Rematch features two different teams

In order to win the program’s fifth national title the Blue Devils will have to win another rematch against a Big 10 team as Duke faces Wisconsin for the 2015 National Championship. The teams are familiar to one another following their match-up in the annual ACC/Big10 Challenge.

Way back on December 3rd a young Duke team ranked fourth in the country went to Madison, Wisconsin to face the then No. 2 ranked Badgers as part of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. The Blue Devils were underdogs and not expected to come away with a positive result, but won by 10 on Wisconsin’s home floor thanks to a spectacular performance by Tyus Jones.

The two teams will face off against one another on Monday night, and while the uniforms and coaches are the same…these teams look completely different.

For Duke the changes start with the rotation. In December head coach Mike Krzyzewski has junior power forward Amile Jefferson slotted in as his starting power forward, and he responded with six points and four rebounds in 25 minutes of action against the Badgers. Over the last 12 games the Blue Devils have elected to go with a smaller lineup in favor of providing more space for Okafor inside, meaning Justise Winlsow moved to the big forward position and Matt Jones is now the team’s starting small forward. As for Jefferson, he’s played 25 minutes or more just twice since January 25th.

And speaking of Winslow, the freshman small forward was a minor note in the first game, recording just five points, five rebounds, and four turnovers against Wisconsin while shooting 2-of-6 from the field. Fast forward more than four months and you’d be hard pressed to find any observer who would’t argue that he’s been Duke’s best and most dynamic player over the last seven weeks.

Since February 1st the freshman has averaged 14.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 91-of-163 from the floor (.558), 20-of-37 from the perimeter (.541), and 51-of-71 from the free throw line (.718). And, of course, Winslow usually draws the other team’s best perimeter/wing played and is charged with defending him throughout the evening.

Yet another change to the Duke lineup was the dismissal of junior scoring guard Rasheed Sulaimon whose well documented fall from grace seemed to strengthen the Blue Devils’ resolve and banded the team together, but also means the team will have to replace one of their top performers from December. In the first match up Sulaimon provided a big spark off the bench, scoring 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 21 minutes.

Since the junior’s removal from the roster, Duke has given the extra minutes to Matt Jones and Grayson Allen. In Madison Jones came off the bench and played 19 minutes of solid defense; hit his only field goal attempt, and finished with three points and one rebound. Allen registered his first “DNP-Coach’s Decision” of the season.

Leading up to the first game the hype rightly surrounded the battle in the paint as Duke’s Jahlil Okafor matched up with Frank Kaminsky. Both players were considered National Player of the Year candidates at the time, and both played well. Okafor missed only two shots and finished with 13 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes while Kaminsky went for 17 points (5-of-12 shooting) and nine rebounds for the Badgers.

Following the game both players would put together fantastic seasons with Okafor becoming the first freshman to win ACC Player of the Year honors and Kaminsky winning National Player of the Year honors over Okafor. Much like Okafor at Duke, Kaminsky’s nightly production became expected, and over the last several weeks the Badgers’ most talked about player isn’t the player of the year, but on the wing in the form of Sam Dekker.

That’s a marked departure from December when Dekker, like Winslow, hardly factored into the box score when the junior scored just five points on 2-of-5 shooting before fouling out in 24 minutes. These days it’s a difference story as the 6-foot-9 forward has been Wisconsin’s best player in the Big Dance, averaging 20.6 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 38-of-62 (.613) from the floor and 15-of-30 from the perimeter (.500).

Much like their Monday night opponents, the Badgers share a difference that is somewhat of a similarity. Following the first game the Blue Devils lost Sulaimon to dismissal and Wisconsin lost then starting point guard Traevon Jackson to a foot injury. Duke’s guard isn’t coming back, and Jackson is admittedly still not back to the form that allowed him to post a career best 25 points against the Blue Devils. Just as Duke plugged in Jones and Allen and allowed those extra minutes of experience cultivate both, Wisconsin inserted former Duke recruit Bronson Koenig.

Since becoming the starter, Koenig has provided the Badgers with a steady presence as the lead guard, and has allowed the Badgers to create more space with his ability to knock down long range shots. That’s a marked departure from the first game when Koenig missed six of seven shots to finish with three points and four fouls in 25 minutes.

Other Notes From Game One:
- In the first game Duke out-rebounded the Badgers on their home floor by one, but 10 of Wisconsin’s 27 boards were on the offensive end. It resulted in Duke being doubled up in second chance points. Against Kentucky, the Badgers out-rebounded the Wildcats by 12.

"We stayed into them, attacking them, trying to do whatever we can," said Kaminsky of the game against UK. "Just trying to keep them off the glass was one of our main priorities."

- Duke was able to force the tempo in December, owning a 9-0 advantage in fast break points

- Defensively Wisconsin forced 10 Duke turnovers and turned those into 12 points, but the Blue Devils hit 30-of-46 shots (.652) from the field including 72 percent after halftime. From the perimeter the Blue Devils shot 7-of-12 for the game, but attempted just three long range shots after halftime.

- With Okafor leading the way, Duke out-scored the Badgers 32-22 in the paint.


Photo © Mary Langenfeld

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