In some ways, Duke versus Kentucky, Mike Krzyzewski versus John Calipari, the Cameron Crazies versus Big Blue Nation, would have been the most intriguing championship-game matchup the NCAA Tournament could have offered, at least from a storyline standpoint.
But come on. Unless you’re a Kentucky fan, you’ve got to be chomping at the bit and counting down the hours until tip-off Monday night – because Duke (34-4) versus Wisconsin (36-3) has the makings of an absolute thriller.
Wisconsin has been on a tear this tournament, taking down North Carolina, Arizona and Kentucky in its last three games. Duke, meanwhile, has beaten Utah, Gonzaga and Michigan State, winning its last two games by a combined 34 points.
“Well, I certainly think (Duke is) playing their best basketball right now,” former Blue Devil and current CBS Sports college basketball analyst Mike Gminski said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Mike (has) kind of used each team and each year as its own separate entity, and this is certainly one of the younger versions that he’s ever had. He knew that there was a lot of growth starting at the front end of it, but he builds defensively and he builds out. I think that he’s probably pretty happy with his squad right now. He made a comment the other day. He said he wished he had another week to prepare because he felt they’d be that much better. But I think they’ll be ready for this game tonight.”
The showdown will feature a battle of experience versus youth – just as it did in 1978, when Gmisnki and the Blue Devils lost to Kentucky in the national championship.
“It was a team that had a lot of upperclassmen, a lot of seniors,” Gminski said of the Wildcats. “They were on a mission to win that year, and we started two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior – which, by those standards back then, was very young.”
Duke starts three freshmen, one sophomore and a senior. Wisconsin, by contrast, starts two seniors, one junior and two sophomores.
“You look at these two teams, and I think Duke gets 60 to 65 percent of their scoring from their freshmen, and a freshman has not scored for Wisconsin in this tournament yet,” Gminski said. “It kind of gives you a glimpse of the difference in age and experience.”
And yet, there are phenomenal match-ups all over the court. Frank Kaminsky versus Jahlil Okafor. Sam Dekker versus Justise Winslow. The list goes on.
“I think there are going to be some fascinating match-ups in this game this evening with Kaminsky and Okafor,” Gminski said. “You got outside versus inside, senior versus freshman. I think the wild card – and I’ve really liked him throughout the whole tournament – is Sam Dekker for Wisconsin. It’s going to be a tough matchup, but can (Winslow) take him outside? Can he use his quickness up and down the floor? Each have their strengths in that matchup, and I think it’s going to be who wins those match-ups that’s going to win this game.”
Tip-off is slated for 9:18 p.m. ET.