After a thrilling game against Kentucky in the national semifinals, Wisconsin still has one more game left as they try to fulfill the last team goal of the season, which is winning a national championship. Like the Kentucky game it won’t be easy when Wisconsin faces Duke (34-4, 15-3 ACC) for the first time in NCAA tournament history and the second time this season.
As many Wisconsin fans know, there was a lot of hype entering the first meeting between the two teams, an early season barometer with two teams ranked in the top four squaring off. Since Duke’s 10-point win over Wisconsin in December, not much has changed in the polls as both teams remained in the top 10 throughout the season. Both teams also boast the player of the year from their conference - Jahlil Okafor in the ACC and Frank Kaminsky in the Big Ten.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for top-seed Wisconsin when they play Duke in Indianapolis tonight, as the Badgers seek their first national championship since 1941.
Lay up: Can Wisconsin keep up its shooting?
Wisconsin continues to find its rhythm on offense since the senior day win over Michigan State. Wisconsin faced its stiffest test to date against Kentucky and still managed to shoot 479 percent from the field and 50 percent in the second half.
Wisconsin will need to continue to stay patient on offense and consistently seek the best shot on the floor each offensive possession. Duke only allows teams to shoot 42.2 percent from the field on an average of 58.4 shot attempts a game. But in the Blue Devils’ four losses this year, they allowed their opponent to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, as teams averaged 52.2 percent in the four wins over Duke. Overall Duke allowed six teams to shoot at least 50 percent in games.
But since the NCAA tournament began, Duke has been able to lower its team’s defensive field goal percentage. Holding teams to an average of 37.3 percent from the field, Duke has held every team it’s faced in the NCAA tournament below its season field goal percentage.
In the Sweet 16, Duke held Utah to 35 percent shooting, despite the fact that the Utes on the season shot 48.5 percent. Against Gonzaga in the Elite Eight, Duke was able to contain the number one field goal percentage offense in the NCAA (52 percent) to 44 percent shooting. Michigan State did shoot below its season field goal percentage (40 percent) but did shoot 50 percent from the field in the second half.
As long as Wisconsin stays patient on offense and takes what the defense gives them, they should be able to space the floor and execute its unselfish offense; an offense that has registered double digit assists in 14 of the last 15 games.
Mid-range jumper: Keeping Duke out of transition
While they may not have the length Kentucky does, Duke does play opportunistic defense and can pressure teams into making mistakes. As Duke’s defense has been able to force opponents into an average of 12.5 turnovers a game. Wisconsin was the first team against Duke this season to commit single digits turnovers with eight. The eight turnovers committed by Wisconsin is tied for second with Robert Morris for fewest turnovers Duke was able to force this season. Wisconsin hasn’t committed more than 10 turnovers since Dec.6.
Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow have shown to be the most active on the defensive side, as they have registered 59 and 51 steals, respectively. Jones has recorded two steals through Duke’s first five NCAA tournament games and has recorded a steal in 15 of Duke’s last 16 games.
With Duke averaging 7.2 steals a game, it has allowed the Blue Devils to get out in transition and convert on miscues. During the tournament, Duke is forcing opponents into 12.2 turnovers a game, as its last four opponents have all committed double digit turnovers. Not surprisingly Duke has registered 16.4 points off of turnovers over that stretch, but Duke could only generate seven points off of Wisconsin’s miscues.
A team that doesn’t turn the ball over isn’t going to be anything new for the Blue Devils, as they were able to beat Virginia on the road despite generating only seven miscues. Duke will be patient on defense and at times will be able to force Wisconsin into a situation where the Badgers could make a mistake with the basketball. That could result in fast break chances, as the Blue Devils are averaging 11.8 points off of fast break opportunities this tournament.
North Carolina was able to beat Wisconsin’s defense in transition at times in the Sweet 16 matchup, as they scored eight of their 10 fast break points in the first half. Duke will certainly try and follow that same game plan, but if Wisconsin can consistently prevent any run outs by Duke, they will have a chance at establishing the tempo in their favor.
3-pointer: Can Wisconsin win the paint?
Duke scored 32 points in the paint in the first matchup between the two teams, which helped pave the way for the Blue Devils to shoot 65.2 percent from the field. If Wisconsin is going to have a chance on Monday night, they can’t let Duke have the same kind of shooting success where they settled for high percentage shots down low around the basket.
Although Kentucky scored 34 points in the national semifinals, Wisconsin was able to prevent the consistent post touches down low for Kentucky and made life difficult for them around the post. Kaminsky deserves credit for making Karl-Anthony Towns uncomfortable and helped disrupt his shot. The defensive task for Kaminsky won’t get any easier with having to defend Okafor (17.5 ppg) in the title game, as Duke is averaging 37.7 points in the paint through the five tournament games.
Outside of Kaminsky finding a way to slow down Okafor, Josh Gasser’s defense on Jones will be just as critical. Jones was able to consistently find the weak spots in Wisconsin’s defense and was able to help set up shots for his teammates. Jones on the season is averaging 41.2 percent from the field and is averaging 5.7 assists a game to 1.9 turnover a game.
Gonzaga is the only team to outscore Duke in the paint, finishing with a 40-24 edge. Wisconsin, which has been dominant in the paint through the regular season, has only been able to outscore its opponents in the paint twice over the last five games. While opponents have a 30.8-to-29.2 edge on UW, the Badgers will have a chance of improving upon the 22 points in the paint they scored against Duke in the first game with the Blue Devils giving up 29.2 points in the paint in the NCAA tournament.
One way Wisconsin could possibly convert down low is if they can consistently get themselves second chance opportunities, as Duke is allowing teams an average of 10.9 offensive rebounds a game this season and Wisconsin averages 9.5 offensive rebounds a game. Wisconsin has been able to collect double digit offensive rebounds in four of its five tournament games, as Arizona was the only game where they failed to do so (four).
Wisconsin can’t suffer the same fate Michigan State did by going without a field goal for long droughts, as the Spartans failed to make a field goal over the last 6 minutes, 4 seconds in the first half. If Wisconsin can consistently create the second chance opportunities, like they have been doing, it will help create opportunities and avoid digging a hole that they have created at times this tournament.