One of the greatest beauties of sports is that it really doesn’t matter how intricate or how detailed the analysis, evaluations and breakdowns are coming into a game. When the games are played, so much of that analysis goes out the window, and the outcome comes down to players making plays, which human beings seize the moment the most.
Coming into Monday night’s national championship game between Duke and Wisconsin, every dissection one could’ve wanted was available over the previous 46 hours. In fact, one didn’t even need to watch the analysis, for they could’ve broken down everything they could ever want from the multiple replays across several ESPN networks of this season’s earlier game between the two in December. (A prudent idea once or twice, but the repeated repeats… perhaps there is no greater example that we have too many cable channels than this one.)
With a previous meeting between those two teams as well as nearly a 40-game season sample to work with, in no analysis for Monday was Duke reserve guard Grayson Allen identified as a swing player in this game. Yet that’s exactly what happened, as Allen scored 16 points off the bench to help rescue the Blue Devils from a nine-point second half deficit. Along with incredible freshman guard Tyus Jones (23 points), it was a pair of first-year backcourt men who led Duke to a 68-63 win and a national championship.
Allen was absolutely fearless, almost by himself pulling the Blue Devils up when they looked ready to be buried. Three-pointers, three-point plays, nearly impossible finishes at the rim, steals, free throws-none was too big for the freshman from Florida who came in averaging less than nine minutes per game and didn’t even play in four games this year.
When Duke trailed 48-39 with over 13 minutes to play, it was Allen who hit a three-pointer. Then he came up with a steal. Then it was a three-point play, as he somehow scored over Sam Dekker. Then after a Nigel Hayes three-pointer it was two more free throws. Allen served as the bridge, keeping the Blue Devils in the game until Jones and eventually fellow star freshman Jahlil Okafor (at last) could take over at the end.
The title is the fifth for Duke under coach Mike Krzyzewski, and showed us again why Coach K is on the short list of the greatest coaches in the sport. This year’s Duke team was talented but also flawed. Depth in particular was a problem, and when star Okafor spent a good portion of Monday night in foul trouble, the Blue Devils were one-dimensional offensively. The Blue Devils came back and won this game with virtually no frontcourt to speak of in the second half until the final minutes.
With Okafor and Justise Winslow in foul trouble/unproductive, with senior Quinn Cook having a quiet game, with so little reliable depth all season and with Duke going against an experienced opponent that does not surrender leads, realistically there was little reason to expect a comeback when the Badgers had all the momentum nearing the middle of the second half. Instead, Krzyzewski’s team dug deep and found a way to make it all work despite all of its seeming flaws. Allen and Jones stepped up, the Blue Devils dug in on defense-perhaps too much so for Bo Ryan’s liking-and it helps to have nine McDonald’s All-Americans, but this was still an ultimate test of championship character, and once again Duke passed it.
For Wisconsin, this one will hurt for a long time, but this is a team that should not be forgotten any time soon. Ending Kentucky’s unbeaten run should ensure that, but the Badgers’ influence hopefully will go far further than that. Their style in getting this far also warmed a lot of hearts. Relaxed off the court, skilled and grounded in fundamentals on it, it’s a team all should appreciate even more as the years go on. With so many veterans, fans and followers of the sport got to know this Wisconsin team and players very well, and reminded us once again why the sport needs so many more teams like them.
- Monday saw several players declare for the NBA Draft. UCLA freshman forward Kevon Looney is turning pro after one year where he averaged 11.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Looney is expected to be a first-round pick in the draft. Also in the Pac-12, Arizona junior forward Brandon Ashley announced he will depart for the pros after averaging 12.2 ppg and 5.2 rpg this year. Murray State sophomore Cameron Payne also is turning pro after two years. Payne’s pro stock has been rising of late, but the 6-2 guard will need to beef up considerably in the pros.
- Originally thought to be done at St. John’s, Chris Obekpa now is planning to return for his senior year after meeting with new coach Chris Mullin. Obekpa is one of the best defensive centers in the country and will provide a cornerstone for Mullin to build around in his first year.
- Finally, longtime coach Dave Bliss is returning to the sport at the NAIA level, where he will take over at Southwestern Christian University in Oklahoma. Bliss coached at Oklahoma, New Mexico, SMU and Baylor and had a successful career but is best known for presiding over a scandal at Baylor in which he made improper payments to players and then was involved in a cover-up after former player Patrick Dennehy was murdered.
- The 2014-15 men’s college basketball season has reached its conclusion, but the women’s college hoops season has one more game as Connecticut and Notre Dame meet again in the national title game Tuesday night. The two teams are meeting in the final for the second straight year, and the Huskies are going for their third consecutive championship.
Have a wonderful Tuesday.