The Duke Blue Devils captured their fifth national championship with a 68-63 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers on Monday night in Indianapolis. With the win, Coach Mike Krzyzewski trails only John Wooden on the list of men’s champions.
So much has been made in recent years about Kentucky’s ‘one-and-done’ freshman program carrying them to championship heights. Sixty of Duke’s 68 points on Monday night were scored by freshman. How many decide to return is anyone’s guess, but Duke used the rules, as Kentucky did, to win at the highest level.
It was Wisconsin that gave us the most memorable game of the tournament with their landmark upset of mighty Kentucky in the Final Four. Indiana remains the last undefeated team in men’s basketball. Next year will mark 40 years since that feat. Most assumed Kentucky was poised to knock that barrier down, but it was not to be. Wisconsin’s team basketball was too much for Kentucky’s star power in the 71-64 upset. The Badgers were cool under pressure while the ‘Cats cracked. The very traits carrying Wisconsin against Kentucky were needed against Duke, but they were largely absent.
At no time in this game did it seem like Wisconsin was in any rhythm offensively. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the game of National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky. True, his numbers looked all right: 21 points and 12 rebounds, but he was not assertive enough. Time and again you looked up and where did you see #44 in red—25 feet from the basket. While Kaminsky’s perimeter game is what carried him to the next level (he is seven feet tall), and especially once Duke’s all-American post Jahlil Okafor got in foul trouble, Kaminsky’s place was down low.
As a team the Badgers passed far too much, dribbled far too much, and were not decisive in their decisions on the offensive end. Maybe it was a hangover from the euphoric victory of two nights before, but Wisconsin seemed just a tick slow all night. This created the opportunity for an unexpected burst of energy, that of Duke’s Grayson Allen, to make such a huge difference.
Wisconsin had a 48-39 lead, with Okafor and Justise Winslow each with four fouls. Allen went on a personal 8-0 run to get Duke back in it. From there, Final Four Most Outstanding Player Tyus Jones, who scored 19 in the second half alone, took them home. Once the officials botched a replay decision from not having the proper angle, the Badgers were out of time.
So Krzyzewski wins his fifth, halfway to Wooden’s 10. But how do they compare? Wooden won his from 1964-75. Freshman were ineligible most of that time, and the game was more regionalized. Coach K has won his since 1991, as the game has continued to grow in popularity and competition. College basketball is a national game now, with great players and conferences in every region of the country. As rules have changed, as players have evolved, Krzyzewski has changed and evolved right with it.
How do you measure greatness? Is it championships? Is it total wins? Is it lives touched? Is it a combination of all of those? What Krzyzewski has achieved in today’s game is every bit as impressive as what Wooden achieved on the court. What makes these two men the very best are the lives changed. Mike Krzyzewski, as John Wooden before him, knows what should be truly important—everything always in proper perspective, and another celebration for Duke.