The Duke Blue Devils have won the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship, and it would seem that all is right with the universe. Well, that is if you’re a fan of the Duke-brand of basketball. To some this victory appeared as if it may been one of the most well-coached championship victory of Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s entire tenure as the head coach of the Blue Devils. The first half was largely a stalemate as Duke’s talented frontcourt was stymied with both freshman center Jahlil Okafor and power forward Justise Winslow both saddled with early fouls.
But the Wisconsin Badgers, led by the steady and skilled play of Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky and his talented tootsies, appeared to have the Blue Devils right where they wanted them. His footwork and soft touch were lauded by most NBA scouts prior to the game and he didn’t let anyone down either. Okafor, for his part, looked dazed and confused as he tried to keep up with Big Frank early on.
Justise Winslow was guarding Wisconsin forward Sam Dekkar, aka KD Lite, very aggressively on defense. Very hands-on too and the refs immediately reprimanded him by hitting the young forward with two fouls early on. Prior to this matchup it appeared as if Duke’s only clear advantage was in the backcourt with guards Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones. However it wasn’t Cook that came up big down the stretch, but often overlooked freshman phenom Grayson Allen-who had 18 points combined in the five NCAA games played prior to the championship. .
Down by nine points with 13:23 left in the game, the Duke Blue Devils managed to take advantage of some tight officiating, a missed call in which Winslow stepped out of bounds, and a missed layup by Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes late in the game to whittle away at the Wisconsin lead, outscoring the Badgers by 14 points over the final 13 minutes on its way to a 68-63 victory. Okafor looked like hard-boiled crap for most of the game, and on both ends of the floor. Also, he was outrebounded by Big Frank as well. However, there were several plays down the stretch in which Okafor stopped trying to show how skilled he was with his touch and just utilized his 280 pound frame to punish Frank in a manner that he was largely unaccustomed to.
Simultaneously, Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen apparently got tired of waiting on senior guard Quinn Cook to show up and simply took matters into their own hands in the second half. Grayson would score eight points straight, finishing the game with 16 points, and was instrumental in providing a secondary scorer, which prevented Wisconsin from keying in on Tyus Jones, who scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half on his way to being named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four-joining Anthony Davis as the only other freshman to win the award in the past 20 years.
Not only is this victory indicative of the evolved style of Coach K, but the confidence that he has gained in playing freshman over the years. For example, many can recall the press that former PGs Kyrie Irving or Bobby Hurley got as a starting freshman or the way Christian Leattner appeared to stay in Coach K’s doghouse as a precocious frosh. Now, decades later, we have a Duke Championship team that was led by freshman. That’s not as big a deal as it may have been 20 years ago with all the one-and-done players parading around many a college campus, but it is indeed an interesting phenomenon to behold at Duke, a school with a relatively high graduation rate for student-athletes.
Four freshman scored 60 of Duke’s final 68 points and Mike Krzyzewski didn’t have to pull out his hair, or yell himself into an aneurysm to get it done. Now, that’s five championships down, five more to go if he wants to catch the legendary Coach John Wooden and his ten NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship titles.