Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Duke Win 5th Title Under Coach K with an Assist from Lopsided Officiating

Duke came back from nine points down in the second half to win Coach Krzyzewski’s fifth national title, with two freshman leading the way on the road to a 68-63 victory. It was not the freshman most would have predicted, though, as Tyrus Jones and Grayson Allen made the difference, with Allen helping Duke close the gap and then Jones pushing the Blue Devils ahead. Over the final 13 minutes, they helped Duke outscored Wisconsin by an incredible 13 points. And while Wisconsin’s player of the year Kaminsky outperformed Okafor for much of the game (21 to 10 points overall), that “other” freshman won the battle down the stretch, scoring two straight baskets over the seven footer that all but sealed the win.

It was a back and forth game from beginning to end, with Duke jumping out to an early lead, Wisconsin climbing back ahead and then the two teams slugging it out to a 31-31 halftime score. The Badgers shot only 39 percent from the field in that first half, but had 8 offensive and 19 overall rebounds, creating 11 second chance points (to Duke’s 4), while Duke had an impressive 5 blocked shots. The second half started as the first half had ended with the teams exchanging blows and the lead until Okafor picked up his third and then fourth foul and Wisconsin went on a run to take that nine point lead with about 11 minutes left. They looked like they were on their way to the national title that has eluded Bo Ryan his entire career, with Okafor on the bench, when the wheels began to unravel and Duke mounted their momentous comeback. It started with the freshman Grayson Allen, who scored eight straight points for the Blue Devils, starting with a three from the corner and then two straight powerful drives to the basket – the first a plus one and the second sending him to the line for two made free throws. The lead was suddenly down to one and Wisconsin began to panic, leading the Blue Devils to pull ahead and finish out the game with some timely threes and clutch free throws.

The Badgers, who only registered two measly fouls in the first half piled them up in the second, giving Duke more old school three-point plays then I’ve seen in a long time, including a key one by Okafor down the stretch that defied physics as he released from a Kaminsky hug foul to somehow hook the ball in (though he actually missed the resultant free throw). On the other end, Wisconsin’s top ranked offense suddenly became passive and began giving the ball away and taking poor shots, trying to create from the dribble rather than the quick passing game that had worked so effectively throughout the season and tournament. Kaminsky was keeping it close, but probably not getting enough touches and the Badgers passed up shots in close to swing it back out. The swarming Duke defense had a lot to do with it, coming into the game with the top ranked D in the tournament, against the best offense. In basketball, offense is supposed to trump defense, but the Badgers went cold at the wrong time, blowing a game that was well within their grasp. It was helped by the 16 point effort from Allen, who has averaged four points a game coming into the final, and the scintillating second half from Jones (who scored 23 in the game, but 19 of the 37 Duke second half points).

It was an impressive performance by Duke, particularly on defense, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is one of the most one-sided officiating performances I’ve ever seen in a final. After Bo Ryan pointed this out in his post-game interview, the pundits claimed the calls were bad on both sides, but I would like one example of a call that went against Duke beyond the arguably light fourth foul on Okafor. Too many touch fouls were being called on Wisconsin in the second half, as if the refs noticed that the Badgers had only committed two in the entire first half. In the first 4:24 of the second half, they were whistled four times, with two very questionable calls in the mix and by the 11:43 mark, things had been evened up completely (interesting given that Wisconsin had the lowest foul per game average in the nation at 12.5). By the 9:07 mark, Wisconsin had an incredible 9 (yes 9) team fouls in the second half alone, with the last two equally questionable – as Jones appeared to lean into a well positioned Bronson Koenig before winning his Oscar for the night with a wild flail for the eighth and then an out-of-control Winslow drive somehow leading to the ninth.

But let’s forgo those subjective calls and get to three that really decided the game in the end. The first were two straight potential charges on Justise Winslow that were not called, where either would have given him his fourth foul and sent him to the bench, while giving the ball to the Badgers. The second (or third, if you like) call was when Winslow clearly stepped out of bounds but no call was made. The replay showed he was clearly out and it is the ref’s job to see that. A third crucial call came when the game was still poised with a five-point deficit and a little less than a minute left, when the ball was clearly touched out of bounds, again by Winslow, but after looking at the replay, the refs still gave it to Duke. The announcers looked at the touch from three different angles and each showed the same thing – Winslow had nicked the ball last. That call gave Duke the ball and all but ended Wisconsin’s chances of a comeback that could very well still have been in the cards.
Don’t get me wrong here, Duke came back from a nine-point second half deficit with some incredible play from their four freshman and then closed out the most efficient offense in the nation by shutting them down and forcing them into a dribble and drive game when passing is their real strength. Coach K made the halftime changes that ultimately paid off, even as foul trouble saw them on the edge of disaster eight minutes in. And the collapse of that Wisconsin offense down the stretch played a part as well, as they went through a four-minute patch without a single point. But in a game decided by five points, those calls matter and clearly aided the Duke victory, continuing the narrative many of us are growing increasingly weary of.

The most disappointed players on the floor have to be Kaminsky and Decker, with the former missing shots on a couple of key possessions as the game was slipping away and Decker abject from distance throughout the game (he finished with a quiet 13 points after starring against Arizona and Kentucky), aptly missing the long three that ended any chance of a miracle comeback. But for Coach K, he now stakes his claim as the greatest coach of all times, having matched the five national championships won by Adolph Rupp and standing only five behind the dynastic Wooden, who coached in an entirely different era with dominant centers who were ahead of the game in that era. Coach K might be boring, he might be overly deified by the mainstream sports media, but it’s hard to argue with five titles and over 1,000 Division I wins (the first coach to accomplish that feat), together with Olympic Gold. At some point in the future he will walk away from the game and the legacy debate can begin, but he might want to consider Indianapolis for a second or third vacation home, having won three of those five titles right here in the birthplace of the game.

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