■ Site: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
■ Time: 6:18 p.m. PST
■ Tv: CBS (8)
■ Line: Pick ‘em
■ Last meeting: Duke won 80-70 at Wisconsin on Dec. 3.
■ How they got here: Duke has won five NCAA games by an average of 17.6 points in eliminating a 16 seed (Robert Morris), an 8 (San Diego State), a 5 (Utah), a 2 (Gonzaga) and a 7 (Michigan State); Wisconsin had the toughest road of any recent finalist, beating a 16 (Coastal Carolina), an 8 (Oregon), a 4 (North Carolina), a 2 (Arizona) and an undefeated 1 (Kentucky).
■ What’s at stake: The Blue Devils will go for a fifth national championship in nine tries under head coach Mike Krzyzewski; Wisconsin would claim a second national title with a victory, the other coming in 1941. Six years later, current head coach Bo Ryan was born.
■ What’s different this time: Think of a slice of Wisconsin’s best cheddar compared to its finest brie. Not close. Most everything is different from that December night when the Blue Devils whacked the Badgers in their Kohl Center home. Traevon Jackson scored a career-high 25 for Wisconsin, but broke his foot Jan. 11 and just returned to playing limited minutes last week. Rasheed Sulaimon scored 14 for Duke, but was dismissed from the team in late January. Duke also shot a ridiculous 65 percent, which will be almost impossible to repeat in a national final against an improved Wisconsin team. Sam Dekker (five points) was nursing a sprained ankle back then but the junior forward is now playing the best ball of his career for the Badgers. In a battle of the country’s best big men, Frank Kaminsky scored 17 to 13 for Jahlil Okafor of Duke, but both are far better now.
■ Matchup to watch: Kaminsky against Okafor. No talk about the NBA. Doesn’t matter here. How each will translate to the next level — Okafor could be the No. 1 overall pick and Kaminsky likely will float somewhere around the late lottery or perhaps beyond it — will have no influence on tonight’s outcome. Each is a Chicago-area native and terrifically skilled offensively, but Okafor isn’t stellar at the defensive end and it will be critical he makes good decisions when guarding ball screens set by Kaminsky while also limiting his fouls when the Wisconsin star drives the ball. Duke does a good job at times helping Okafor by playing zone, but he only went for 27 minutes and was limited with foul fouls in the first meeting.
■ Key stat: Duke ranks 112th nationally in scoring defense and yet the 61 points it allowed Michigan State in a Final Four game Saturday was the most any tournament opponent has managed against the Blue Devils. Lesson to be learned: All numbers are not what they insinuate. Duke became a better defensive team as the season wore on, which often happens when your starting lineup includes three freshmen. Not all teams with young players teach defense well enough that such improvement occurs. Duke does.
■ Possible unsung hero for Duke: Tyus Jones. In just his eighth collegiate game, the guard scored 22 points against the Badgers in December. He was too quick for Wisconsin off the dribble and in transition. You would think the Badgers might struggle defending the physical presence of a wing like Duke freshman Justise Winslow, and Okafor will garner a lot of attention, leaving Jones the sort of freedom that could lead to a big night.
■ Possible unsung hero for Wisconsin: Bronson Koenig. A sophomore, he became the starting point guard once Jackson went down and has responded better than even Ryan or his staff could have hoped. Koenig has turned the ball over just 27 times in 773 minutes since assuming the lead role and and is the kind of complimentary scorer to Kaminsky and Dekker the Badgers will need to win.
■ The X factor: How the Badgers will guard the likes of Winslow. Wisconsin did well against the quickness and athleticism of Kentucky on Saturday, but now face the sort of physical guards and wings that present a different sort of challenge from the perimeter. Winslow is listed at 6 feet 6 inches, 225 pounds, and is all of that, a Duke freshman averaging nearly 13 points and seven rebounds. Duke is big and fast and it showed in the first meeting between these teams. Wisconsin couldn’t guard Duke then. Dekker will likely get the assignment of checking Winslow, and you can bet he will give some space to welcome jump shots over drives.
■ Quoting Duke: “(Beating Wisconsin in December) did a lot for our confidence, especially for our young guys, it being their first true road game. The way they responded and played against a veteran team, a confident team just coming off the Final Four. It was shocking to me how we performed, especially our younger guys. They’re a different team now. We’re a different team. They’re a lot better. They’re playing as good as anyone. So we got our hands full. But I think, to answer your question, it did a lot for our confidence, especially for our younger guys.” — Cook
■ Quoting Wisconsin: “I don’t hang around people that ever say anything other than, ‘Man, your guys are pretty good. They’re pretty efficient.’ I don’t know. It must be the way I walk or the places I go. I only hear that these guys are pretty good and that they can score, they can defend, they can play. So when people say to me about perception, I don’t know what you’re referring to other than it must not be that these guys are good. Is it? I don’t know. Somebody would have to explain to me that a team that averages 1.2-something points per possession isn’t a pretty good team.” — Ryan
■ Prediction: Duke 74, Wisconsin 70