Duke is the four-time national champion accustomed to playing in the spotlight this time of year. Wisconsin is the plucky upstart that won its only championship in 1941.
The two will meet with everything at stake Monday night.
The Blue Devils cruised into the title game with an 81-61 blowout of Michigan State in the semifinals, a showcase for coach Mike Krzyzewski’s touted bunch of freshmen.
The Badgers followed with a back-and-forth, 71-64 victory over Kentucky, not only avenging a loss to the Wildcats in last year’s Final Four but also ruining their unbeaten season.
“We’re just very happy with the way we played,” said Duke freshman Justise Winslow, who had 19 points and nine rebounds. “Kentucky is a great team, but so is Wisconsin.”
Duke and Wisconsin have already met once this season, the Blue Devils getting 22 points from freshman guard Tyus Jones in an 80-70 victory in Madison in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
This will be the first time the teams have met in the NCAA Tournament, though.
Here are some early things to keep in mind as the Badgers and Blue Devils prepare to meet:
QUICK TURNAROUND: With just 48 hours between the semifinals and championship, how quickly the two teams can turn their focus to Monday night could prove to be critical.
Not only did the Blue Devils obliterate the Spartans, they also had the earlier game Saturday night, which means they probably watched Wisconsin upset the Wildcats from their hotel rooms.
The Badgers didn’t finish off their victory until after 11 p.m. local time.
STAR SHOWDOWN, ROUND 2: Kaminsky outplayed Okafor when the teams met in December. Frank the Tank finished with 17 points in the losing effort, while Okafor was held to just 13 points.
Kaminsky also beat out Okafor in voting for the AP player of the year award. The senior got 58 first-place votes from the media panel, while Okafor was runner-up with five votes.
COACHING MATCHUP: Krzyzewski and Ryan are considered two of the best coaches in college basketball, and both of them have the national championship rings to prove it.
Coach K has won all four of his with the Blue Devils, of course. But people tend to forget that Ryan won four national titles of his own at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville.
It’s only the second national championship game for Wisconsin in school history.
The first? A full six years before 67-year-old coach Bo Ryan was even born.
Who will win the ring that finishes off a hand?
HOOSIER HOSPITALITY: The Blue Devils have a bit of history on their side: When they reached the title game in Indianapolis in 1991 and 2010, they wound up winning the championship.
“Even if we didn’t win tonight, the city would still be great and the venue would be great,” Krzyzewski said. “Being in a national championship game, it’s crazy how lucky you are.
“This team has really earned it,” he said. “A couple times we’ve been in it, and we were lucky. A couple times we’ve lost — one time in particular we lost a really tough game. This team, though, has deserved to be in it, so it makes it feel even better. They’ve been so good.”
YOUTH VS. EXPERIENCE: The Badgers relied on their veterans when things got tight against the freshman-laden Wildcats. Now, they face another team that relies heavily on youth.
Will the experience of Kaminsky, fellow seniors Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser, junior star Sam Dekker and sophomore standouts Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig make a difference? Or will the Blue Devils’ freshmen — Okafor, Jones and Winslow — be able to cope with the pressure?
All the answers will be provided on Monday night.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.