When Duke made its first trip to Madison in 2009, it was made to be one of the biggest games in the history of Wisconsin basketball. The game lived up to the billing when the Badgers edged the sixth-ranked Blue Devils by four points, registering their first victory over Duke in program history and avenging a 24-point loss in Durham, N.C., two years before.
Five years later, the rematch between the No. 2 Badgers and No. 4 Blue Devils Wednesday night is set to be just as good, if not better. Both programs boast some of the top players in the country and each team carries perfect 7-0 records into what will be only the second top five matchup at the Kohl Center.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as they get ready to play Duke.
Lay up: Can Duje Dukan keep it up?
The question is can Dukan keep delivering his production from the bench, as he has showed that he has been a dangerous threat from either mid-range or from 3-point shot. The senior shot 54.5 percent from three during the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
Dekker was held out of practice Monday so his tender ankle could get some rest. Dekker will play but it will be interesting to see how effective he’ll be. If Dekker struggles or his ankle is bothering him, Dukan will need to be able to fill in and help make sure Wisconsin’s offense doesn’t miss a beat.
Duke’s defense has allowed 59.1 points a game and with the Blue Devils being able to slow down the opposing team’s offense, Dukan will need to continue to shoot the ball well. Dukan will have to rely on screens to get open or be able to find open spots on the court where the ball can get to him.
Dukan will likely be defended by true freshman Justise Winslow, who at 6-6 won’t have the size to match up with Dukan or Dekker. If that’s the case, Dukan will have to use his experience and length to try and drive the basketball, or at least create space so he can get a good shot off.
Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin slow down Duke’s offense?
The Blue Devils offense is averaging 90.4 points through seven game and are shooting 52.7 percent from the field. Both of those rank in the top 10 nationally. With Duke having so many different weapons on offense, as three players average double digits in scoring, seven Duke’s players are shooting better than 45 percent from the field and another pair are above 40 percent shooting.
Duke is an efficient offensive team and have beaten power-five schools Michigan State and Stanford by an average of 10.5 points. The Blue Devils have also faced three opponents with losing records. As good as Duke has been on offense, Wisconsin’s defense is only allowing 50.5 points a game, which ranks first amongst Big Ten teams.
The Badgers’ ability to contain Duke will start with seniors Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson and how they defend Quinn Cook (15.6 ppg) and Tyus Jones (8.9 ppg). Good defense should help cut off any passing lanes for Jones, who leads Duke with six assists a game. Jackson can’t allow Jones to get off any clean passes if he decides to pass the basketball down low to Jahlil Okafor. Okafor will get his chances around the hoop but it will be about limiting his touches in the paint. If Wisconsin can do that, it will start with Jackson and his defense against Jones.
Jackson and Gasser both have played well on defense this year, but Cook and Jones have the ability to drive the basketball, which makes it important that Gasser and Jackson can stay in front of them and avoid foul trouble. At times Gasser and Jackson will get beat, which will make the presence of Frank Kaminsky or Nigel Hayes important to try and help alter shots or force passes back to the perimeter.
Even if the guards for Duke decide to settle for perimeter shots, the Blue Devils are comfortable from 3-point range, making 38.6 percent on the season. In particular Gasser will have to keep an eye on Cook (42.8 percent from three) and Matt Jones (55.5 percent from three) to prevent them from having space to shoot.
Offensive rebounding will also be key to limit a dynamic offense from getting second-chance opportunities. The Blue Devils are averaging 13.7 offensive rebounds a game. Kaminsky and Hayes will need to do a good job of positioning themselves down low to generate rebounds for themselves or for the guards so they can get the offense going for the Badgers.
3-pointer: Frank Kaminsky vs. Jahlil Okafor
Kaminsky received plenty of well-deserved preseason hype based off his impressive NCAA Tournament run a season ago, but Okafor has received just as much hype leading in to his freshman season; some thought Okafor could be the best center in the country despite never playing a minute at the college level.
Okafor hasn’t disappointed in his young career - averaging 17.7 points a game and 7.9 rebounds a game. Okafor will be the first tough test for Kaminsky, but Okafor has yet to see a player like Kaminsky this season. Duke doesn’t play zone often, which will force Okafor to come out and defend Kaminsky on the perimeter, which will be a challenge for him. Kaminsky has continued to show that when given the opportunity he can knock down a three. If Okafor does try and press, Kaminsky can always use his guard-like skills to try and drive to the hoop and possibly force Okafor into drawing a foul. Okafor only averages two fouls a game but if Kaminsky can win the battle on offense consistently, it may force Okafor into making a mistake.
During Bo Ryan’s Monday press conference he said he was impressed with Okafor’s size, hands, maneuverability and feet, which have all stood out to him. Despite Okafor’s early success, he has shown at times he isn’t consistently strong in defending the post and if forced to bang down low, either on offense or defense. Two good examples of that being against Stanford when he scored a season-low 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting and against Michigan State as he was one foul away from fouling out of the game.
Duke will likely try and get Okafor some touches early to see if he can get going in the low post to help open up the rest of the offense. Kaminsky will need to make sure Okafor work for his points. Kaminsky has been tough to score on this year, as he leads Wisconsin with 16 blocks on the season, but will have to avoid foul trouble that will land him on the bench for an extended period of time. Without Kaminsky, it doesn’t appear Wisconsin has a player capable of banging with the true freshman for multiple positions.