewski
Mike Krzyzewski has done it all. He has the most wins in Men's Division I basketball history. Since 1980, he has led the Duke Blue Devils to 4 national championships. And when you talk about the best coach of all-time in the collegiate game, you end up stumping for this guy, Bob Knight, or John Wooden invariably. No matter what happens on Monday night, Krzyzewski will go down as one of the greatest coaches to ever patrol the sidelines at this level. But if he wins? He jumps to the front of all of those "greatest of all-time" discussions, having successfully adjusted to everything the game has thrown at him over the course of his career and not just succeeding but thriving. A fifth championship would vault Krzyzewski's career accomplishments from astronomical to unbelievable.
Didn't I say we were in for a treat? Tonight's game will hopefully join the long list of instant classics the NCAA Tournament has provided us in recent memory. The talent taking the floor on Monday night is truly impressive, a mix of developed upperclassmen like Cook and Kaminsky supported by big young guns like Koenig and Winslow. Don't listen to prognosticators who think Wisconsin is going to slow the game down. Both of these teams boast a top 5 offense per Kenpom.com and like to get the ball moving. In a game that I expect will come down to the wire, I think the Badgers win by a nose and end the Big Ten's long title drought. Kaminsky will be too much for Okafor to guard without fouling and the freshman big man's resultantly uneven play will prove to be the difference in a close one. On Wisconsin.