Published on March 30th, 2015 | by Thompson0
Why Even Duke Fans Should Want Kentucky to Advance
If you’ve ever read this blog, you’ll know I’m an avid Cameron Crazie. I love Duke. I love seeing Duke win. Their season is usually my most happy time of the year, because it bridges the end of the disappointing Minnesota Vikings’ football season with the predictably disappointing Minnesota Twins’ baseball season.
I still want to see Kentucky advance.
This whole 2015 NCAA March Madness Tournament was built to see Duke play Kentucky. We didn’t get that game during the regular season, and it’s in the best interest of the NCAA to give it to us. It was also in the NCAA’s best interest to give us Kansas vs. Wichita State and Wisconsin vs. all the teams they played on their way to the Final Four last year. But this tournament is about undefeated Kentucky vs. Duke. Need proof?
In the 25 years I’ve been watching Duke basketball, I’ve never seen an easier road to the Final Four – Robert Morris, San Diego State, Utah, Gonzaga and now the lowest remaining seed, yet certainly underrated, Michigan State? It doesn’t get much easier than that. You’d have to go back to before I was born in 1986 to find an easier road for Duke to make the Final Four. They played their toughest opponent in the round of 64, outlasting Mississippi Valley State by seven points. They blew out Old Dominion and Navy by 28 and 21 points, respectively. DePaul gave Duke a game in the regional semifinal, falling by seven. The Blue Devils won their games by an average of 13.4 points en route to an NCAA Championship loss to Louisville by three. Duke won its first four games in the tournament this year by an average of 17 points.
Kentucky had to go through a tough Cincinnati squad, the hottest team in the tournament in Notre Dame, and now have another efficient offense to defend against in Wisconsin. They won their first four games in this year’s tournament by an average of 19.25 points, mostly because of a West Virginia team that was clearly overrated and underprepared.
Despite all this, everyone, including Duke fans, should want to see Kentucky advance. There’s only been seven undefeated teams in NCAA history, and the Blue Devils play the role of the Evil Empire better than anyone. This time, they’ll be the underdog.
Duke doesn’t have a lot of length, but they have the best player in the game in freshman Jahlil Okafor, and the best backcourt in the game in senior Quinn Cook and freshman Tyus Jones. Most importantly, though, they have the man, freshman “Chief” Justise Winslow.
I think it was before the Madness started when a friend of mine told me Winslow should go number one in the NBA Draft. I told him he was insane. Now, I think he might be a genius. Winslow is the best defender Duke has. He can cover just about anyone at any position. He runs the floor better than anyone in the game. He drives the lane like a point guard and finishes at the rim like a center. He looked like the best player on the floor against Gonzaga. Duke won by 14 points and Okafor scored just nine.
I would build an NBA team around Winslow. He’s already a better defender than Okafor, and has LeBron-like size and ability. In two or three years I think he’ll be playing like Jimmy Butler. Winslow and Butler have a lot in common. They’re both from Texas. They both sport tall hair. And they both built their game around defense.
Now, Coach Calipari has the luxury of splitting minutes evenly amongst 10 players. Duke plays eight, but if they meet in the Championship, I guarantee Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, and maybe even Jahlil Okafor will play damn near every minute.
Kentucky vs. Duke is a great matchup. Okafor isn’t great defensively, but Duke has improved its help defense immensely over the course of this tournament. They turned Gonzaga over 13 times. They can now defend the paint.
Duke can also defend the perimeter, but not particularly well. Thankfully, Kentucky doesn’t shoot the lights out from beyond the arc. They hit just 35 percent of their long shots. Duke hits 39 percent, but Matt Jones has been smoking hot in the tournament, hitting 46 percent of his treys. He shot 39 percent from three-point range on the season.
Duke hits more than 50 percent of its shots from the field, but they won’t do that against Kentucky. The Wildcats’ length will stifle that average, and stifle Jahlil Okafor, specifically. But Duke can win without Okafor scoring a ton. If he and Winslow help even out the battle on the boards, and if Jones and Cook shoot well from the perimeter, this will be an epic game. I predicted a one-point game at the beginning of the tournament. I’m sticking with that prediction. Expect a last-second shot and, perhaps, an upset…if we’re lucky enough to get it.