Twenty years from now the only thing that anyone will remember about this Final Four is that Big Blue Nation went down. The Dream of 40-0, gone, at the hands of the mighty Wisconsin Badgers, who will only be remembered if they win the national championship against Duke. That is the harsh reality of sports. 38-1, while impressive, will fade from memory, and all talk of the “Best Team in NCAA Hoops History” is history. The Wisconsin Badgers, as impressive as its upset of Calipari’s “NBA Light” Kentucky team, will also fade quickly in hoops history if they fail to seal the deal by hoisting the trophy.
The Indiana Hoosiers retain the distinction of being the only undefeated team in college basketball since the 1975-76 season.
With the exception of the first four minutes of the game, the Michigan State-Duke game was a yawner for all fans but Duke fans. Sparty came out strong, pulling ahead 14-6 just 4 minutes into the game, making 5 of their first 7 shots and the first four they took from beyond the 3-point line. Duke then hit the switch, turned up the heat on D and turned to their POY contender, Jahlil Okafor, and took over. The Izzone, as passionate as they are, could play no role in this game because Duke took control early in the first half and never looked back. While Michigan State earned its way into the Final Four with several close games over strong opponents, including Virginia, Oklahoma and Louisville, one longed for a more competitive matchup. Duke had a breezy time of it sailing into the national championship game, simply overpowering the Spartans, 81-61, and we shall know on Monday night whether that will work to the Blue Devils’ advantage, or not.
The Duke freshmen soon headed to the NBA, Justise Winslow, scored 19 points, had 9 boards and was 5 for 7 from the field. Fellow freshman Jahlil Okafor added 18 points, 6 boards and was 7 for 11 from the field. Senior Quinn Cook added 17. Will Duke add another, 5th title, in the city where it won its first under Coach 1K in 1991? His 4th was only 5 years ago, in 2010. Expect Duke in the Final Four once every 5 years? It certainly feels like it.
Michigan State’s guard Denzel Valentine had 9 of his 22 points in the opening run, including three 3-pointers. Valentine had 11 rebounds for the Spartans, who ended the season 27-12, while his teammate Travis Trice added 16 points. Sparty didn’t have the personnel to match up with Duke.
On the other hand, the featured Final Four game had just about everything one expects in a great national semifinal game: two evenly matched teams, lead changes and runs, dominant bigs, talented guards, future pros, and questionable calls. (More about that later) From the outset, it was clear that Wisconsin was up for the challenge and that Kentucky was vulnerable, particularly after that close call with Notre Dame in the Elite Eight. In fact, while Kentucky was 38-0 going into last night’s game, that undefeated status was due to one fact: the Wildcats played in the inferior SEC Conference this season. In other conferences, that simply would not have been the case. The Badgers, by contrast, benefited from its competition in the BIG TEN Conference.
The Badgers were led by their POY and future pro Frank Kaminsky 20 points, 11 boards 2 assists and 2 blocks and his teammate, other future NBAer, Sam Dekker (16 points). Wisconsin took over in the final minutes and went on the most important run of the game. Tied at 60, Andrew Harrison missed on Kentucky’s next possession. Then Dekker hit a 3-pointer that gave Wisconsin the lead for good with 1:42 left. At 64-63 with 24 seconds left, Kaminsky hit two free throws. He and Bronson Koenig went 7 for 8 from the line over the last 24 seconds to finish with the 71-64 victory.
About the officiating, in both games, it was poor to atrocious. It could not have affected the blowout in the Duke-Michigan State game but at times early on seemed to be leaning Duke’s way. Money in Vegas affecting these games? Don’t doubt it, can’t prove it. However, the poor calls in the Kentucky-Wisconsin game had the opportunity to affect the close game. While I viewed the poor officiating to overall favor the Big Blue, the most obvious call was actually a 2-point putback late in the game by the Badgers that was “scored” despite a shot clock violation. On the other hand, a blatant Fragrant 2 faceslap was missed, that would have resulted in 2 free throws and the ball for the Badgers. What did occur was that it motivated Wisconsin to rev up their game in the final minutes, so in the end, the missed call did not affect the game in Big Blue’s favor.
Poor Losers? A few Kentucky players left the court without shaking hands with Wisconsin players and Andrew Harrison made an unfortunate comment directed to Kaminsky while he was miked during the press conference.
Happy 22nd Birthday Present, Frank Kaminsky!
Next Up? Coach 1K achieves his 5th championship or Bo Ryan achieves his 1st Division I championship (Wisconsin won its last basketball championship in 1941)
Hoya fans, check this out: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=12621766 One of our favorite Final Four players, Jeff Green, with the NBA play of the night!