To gain some insight on the Duke Blue Devils ahead of the 2015 NCAA Championship game, we sat down with someone who knows these Blue Devils as well as anyone, Mike Woolfson, editor over at Ball Durham, Fansided’s Duke site.
Thanks to Mike for taking the time to give us some insight on the match up and offer a different perspective on what we can all agree should be an incredible game between two great teams.
Now, on to our questions for Ball Durham:
BoH: What is the main difference in the Duke team Wisconsin will see in the championship game from the group they saw back in December?
BD: There are a lot of major differences between this Duke team and the one Wisconsin saw in December. Most notable is that these Duke players now have a ton of confidence. Let’s not forget that Duke has eight scholarship players, four of which are just freshmen, and when they met earlier this season these freshmen were playing in only their eighth career college basketball game. Now these freshmen have been through almost everything there is to go through and should be very well prepared to handle the pressure of being in the Championship game.
There have also been a lineup changes that are worth noting. When they last met Amile Jefferson was in the starting lineup, but he has since been replaced by defensive specialist and sharpshooter Matt Jones, giving Duke a small ball starting lineup with Justise Winslow at the four. Also Rasheed Sulaimon was still on the team during the first meeting, after his dismissal Grayson Allen has gotten more minutes and given Duke some scoring punch off the bench.
BoH: In December, Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor battled to more-or-less of a stalemate – neither dominated, but neither really gave much ground to the other, either. How do you see that match up playing out in the championship?
BD: This matchup might determine the outcome of the game, as the two players that were locked in the National Player of the Year battle will be going head to head in the National Championship. When these two teams first met Jahlil Okafor was not much of a defender at all. Nowadays he has been doing a tremendous job of defending down on the block, but he still struggles a little bit guarding pick & roll. The key for Kaminsky might be to take Okafor outside and use his versatility, and jump shooting ability to score points because he may not have an advantage down low. As far as Okafor on offense, as good as Kaminsky is on the defensive side of the ball, if he guards him one-on-one the entire game the Badgers may have trouble because Okafor’s footwork is unbelievable and his strength is hard for any one person to handle.
BoH: Tyus Jones had a big game the last time these two teams squared off, and successfully hurt the Badgers with dribble penetration. Do you see him playing the same game, or is Duke going to be looking more at guys like Okafor and Justise Winslow to win this game?
BD: Tyus Jones was undoubtedly the player of the game when these two met earlier in the season, and saved his best performances for the biggest games all season long. Jones hasn’t put up big numbers this tournament, and really hasn’t shot it well either, but has done a great job of seeing the floor and finding the open guy. I do think his penetration will still be key, but I think the focal points of the offense will be Winslow and Okafor. Winslow has been Duke’s best player, and maybe the best player in the whole tournament so far, and he is a matchup nightmare. Look for Winslow to grab defensive rebounds and push the ball up the floor himself to create easy baskets in transition.
BoH: How, and with who, do you see Duke attempting to slow down one of the hottest players in the tournament, Sam Dekker?
BD: This is the million dollar question right here. Justise Winslow will likely be tasked with guarding Dekker in the beginning of the game, and while Winslow is a very good defender he is giving up a lot of size in this matchup, Winslow is 6’6″ and Dekker is 6’9″. Duke’s defensive strategy doesn’t call for anyone to have to guard the same player for an entire possession though. Duke switches all screens between positions 1-4 so if Dekker sets a screen for Bronson Koenig, Dekker will likely be guarded by Koenig’s man the rest of the possession. Wisconsin will likely be setting a lot of ball-screens in this game to get mis-matches for Dekker.
BoH: This is a pretty young group of Duke players going up against a pretty veteran group of Wisconsin players. In what ways have you seen this younger Duke team look like a veteran group in the tournament?
BD: Let me start off this answer by saying that Tyus Jones has not looked like a freshman all year long. As a freshman point guard you would expect him to be making mistakes left and right, but that just hasn’t happened, he shows complete control over the offense and doesn’t ever panic. As a team though, Duke has really grown and looked like a veteran group in this tournament mostly thanks to Quinn Cook, Duke’s lone senior. Cook has been a tremendous leader all season long, and has helped guide these freshmen through every possible situation. It doesn’t hurt when you have one of the greatest coaches off all-time on the sidelines either, but you rarely see Duke take bad shots, or commit silly turnovers in this tournament and that is a testament to Mike Krzyzewski and Quinn Cook.
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BoH: Care to offer a prediction?
BD: So much has changed for Duke since the last time these two teams met, a game Duke won by ten. In that previous matchup Duke shot 65 percent (not going to happen again), and Rasheed Sulaimon scored 14 points off the bench (can’t happen again.) While those two things would make you think Wisconsin all the way, there are things that have me leaning towards Duke’s side here. In the first matchup Justise Winslow was a virtual non-factor, and I expect him to have his fingerprints all over this one. Also Duke’s defense has gone from bad, to possibly elite. They have been a lockdown defense throughout the tournament and while I expect Wisconsin to get their points I think Duke’s improved defense will cause problems. I see this game coming down to the wire but Duke coming out on top by a score of 75-72.