It’s been a blast covering college hoops and sharing picks and thoughts with all of you all season. There’s a ton to talk about with tonight’s game, so I’ll keep it brief; a quick THANK YOU for a fun season – and enjoy tonight’s EPIC Final!
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Today’s Free Pick:
NCAA Championship Game – Indianapolis, IN
Wisconsin Badgers -1 vs. Duke Blue Devils
Both teams are here after breathtaking performances in the National Semifinals Saturday night, albeit ones of a different variety. Duke’s was the good old fashioned ‘we’re way better than you’ variety as the dispatched Michigan State with a relative ease. It reminded me a bit of Izzo’s surprise Final Four team that made it all the way to the title game until finally running into a MUCH better North Carolina team. Plucky and scrappy are great. Playing against three or four pros when the best you can counter with are a few possible overseas role players is a tough ask.
Wisconsin got here by avenging last season’s loss in the same game and picking off the previously unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats. There were a few controversial calls, but there is no way around the fact that Wisconsin WON the game; neither team played poorly, and the more poised and experienced team, Wisconsin, made a few more plays. We know Andrew Harrison wasn’t real happy with the result. CBS is probably a little bummed as well since a Duke Kentucky Final might have set new ratings records, but tonight’s game should be a memorable one nonetheless.
So who has the edge?
There’s a reason this game posted as a pick ‘em and has only moved a point in Wisconsin’s favor – it’s a really even matchup. Both teams have pros all over the court. The top two players in every player of the year ballot happen to play the same position and get a chance to settle it on the court tonight. Frank Kaminski vs. Jahlil Okafor is so ridiculously entertaining and interesting it almost makes me sorry I ever wanted to see Kentucky here. Senior vs. Freshman. Stylistically different yet with similarly great footwork and shot making ability. And calling it “Magic & Larry” might be a teeny bit hyperbole, but the fact that one is African American and one is Caucasian at least adds an interesting dynamic to creating the parallel to the iconic ’79 matchup. I don’t think you’ll see them capturing the nation’s fancy for the next decade, but it is at least one of the best player on player matchups in recent memory.
But the story is far from told with just these two awesome centers. Instead, the edge might go to who produces more in the matchup between Justise Winslow and Sam Dekker. These two are completely opposite stylistically but both integral to their team’s success. Winslow is the euro-stepping Harden-like lefty, attacking the rim with insane ferocity and velocity. Meanwhile Sam Dekker is a 6’9’’ BIG SHOT making, contact-loving, swaggering swingman who lives for moments like this. His popularity is off the charts, but tell me with his moxie and swagger that if he played for Duke he wouldn’t be DESPISED in the same manner as a Christian Laettner or JJ Reddick? He’d make the PERFECT Duke villain – and he has the chance to play Duke vanquisher tonight.
I’ll give the edge to Duke in one key place – point guard. I know underestimating Koenig and Jackson (and Gasser) but me Saturday, but I still like the Duke backcourt of Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones. Jones can push tempo and create better than anyone on the floor and Cook, the senior playing steadying leader to the three dynamite frosh, has similar big shot making moxie to Dekker, but it likely to get more open looks thanks to his teammates.
This game is going to be great, but I lean Duke. The Blue Devils already went into Madison and won. I get the argument “that was a long time ago, who cares.” But I think people are missing a key point. YES, it was a long time ago and Wisconsin has certainly gotten better. But who has improved more since November, a team with its entire core intact from last season’s Final Four run or the team that starts and relies most heavily on three freshman? The Dukies won ON THE ROAD in one of the first games playing together. They’ve matured beautifully since.
I think they lead Coach K to his fifth national title tonight in an epic classing championship game.