The most bittersweet day of the college basketball season has arrived as Kentucky's perfect season is finished and Michigan State's marvelous run as a seven seed is a distant memory.
The Wisconsin Badgers and the Duke Blue Devils will battle it out on Championship Monday with two of the best players in the country, Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor, taking center stage while Bo Ryan and Mike Krzyzewski patrol the sidelines.
Wisconsin has had one of the toughest roads to the Final Four in recent memory with wins over Arizona, North Carolina, Coastal Carolina, Oregon and Kentucky.
On the other end, Duke has been running it's opponents out of the gym thanks to their improved defensive energy, beating Robert Morris by 29, San Diego State by 19, Utah by six, Gonzaga by 14, and Michigan State by 20.
It doesn't get any more convincing than that and these two powerhouse programs will now have a chance to battle it out with the winner reaching the ultimate goal and commanding the attention of the sports universe.
How/Where to watch:
9:18 pm ET CBS #1 Wisconsin vs. #1 Duke (Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, Tracy Wolfson)
Yes, the nation does not get to witness a 40-0 season but this is a pretty good consolation prize as these 'match-ups within the match-up' are tremendous.
It doesn't get any better than the versatile outside shooting master Kaminsky going up against the polished footwork of Okafor. Duke is going to have to attack the seven foot senior using Okafor's strength and ability to distribute if they are going to win this game. Okafor cannot disappear like he has done for stretches of this NCAA Tournament and that means he must get excellent positioning on Kaminsky and Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook need to go out of their way to feed him the ball.
Duke has come into this tournament playing small ball by starting Justice Winslow at the four position but that may not work against Wisconsin. Matt Jones would be stuck guarding Sam Dekker or Nigel Hayes, which is a complete mismatch, so expect more minutes from junior Amile Jefferson. Bo Ryan and the Badgers do such a good job of taking advantage of mismatches (Devin Booker...) and that means Coach K has to be ready to throw his opponent a curve ball.
And then there's the battle of the backcourts. These groups of guards consistently take care of the ball, find the open teammate and they are also so efficient shooting from the perimeter. Cook and Jones have stepped up in big moments all season while Bronson Koenig and Traevon Jackson provide the March experience.
Offense is key for both but the main reason these teams are playing on Championship Monday is defense.
Wisconsin has always been one of the most efficient defensive teams in the country but this year during the regular season that was not the case. In the Big Dance, they have been much improved as they forced Kentucky into three shot clock violations down the stretch of their previous game in the Final Four. The Badgers are so fundamentally sound, feature players with strong basketball IQs and these are four-year players playing with chips on their shoulders.
Duke was so out of sync defensively during ACC play that they had to transition out of Coach K's special man-to-man defense, switching to a zone against Louisville. The Blue Devils had lost two straight games (Miami and North Carolina State) before beating Louisville but their defensive energy has been on a whole other level in this tournament. Okafor has suddenly become more of a rim protector and he is playing stronger in ball screen defense. Cook has guarded the opposing teams best player, limiting both Travis Trice and Delon Wright, and Winslow has been the teams best defender while raising his draft stock to a possible top five pick.
This National Title might come down to who takes advantage of mismatches, who turns the ball over the least and who plays more aggressive defense.
Who do you think is going to lift that trophy?