After hours of basketball produced shocking upsets and glorious match-ups, after countless brackets were discarded into the nearest wastebasket and after big names gave the biggest performances, it all comes down to the NCAA championship final, Duke Blue Devils vs Wisconsin Badgers (9:18pm ET, today on CBS).
Sixty eight teams began March Madness journey but after Monday only one will be standing to be crowned champion. Read on for our Championship Game preview with predictions and betting picks.
Duke’s Case for the Championship
For Duke, the last team to be given a No. 1 seed, the road to the final has been, to be quite blunt, rather easy. The Blue Devils were the most underrated and the least respected of the top seeds but they were handed the easiest draw. The biggest test in the region was Gonzaga and Duke made quick work of them, defeating the Bulldogs by 14 points.
This wasn’t Duke’s only big win either. Their margin of victory over the first four games was 54 points, and that included another 19 point win in the Round of 32 and a 29 point win in the Round of 64.
In the Final Four, a place a good deal of brackets didn’t even have Duke reaching, the team played Michigan State. While the Spartans were the surprise out of their region, emerging after both #1 Villanova and #2 Virginia fell early, they were hot and not to be counted against. Many actually expected them to beat Duke even if Vegas’ spread fell in favor of the Blue Devils.
Either way it didn’t matter. Vegas had Duke as 6.5 point favorites. They won by 20.
Is it fair to say that Duke hasn’t been tested? Quite possibly. But that might not be of their own design. The fact is great teams can make good teams look pedestrian. It might just be that this is what we have seen with Duke. They’ve won their games by an average of 15 points. Their stars have been lights out. Maybe it’s just in the cards for Duke. Maybe this is once again, their year.
Wisconsin’s Case for the NCAA Championship
But before we crown Duke with the national title, the team will have to get past one of the best shooting and prolific offenses in the entire college landscape in Wisconsin.
The Badgers entered the tournament as the Big 10 champion in a year where being the Big 10 champion actually mattered. The once maligned basketball conference boasted the most tournament bids this year with seven and despite losing many early on, actually advanced two (Michigan State and Wisconsin) to the Final Four.
Besides Kentucky’s region, many considered Wisconsin’s to be the toughest of the remaining three, mostly because of the rematch that awaited with Arizona in the Elite Eight. That rematch was won by the Badgers somewhat easily, even if the final score was only marked by a seven point victory.
That was the game that was circled on the schedule because it was believed that the winner would be the best chance any team in the nation had to defeat the undefeated Kentucky. As it turned out, that thought was right.
Wisconsin’s toughest test, tougher than even a final against Duke will be, came in the Final Four against the Wildcats. There were moments where the game was touch and go but the Badgers played incredible over the final minutes as Sam Dekker’s clutch shooting again prevailed. The final score was a seven-point Wisconsin victory and the clear realization that this team would be the favorites to win it all.
Can Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker do it Again?
There isn’t much that is harder to do in sports than a repeat performance but if Wisconsin hopes to win it all, this is exactly what they will need from their two NBA-bound stars. With a less than perfect shooting night, Wisconsin needed every single one of the 36 combined points the duo put up, which was half of the 71 the team scored. In fact all tournament long it has been the clutch shooting and big plays of Dekker and Kaminsky (pictured) that have guided the veteran Badgers through the madness and into the championship.
In the Elite Eight, Wisconsin scored 85 points, 56 of which (66%) were put up by the duo. In the Sweet 16, it was 79 for Wisconsin and 42 (53%) for the duo. The team put up 86 in the first round, 47 (55%) of which were scored by, you guessed it, Kaminsky and Dekker.
They’ve been big all tournament long, but do they have just one more game, where both are on, as they have been this whole time, left in them? From looking at their totals, I have no reason to believe they don’t.
Justise Winslow – X Factor?
When Wisconsin and Duke first met this season, back in December, no one knew the name Justise Winslow. Everyone was all about the other freshman, the guy was anointed as the first overall pick, practically before he even held a college basketball. But Winslow was there and while his importance to the team wasn’t instantly noticed, there is no doubt Duke is where they are in large part because of him.
Winslow has lit it up all tournament long and has taken advantage of the increased minutes he has been receiving. He’s played all but 17 in the team’s last three games and has shot well, especially from behind the arc. But more than his offense, Winslow has crashed the boards, totaling no less than nine rebounds in all but one of Duke’s five tournament games. He has come up big in other defensive areas as well, adding eight steals and seven blocks this postseason.
Okafor is a big factor and there is no denying that. His 18 points against Michigan State were a good sign that the nine and six from the past two games were just that, in the past. Duke will need him to be his early tournament self but when the season comes to a glorious end, if Duke is standing as the last team, it will be because of the other freshman, Justise Winslow.
Duke Blue Devils vs Wisconsin Badgers Betting Picks & Predictions
As it stands, Wisconsin is merely a one-point favorite for this NCAA championship game with the online sportsbooks. That’s negligible at best since there is no winning bet in taking the spread, simply a push. Essentially, you’re picking a winner and in this case, the smart money is on Wisconsin.
There is just something about what the team has done and what they have been doing that is purely electric. They are one of the best shooting teams in the country and the level of production they get from two players, which ordinarily might be concerning, is not. Really, they look even more like an NBA superstar-built team than Duke, who has three, maybe four guys who are draft bound.
It seems hard to believe that what the Badgers are doing is going to come to an end. Their shooting has just been too good and as they showed against red-hot tournament favorites Kentucky, their defense isn’t half bad either. So our betting picks and predictions are below:
- Take Wisconsin to cover that -1pt spread and win at -110 with 5Dimes Sportsbook. It is -115 with BetOnline and Bovada.
- As for the total, I like for Wisconsin’s high scoring to win out over Duke’s low scoring games. The best offer for going high is over 139 total points in the game @ -110 betting odds with BetOnline. It is over 139.5pts with 5Dimes and 140pts with Bovada.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.