Duke beat Wisconsin earlier in the year by shooting 65%. I think we can safely assume that this level of shooting will not occur again. I can also assure you that Rasheed Sulaimon will not have another great game of 14 points for Duke, because, well, he has been kicked off the team.
It is basically a pick'em game. I was told by my brother-in-law yesterday that the line is now Wisconsin -1. Fair enough.
The greatest thing going for Wisconsin is that they beat Kentucky. I am sure that great historic upsets have happened in the past and the team failed to win the title (I am thinking Houston over the Lakers in 1981 and 1985, even though those were first-round upsets, but Houston got to the Finals both times). But generally when a team (USA Hockey, Duke over Vegas in 1991) gets a great penultimate win they also get the ultimate prize. There is such a huge boost.
Anyway -- strengths and weaknesses:
Wisconsin Strengths -- rarely foul, rarely turn it over, cannot give them open shots because virtually every guy can shoot. Play very solid fundamental defense and offense. Hard to guard because their guys all can shoot, dribble and pass. Big across the front line. As Kentucky learned, they will not get overwhelmed by an opponent's size. Every primary guy shoots free throws well.
Duke Strengths -- rarely turn it over, have some high end offensive players (Okafor, Winslow, Cook), they play as a team and understand their roles, most guys don't try to do too much. Okafor demands a double team. When they lead with 6 minutes or less to go, they can use their four ballhandlers to run off time - two of whom shoot 90% from the line. You do not want to trail Duke with under 6 minutes to go.
Wisconsin Weaknesses -- Losses to Duke, Maryland and RUTGERS!?!?! Not explosive inside, not physically overwhelming in the backcourt, can give up some guard penetration. Not huge shot blockers or steals guys. Their general concept of defense is to try to keep you in front of them and allow you to get bad shots off. That is both good and bad since many teams are poor offensively and take poor shots, but some teams are good offensively and will make the shots they are given. Generally do worse against well coached teams who don't panic late in the shot clock, so teams with a good coach and good PG play can trouble them.
Duke Weaknesses -- losses to Notre Dame twice, NC State and.......MIAMI!?!?!!? Very poor at stopping guard penetration; very poor against pull up 3 point shooters, very thin on the bench (3 scholarship bench players, two of whom played under 15 minutes a game during the year). Okafor and Jefferson are poor free throw shooters, which could be death in a close game. Okafor can easily be taken out of the game with a double team. Tyus Jones from a scoring standpoint has been uneven. Struggle against big teams and teams that are very athletic with shot blockers.
So, where do we go from this information? Well, the Wisconsin guards generally do not concentrate on penetration off the dribble, so that is a huge Duke weakness that probably won't be exploited. The Badgers don't force many turnovers, and Duke rarely turns it over, so we will see a lot of shots at the basket by Duke. Wisconsin does not have great shot blockers, so that should be a plus for Duke.
Things to look for:
1) Duke players will get a lot of shots, will they make them? Clearly in the first matchup Duke got a lot of shots and made them. Wisconsin is not going to turn you over or block your shot, so their goal is to force you into bad shots and get the rebound (which they can do, because they are huge and all of their players rebound).
2) Is Wisconsin willing to play a little faster and shoot a bunch of threes? If you walk the ball up the floor against Duke, and slowly get into your sets and look for the perfect shot, Duke can beat you and actually keep you under 65 points. When, however, you run the ball up the court and take the first open 3 you have, Duke has a real hard time stopping you. That is just a fact - witness Duke's losses and the first 4 minutes of the Michigan State game. That is how you beat Duke. Your goal should be to beat them by 10-20 points and play fast and shoot a ton of threes, even threes off the dribble. Duke has two 6'1" guards, they cannot stop aggressive jump shooters. Jahlil Okafor is very fast at running.......to the offensive end. He rarely gets back on defense before the opponent is done preying upon the midget-y Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook on fast breaks.
3) Fouls -- who wins the fouls battle? No one in this tournament has taken advantage of the fact that Duke has 8 guys and really likes to play 6 guys. No one. Duke has been playing against some really slow, ugly, offensively challenged clubs (SDSU, Utah, Michigan State) and a team in Gonzaga that seemed content to walk the ball up and play a slowdown game. If you get 3 fouls on Tyus Jones, his defense goes from mediocre to non-existent. Duke goes to a matchup zone that has more holes in it that Carly Rae Jepson's dress on SNL. Jahlil Okafor is such an awful defender that he is hard to draw fouls against (must be like playing against a ghost at times) but no one seems very willing to try to get any fouls on him. Winslow is so wildly out of control at times that he could easily be sitting with 2 or 3 fouls 4 minutes into the game, If Kaminsky gets in foul trouble against Okafor early, Duke could be up 15 at half. That would turn the game into a 14 minute game where Wisconsin had to catch up from 15 to 5 by 6 minutes left. Not ideal for the Badgers.
4) Oh Tyus -- It is All Up To You -- as is the case with most close Duke games, so much depends upon which Tyus Jones shows up. Is he the Ricky Rubio type of Tyus Jones who does everything else well but shoots 3-9? Or is he the Chris Paul type of Tyus Jones who went 22-4-6 against the Badgers in Madison? Cuz, frankly, when Duke gets the Chris Paul type of Tyus Jones, Duke will win. Tyus played 5 years of high school basketball and 4 years of traveling basketball in Minnesota against gritty, flopping white guards. The game sets up well for him against the gritty flopping white Badger guards. But if he goes 3-9 or 1-11, it is likely to be all Badgers all of the time tonight.
My prediction -- Duke will win. I would guess 68-63. Wisconsin was a perfect matchup for Kentucky -- big, well coached, able to force Kentucky into awful airball shots, played harder than Kentucky while the Kentucky kids were just left looking around staring at their press clippings. Duke was an awful matchup for Kentucky. Kentucky beats Duke by 15+. But Duke is a bad matchup for Wisconsin. Duke has tiny guards, but Wisconsin does not have big athletic guards. Wisconsin likes to set it up on offense and run its sets - Duke doesn't struggle against those sorts of teams. Duke fares poorly when overwhelmed physically. Wisconsin is big, but they don't terrify you with the ability to run and jump. And I think Bo Ryan may decide to single-team Okafor, which Izzo did, but which is just ridiculous. You are taking a guy who is a 20 point scorer when singled and giving him 20 points instead of 6 to 10. The theory of not doubling Okafor is that you "take away Duke's 3s" -- news flash, Duke gets their killer threes when the game opens up and Quin Cook spots up. So if you are slowing down the game anyway, there is no reason not to double Okafor unless you are super concerned that Matt Jones will pop open for 9-12 points. So you are giving up 10-14 points with the hope that you can hold Matt Jones down by 9-12 points? Genius.
Wisconsin Scenario for Victory -- Duke gets in foul trouble, shoots poorly and Wisconsin overwhelms Duke with drives from Dekker and Hayes and the Badgers pound the offensive glass for layups and broken play threes.
We shall see.