NCAA Championship Preview

IT'S DUKE AND WISCONSIN FOR THE NATIONAL TITLE MONDAY NIGHT IN INDIANPOLIS!

So much for all the Kentucky hype! The two teams playing best in the Big Dance have made it all the way to the finals...as top seeds Duke and Wisconsin prepare for a rematch Monday Night of their regular season meeting. Kentucky ISN'T here...and really didn't look like they belonged against either Notre Dame or Wisconsin. Once again, an indictment of the SEC. Beating up on bad teams doesn't prepare you to win a championship!

Duke and Wisconsin have been beating good teams. Duke did have a bit of a friendly Dance card, but left no doubt about their current form with an 81-61 rout of Michigan State Saturday in the first of two national semifinals. Wisconsin rebounded from a slow first weekend to close very strong against North Carolina, Arizona, and Kentucky...the latter coming in Saturday's nightcap.

Let's start our preview with a stat review of those two games...

Duke 81, Michigan State 61
Shooting Pct: Michigan State 40%, Duke 52%
Three-Pointers: Michigan State 7/20, Duke 2/10
Free Throws: Michigan State 10/16, Duke 27/37
Rebounds: Michigan State 33, Duke 36
Turnovers: Michigan State 14, Duke 8

As clean as can be. Duke didn't even need three-pointers. They could have won if they had gone 0 for 10 on treys! Some may complain about the free throw differential. In fairness, Duke aggressively attacked the basket and dared Michigan State to guard them. Sparty was less aggressive on offense, and less able to find good shots. Duke earned most of that 37-16 advantage in attempts, though probably not all (Coach K always gets the breaks!). We're often skeptical about Duke in the Dance. Coach K seems to have learned from his past mistakes. This team defends, rebounds, and doesn't need treys to beat people.

Wisconsin 71, Kentucky 64
Shooting Pct: Wisconsin 48%, Kentucky 48%
Three-Pointers: Wisconsin 7/17, Kentucky 3/5
Free Throws: Wisconsin 18/22, Kentucky 9/10
Rebounds: Wisconsin 34, Kentucky 22
Turnovers: Wisconsin 10, Kentucky 6

Wisconsin cooled off a bit from long range from what they accomplished vs. Arizona. They were clearly the better side on this night. They played with a passion, while Kentucky spend the first half of the night trying to rebound with their arms at their knees, while allowing their worst defender to get outmatched one-on-one by Wisconsin's best scoring threats. Textbook coaching and execution from what was already a talented underdog. Kentucky played so far below its hype in their last two games that you have to wonder about the computers! The Wildcats just weren't head and shoulders above the field. They are well-positioned to exploit self-destructing teams...but seem to lack the gear needed to thrive against the elite.

That's how Duke and Wisconsin got here. Now, let's look at JIM HURLEY'S key college basketball indicators stats one last time in the 2014-15 season.

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
Wisconsin: 128.5 per 100 possessions (#1 in the nation)
Duke: 121.7 per 100 possessions (#3 in the nation)

Two elite offenses. Both can score inside and out. Both are loaded with threats who will be making some headlines at the next level. (As always, the efficiency rankings come from the website of college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy).

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
Wisconsin: 96.4 per 100 possessions (#55 in the nation)
Duke: 92.8 per 100 possessions (#12 in the nation)

Wisconsin's managed to outscore what its vulnerable defense (by Dance standards0 has allowed the last two games. They will have to do so again here against another dangerous offense. The team did a good job of avoiding foul trouble and encouraging poor shot taking from Kentucky. That will be tougher against a Duke team that shouldn't come in overconfident. Big rise in recent weeks for the Duke defense. Only some of that has come from playing in domes. On paper, this is the edge that points Duke's way.

Pace Ranking
Wisconsin: #345
Duke: #114

Duke pushes, while Wisconsin plays slow as molasses. Playoff basketball usually slows down...though we've seen in recent seasons that teams who can force a pace can make that work because of easy buckets and increased free throw shooting. Michigan State wanted to slow Duke down, but just kept fouling them! Wisconsin has to find the right recipe for taking the Blue Devils out of their preferred pace. Fairly likely that whichever team controls pace will win and cover.

Against the Spread
Wisconsin: 21-17-1
Duke: 23-14-1

Wisconsin's three straight covers have put them back in the black for backers. We mentioned the other day that Duke's been one of the most underrated teams in the country this season. That was certainly true in the last two games when they ran away and hid from Gonzaga and Michigan State at what turned out to be cheap prices. Is the market underrating them again?

Las Vegas Line: Pick-em, total of 140.5

Very possible with that price. Duke is playing great. Wisconsin's in an obvious letdown spot emotionally after the revenge win over Wisconsin. Yes, the Badgers should have revenge on their minds from a regular season home loss to Duke. But, how much gas is left in their tank? That's the key question for handicappers.

JIM HURLEY will be working very closely with his on-site sources to determine Wisconsin's mindset, energy level, and preparation for their Duke rematch. They really had no answer for Duke's penetration the first time around. Did they have time to fix that issue with only one day between the semifinals and finals?

You can purchase the final word for Monday right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 during normal business hours Monday. Of course, if you're a baseball fan...CALL EARLY! It's the first full day of Major League action in 2015...and there's a ton of daytime starts.

Back tomorrow with our first baseball preview of the new season. Here's what's coming up over the next several days in the NOTEBOOK...

Tuesday: MLB Preview...Los Angeles Angels vs. Seattle Mariners
Wednesday: MLB Preview...San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers
Thursday: NBA TV Preview...Chicago at Miami or Portland at Golden State on TNT
Friday: MLB Series Preview...Detroit Tigers at the Cleveland Indians
Monday April 13: MLB Series Preview...Washington Nationals at the Boston Red Sox

Thanks for being with us all through a long and exciting college basketball season. A championship will be crowned tonight. Before we move on to baseball...there's one thing we have to remind you about. When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

21
Nov

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