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So Much For The Year of The Wildcats

April 8, 2015

With 13:17 left in the Second Half, Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski called a timeout, his Blue Devils staggering, down by nine, 48-39, in the NCAA® Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship Game. His alpha dog Freshmen, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, were on the bench in foul trouble with three (3) each. In the crowd there were crazed Cheeseheads dressed in red & white striped overalls jumping around like they were at a Slipknot concert. Newly minted Naismith Player of the Year Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky was well on his way to a 21 point/12 rebound performance and his Badgers were on the brink of a National Title. Duke needed someone to assert themselves and stop the bleeding, as a National Championship was slipping from their grasp. Out of the time out, Blue Devil Nation turned its lonely eyes to … Grayson Allen?

If you read that and said “Who?”, you’d be forgiven by everyone but his family & his teammates. Undoubtedly next in a long line of proud and publicly loathed Duke heels, Allen scored Duke’s subsequent eight (8) points out of the time out – en route to a career high 16 points – to singlehandedly bring the Blue Devils back into contention. Then, just as he had four months ago in Duke’s win in Madison, Tyus Jones took over, combining with fellow freshmen Allen for 23 of Duke’s game closing, title-clinching 29-15 run. The Apple Valley, Minnesota native and Final Four Most Outstanding Player (becoming only the fourth Freshman to do so) had 19 of his game-high 23 points in the Second Half, none more important than his dagger three with 1:24 left to put Duke up by eight (8) as Wisconsin once again had no answer for Jones, falling short in the rematch 68-63, this time costing the Badgers a National Championship.

On Wisconsin? More like slightly Off Wisconsin. Whereas the converse had been true for most of their season, Wisconsin’s whole on this night was less than the sum of their parts. Frank The Tank was his normal unstoppable self, but I don’t think he saw enough of the ball. Sam Dekker did most of his damage on second-chance points at the rim, scoring 12 points but was ineffective from the perimeter, shooting 0-6 from three and only scoring four (4) of his points after the half. While Bronson Koenig was steady if unspectacular, Traveon Jackson had an uneven game, shooting 1-7 from the field, while Josh Gasser played a scoreless 36 minutes despite (or because of, you decide) being poked in the eye early on. Aside from Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes (a tidy 3-4 from three on his way to 13 points), no one else provided a consistent offensive threat in the half court, nor was there the poise offensively or patience defensively that vanquished John Calipari’s Wildcats to their ole Kentucky home on Saturday.

Speaking of Wildcats, allow me to take a moment to discuss their alleged year. Villanova went out like a domesticated tabby rather than a feral feline, losing in the Round of 32 to a talented but unbalanced North Carolina State squad that would lose their next game; A jump shooting team can’t find water from a boat (19/61 from the floor, .311 FG%) and loses, go figure. Arizona couldn’t seem to put two good halves of basketball together in the Tournament before being shot out of the Staples Center in the Elite Eight by Wisconsin’s epic three-point barrage, leading Head Coach Sean Miller to tell ”bandwagon fans” to go root for their rival on Twitter. Then in the Final Four, Kentucky’s “Pursuit of Perfection” (or whatever lame-ass slogan ESPN created to hype Kentucky’s chase of an undefeated season) came crashing down Saturday as the more experienced and efficient Badgers prevailed over another team of kittens. Not the worst call I’ve made, and considering I pegged Duke as one of the few teams that could win it all, I don’t feel so bad.

But enough about me. Back to the actual winners. Duke won this title, Krzyzewski’s 5th which ties him with Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp for No. 2 all-time behind John Wooden, with defense. In six 2015 NCAA Tournament games Duke allowed an average of 56.3 points per game. Heading into the NCAA Tournament, Duke was ranked 57th in the country in defensive efficiency according to KenPom, with an AdjD of 96.1. After their six NCAA games, Duke had worked all the way up to 12th, improving their season-long AdjD to 92.3, a figure that would have had Duke meeting all three Championship Tests prior to the tourney. Their average defensive rating – same idea as KenPom’s AdjD stat, an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions calculated by Sports Reference.com – was 88.6, a number that would have been good for 6th overall in that metric. And how about the young’uns? Freshmen scored 60 of Duke’s 68 points and played 112 of 200 total minutes, which is not only amazing, but something I doubt even Coach K would have ever foreseen in its antithesis of the Duke Basketball Experience (emphasis on experience). Who says old coaches can’t learn new tricks? Michigan’s Fab Five eat your heart out!

Now, some in the media (and many in the Twitterrazzi) have suggested that Duke may have had some help from the guys in the black and white stripes. Notably, the reviewed out-of-bounds call with 1:53 left in the game that gave the ball to Duke, despite the largest television audience to see a National Championship since 1997 clearly seeing that the ball went off Justise Winslow’s unmanicured fingertips. Maybe the refs were looking at the replay in low def, or maybe they really are vision impaired as all hecklers have decried for time in memoriam. Apparently the NCAA head official claimed the refs at the game did not have the same viewing angle as the television audience, which only raises more questions (Some of mine include “Why not?”, “Why the hell have replay then?”, and “Da fuq?!?”).

In the bigger picture, even a less-than-sporting Bo Ryan couldn’t stop himself from complaining about the officiating in both the NCAA post-game presser and the CBS post-game interview, claiming there was “more body contact in this game than any game” Wisconsin played all season. Sure, over the last 13:17, Wisconsin was whistled for nine (9) fouls to Duke’s three (3), and Duke enjoyed an 11-1 advantage in free throw attempts, making eight (8) of them. But is that really evidence of an officiating bias? Or, is it a sign of Duke’s increased aggression when facing a 9-point deficit, taking almost everything to the rim in a smart strategy to draw contact and create more scoring opportunities? I know my answer to that question. Duke had flipped the script after that fateful timeout, overcoming Wisconsin’s lead while being the team in significant foul trouble, and never say never, but I still think Duke, up by five (5) at that time, was winning that game regardless of that call. The die had already been cast.

Besides, reversing that call wasn’t going to help Wisconsin answer the Tyus Jones problem. Going into Monday night, it was fair to ask how Wisconsin was going to handle Duke’s two standout freshmen. Turns out, it was the other two freshmen they had to worry about all along.

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From → Basketball, Sports

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