2015 NCAA National Championship Preview: Who Has the Advantage?
If you didn't get the chance to check it out yet, Matt Goodwin hit on five things to watch for in tonight's big championship game.
If you did get the chance to check it out, or if you just checked it out now, you know what to key on while watching the game, like which team a fast pace would favor (Duke), or which team a close game would favor (Wisconsin).
Matt does a great job of breaking those factors down and how they can be great predictors of an outcome both prior to a game and during it. But at their core, what are those factors?
They're strengths and weaknesses.
One team's elite quality could render the other team's decent quality a negative. For example, the Badgers' elite defense, in comparison to Duke's defense on the season in its entirety, is much better than the Blue Devils' above average defense. That's a strength for the Badgers, and I don't think there's many basketball minds that would argue that point with me.
When it comes to strengths and weaknesses, however, those are products of personnel -- like in any other sport.
With that being said, let's take a look at each starter versus starter matchup. And because it's the championship game, why stop there? I'll also be taking a look at Wisconsin and Duke's benches and how they stack up against one another.
Tyus Jones vs. Bronson Koenig
In the December 3rd meeting in Madison, Tyus Jones was, without a doubt, Coach K's best player. Jones finished with 22 points (on 7 of 11 shooting), 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 key three-pointers. He led Duke to the win despite surrendering 25 points to his counterpart, Traevon Jackson.
I wish I could say things will be totally different this time around, but Tyus Jones is still the starting point guard for the boys from Cameron. With Bronson Koenig set to start over the elder Jackson, who is still working back from injury, Tyus Jones might just be salivating.
Koenig has just 0.4 more Defensive Win Shares than Jackson on the season, and has done so in 19 more games. He averages a mere 0.2 steals per game, compared to Jackson's 0.9, while posting a Defensive Rating of 104.3 -- nearly 5 points worse than Jackson's rating of 99.6.
Quinn Cook vs. Josh Gasser
I could've called this the shooting guard position, but that just wouldn't be true. Josh Gasser averages 4.4 shot attempts per game and isn't anywhere near a focal point of the Wisconsin offense. Quinn Cook's a different story though.
Cook averages 11.3 field goal attempts and 6.7 three-point attempts per game while putting up 15.6 points per game on the season. Saying he's a shooter would be an understatement. Cook strokes it from beyond the arc, shooting 40% from three, and is near automatic from the free throw line at 89.1%.
The senior is coming off a game in which he scored 17 points on 6 of 12 from the field. But, on the other hand Gasser, a senior himself, is a good closeout defender and held Cook to 5 shot attempts and 13 points in the two teams' previous meeting. If the Badgers key on Okafor, though, Cook could find some more shots.
Justise Winslow vs. Sam Dekker
For me, this is the best matchup of the night. Winslow and Dekker are both players expected to go within the first 10 to 15 picks of this year's NBA draft, and both have been the catalysts for their respective teams this March (despite the presence of AP Player of the Year candidates on their teams). Both also struggled against one another earlier this season.
Dekker and Winslow scored 5 points in Madison and shot a combined 4-11 from the field the last time they met. They were pretty much non-factors, especially Dekker, who played a mere 24 minutes in comparison to his season average of nearly 31 minutes per game.
Dekker will have to be more involved in order for Wisconsin to get the big win. He's been a huge contributor all year on the offensive end, with an Offensive Rating of 129.4. Winslow's Defensive Rating? 92.8 on the year. That's a difference of 36.6 points per 100 possessions -- and that's on the year. Winslow's been even more of a lockdown defender in the tournament.
As great as Winslow's been playing, Dekker's been better. In the tournament, he's averaged 20.6 points per game on a ridiculous 73% shooting from the floor.
Matt Jones vs. Nigel Hayes
There isn't much to see here from the earlier matchup in Madison. Matt Jones, who was recently solidified as a starter in Coach K's guard-heavy lineup, score 3 points on a single field goal in 19 minutes of action off the bench back then. Nigel Hayes tallied as many personal fouls as he did points (4) in the contest.
The two players' seasons couldn't be much more different. Jones has played 21.7 minutes per game and averages 6.2 points per game. Hayes, on the other hand, averages just short of 33 minutes per night and produces 12.4 points per game on 8.3 attempts.
Here, with a few widely irrelevant numbers, Wisconsin should have a distinct advantage. Since most of the basketball world expects Winslow to try to keep Dekker in check, that leaves Matt Jones to guard the 6'8" Nigel Hayes. Matt Jones is 6'5" and is really just a guard. Hayes should be able to exploit him in the post if the proper adjustments aren't made.
Frank Kaminsky vs. Jahlil Okafor
This matchup features arguably the nation's best big men in National Player of the Year Kaminsky (the guy Wisconsin runs their entire offense through), and All-American Okafor (an absolute beast on the block).
How much Okafor (18.7 points per game, 8.7 rebounds, 66.7% field goal percentage and 6.7 total Win Shares) makes Kaminsky (18.7 points per game, 8.1 rebounds, 55.1% field goal percentage and 9.6 total Win Shares) work on defense will determine a lot in the game. Defensively, Okafor will have to get out of his comfort zone and guard Kaminsky on the perimeter, otherwise both Kaminsky and his good shooting teammates will capitalize, especially on the pick and roll.
The edge here goes to Kaminsky, as nobody has really proven to be able to stop him all season. Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns did score 16 points and have 9 rebounds against the Badgers, which Okafor is more than capable of doing. The key is Kaminsky's ability to draw fouls and sink crucial free throws down the stretch, whereas fouling Okafor is actually a strategy based on his poor free-throw shooting.
Traevon Jackson and Duje Dukan are Wisconsin's two main players off the bench. While Jackson does have the ability and speed to break defenders off the dribble and scored 25 points against Duke as a starter, the senior guard is still coming back from a fractured foot injury and playing limited minutes. Dukan is a role player who can hit the occasional three and plays good team defense.
Amile Jefferson is a former starter who rebounds and defends very well (5.8 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per game), and Marshall Plumlee is a 7'0" banger who can spell Okafor and guard Kaminsky at times.
Neither team is particularly deep, and while both teams feature a former starter on their bench, Duke's size and defensive skill off the bench will come in more handy than what Wisconsin brings to the table. Expect Jackson to potentially get more minutes tonight as the matchup against Duke's strong guards warrants it.
Per numberFire Live, we're giving Wisconsin a 56% chance to win tonight's game. And based on the matchups above, it should be a good one.