Wisconsin led Duke by nine points in the second half of the national championship game Monday, and then, just a few minutes later, the Badgers trailed by eight.
They wound up losing by five, 68-63, as the Blue Devils denied them their first national title since 1941.
“It was pretty surreal because it must have been 70 percent Wisconsin fans (in the stadium),” Fox Sports college basketball insider Reid Forgrave said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “They were going nuts when that team was up. It kind of felt like the game was getting away from Duke at that point. I think it was about 13 minutes left when they were up nine. Then things got a little bit scary and a little bit quiet and a lot quiet. This was definitely a home game for Wisconsin. But yeah, what it comes down to is what all these great championship games come down to: who executes down the stretch. We saw what Wisconsin did against Kentucky. They absolutely made the plays in the last two minutes. Kentucky did not. Tonight, Duke made all the plays.”
Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen, in particular. That duo combined for 39 points on 12-of-21 shooting (57.1 percent). Jones hit a three-pointer to put Duke up by eight with just over a minute to go.
“That was an absolute dagger,” Forgrave said. “I thought the game was over at that point. Wisconsin mounted a nice little comeback in that last minute or two-minute stretch. But boy, it was just a matter of the freshmen who absolutely love the spotlight (stepping) up to it.”
Forgrave actually attended both Duke/Wisconsin games this season. The Blue Devils beat the Badgers, 80-70, in Madison on Dec. 3. Allen didn’t play a single minute that night.
Rasheed Sulaimon, however, was kicked off the team in January.
“Grayson Allen had to step into those shoes, had to fill that void,” Forgrave said. “What we saw tonight was probably just quicker more athletic Duke guards taking advantage of those Wisconsin guards. The Wisconsin guards are pretty good. Josh Gasser is a phenomenal perimeter defender, and yet, when it came down to it, Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook and Grayson Allen just won the game by getting a lot of penetration and, frankly, not taking all that many three-pointers.”
Duke shot just 11 three-pointers in the game. Wisconsin shot 21.
“That’s a big difference there,” Forgrave said. “It wasn’t like Duke had to get those threes. They didn’t rely on them as much as Wisconsin did. What they did rely on was penetration.”
It all amounted to a fifth national title for Mike Krzyzewski, who has officially entered the greatest-of-all-time discussion. In fact, Forgrave thinks that Krzyzewski – with five national titles, the most wins of all time, the most tournament wins of all time and two gold medals with USA Basketball – is at the top of the pyramid.
“You need to take the context of it,” Forgrave said. “John Wooden, we have so much nostalgia with him – just like we have so much nostalgia for Michael Jordan. No one will ever be greater than Michael Jordan for some of us. Same with Muhammad Ali. Same with Jack Nicklaus. For those of us who grew up around these people and have said they are the greatest of all time for so many years – for decades – you almost get ingrained (in it). Just because someone is the greatest of all time now (doesn’t mean that) no one can ever be the greatest of all time down the road.
“I think in this case, it’s a lot more difficult to win a national title now,” Forgrave continued. “There’s a lot more teams out there. There’s a lot more parity in college basketball. The one-and-done rule actually brings even more parity to college basketball because if you’re an elite program – like Duke obviously is – you need to re-recruit every single year. It’s almost like chemistry on the fly that you need to create. So to me, the context of that, the fact that Coach K ha changed with the times – (that is why he is the best ever).”
Need even more context? Duke hasn’t started three freshmen since Jay Bilas’ freshman year in 1983. The Blue Devils went 11-17 that year. This year, they set the record for most points scored by freshmen in a title game.
“And really, the kicker to me is USA Basketball,” Forgrave said. “He brought USA Basketball to its rightful place, which is the greatest national sporting organization in the entire sport of basketball.”