After stunning the then perfect 38-0 Kentucky Wildcats in the Final Four, the Wisconsin Badgers and Naismith College Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky challenged Duke in the championship game, but ultimately lost 80-70. The Duke Blue Devils rolled through March Madness, correcting all of the experts who doubted whether their defense was championship-worthy, but nobody would have labelled them the favorites over the seemingly unstoppable Kentucky Wildcats. Nevertheless Jahlil Okafor, along with Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow led the Blue Devils to their fifth championship in team history to cap off an exciting and competitive tournament.
Kentucky dominated all of NCAA basketball throughout the season, and firmly led at just about every point throughout March Madness. Generally accepted as the favorites to win it all, the Wildcats seemed like they were going to go undefeated for the first time in college basketball history. Despite all of the hype, the Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Wildcats 71-64 in the Final Four.
The Badgers defeated the Wildcats on the backs of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, who scored 20 and 16 points, respectively. The most efficient offense in the college basketball game defeated the most efficient defense in college basketball, in a rare but inspired case of offense over defense. Kentucky could not do much to stop the dynamic duo, with their star-studded roster full of NBA prospects failing to fight as hard as Wisconsin. Perhaps Wisconsin was ready for the competition after defeating the very talented Arizona Wildcats 85-78 in the Sweet 16.
In the East, Duke routed the spirited Michigan State Spartans 81-61 in the Final Four, on the backs of Jahlil Okafor’s 18 points and Justise Winslow’s 19 points and 9 rebounds. The Spartans were surprise contenders this year, coming out of nowhere after an unimpressive regular season to beat the Louisville Cardinals 76-70. In addition to beating Louisville, the Spartans also defeated the higher seeded Virginia Cavaliers and Oklahoma Sooners. Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine led the team in spirit and statistics, but just did not have what it takes to make it past the Blue Devils, despite their inspired run through the tournament.
Villanova – the highest seeded team in the East – failed to make it past the second round, and the previously mentioned Virginia Cavaliers failed to deliver on their high expectations as well. Kansas also failed to make it past the second round, but with their underwhelming freshmen and lack of veteran leadership their expectations were not too high anyways. While there were a few notable upsets, this season’s March Madness was fairly predictable – up until the Elite 8, at least – with three number 1 seeds making the Final Four.
Duke, one of the three number 1 seeds that made the Final Four, was led by their electrifying freshman trio, and their veteran supporting cast did a fantastic job filling in the cracks. Needless to say, there wasn’t much needed to fill in, as Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow were an incredibly impressive trio throughout the tournament. Whereas Okafor and Jones bring the unstoppable offensive force from both the post and the perimeter, Winslow brings the indispensable versatility and motor on both offense and defense, and together the trio could not be stopped.
In the championship game between Wisconsin and Duke, Wisconsin’s often-impressive offense sputtered against the length of Duke. While it seemed like the Badgers might have been able to make up for this by significantly limiting Okafor and Winslow on the offensive end, Tyus Jones made up for them with 22 points, six rebounds and four assists of his own. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin’s star offensive center, still got his with 17 points and 9 rebounds, but his wing teammate Sam Dekker could not overcome Duke’s suffocating wing defense with only 5 points of his own. While they went to the half in a heated battle with Duke in the lead 35-32, Duke refused to give up their lead for the rest of the game, with Wisconsin only once regaining the lead from them.
While debatably the biggest game of the tournament was Wisconsin’s win over Kentucky, Duke proved to be the best of the best. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski further cemented his case as the best coach in the history of college basketball, and the Duke Blue Devils has won their second championship in five years and fifth championship in all.
All statistics from espn.com