2015 NCAA Tournament: Championship Game Prediction


The 2015 NCAA tournament comes down to this: the championship game. Through 62 games, my tournament record is 45-17. However, if you followed my bracket predictions at the beginning, you would have had three of the Final Four, and both of the championship game participants right. That would leave you in a pretty good situation.

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2015 National Championship Game:

(1)Wisconsin vs. (1)Duke:

The game wasn’t quite as close as the final score indicated. Wisconsin’s size proved too much for Kentucky. The Wildcats were dominated on the boards, and the sharpshooting of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker from anywhere on the court could not be stopped. The Badgers shot 48% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc. Kentucky shot the lights out (48% and 60% from downtown) to keep the game close, but they never really looked like they were going to win this game. Wisconsin was good enough at every position to match up with them. Kentucky’s defense couldn’t shut down the Badgers or keep them off the boards.

Duke thumped Michigan State in the second half to cruise into the Championship game. Duke won the 1991 title and their last title in 2010 in Indianapolis, so they historically play well here. They showed that in the National Semifinal. Michigan State jumped out to an eight point lead early, but they were buried shortly after halftime. Michigan State’s lack of a consistent offensive threat on the interior hurt them. Branden Dawson had no answer inside for Justise Winslow (19 points, nine rebounds) and Jahlil Okafor (18 points, six rebounds). Quinn Cook’s ablilty to get to the basket and make shots was too much for the Spartans to deal with.

I said before the tournament began that Duke was best equipped for a title run at any point since their 90’s dynasty. They have two dominant forces on the inside in Okafor and Winslow, which they have not had for quite some time.

The bad news for Duke is that no team has been more successful at neutralizing interior threats than Wisconsin has. The Badgers’ size and the agility of their big men has been the deciding factor in nearly every tournament game. Duke will have a hard time dealing with it as well. In the first meeting between these teams on December 3rd in Madison during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Frank Kaminsky scored 17 points, and Traveon Jackson had a huge game, scoring 25.

A lot has changed since that game. Jackson is reduced to a bench role, and Duke guard Rashied Sulaimon was dismissed from the team in January. Sulaimon scored 14 points in Duke’s ten point victory. Okafor had a solid game (13 points, 6 rebounds on 6-8 shooting), but Winslow was mostly a non-factor. He was only 2-6 from the floor for five points and four turnovers. Winslow will need to be more assertive against the Wisconsin bigs.

Duke held Sam Dekker to just five points on 2-5 shooting. Dekker has been one of the hottest players in the tournament. Duke will need to make sure that he does not get open shots.

The Blue Devils shot 65% from the floor in that December meeting. The chances of that happening again are slim. The Badgers are good enough defensively to force Duke to take bad shots. Keeping Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook out of the lane will be key to Wisconsin tonight. They couldn’t do it in the first meeting.

I am not going to go against my pre-tournament prediction of Wisconsin over Duke. I think this will be a really good game, but I just don’t see Duke shooting that well again, and I don’t think that a lot of people realize just how important Sulaimon was in that Duke win. Jackson was important for Wisconsin, but their veterans have picked up the slack. The Blue Devils have had something missing since the dismissal of Sulaimon.


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