From an NBA Draft standpoint, the most scrutinized matchup of the night will at the center position, where potential #1 overall pick Jahlil Okafor takes on potential lottery pick and player of the year candidate Frank Kaminsky.
It's worth mentioning that these two teams already played each other in early December, with Duke playing a near-perfect offensive game and coming out victorious 80-70 on Wisconsin's home floor. Jahlil Okafor scored 13 points on 6-8 shooting while being hampered with foul trouble for stretches, with only nine points coming on nine Post Up and Isolation possessions.
Frank Kaminsky scored 17 points (3/8 2P, 2/4 3P, 5/8 FT), doing a nice job drawing fouls, but offered up just an average effort by his standards. He scored six points on four jump shots as he made Okafor guard him a bit out on the perimeter, but scored only two points over four interior attempts and six points over seven Post Up possessions.
We took a detailed look at the Kaminsky-Okafor matchup on video, going possession by possession:
Kaminsky has allowed 30 points over 25 Post Up possessions defensively in the NCAA Tournament, which ranks him last in defensive efficiency against Post Ups among players. When teams have looked to exploit Wisconsin inside, he has been their target. The Badgers have faced 39 Post Up possessions overall in the NCAA Tournament, meaning Kaminsky has defended 64% of them.
Obviously, that's problematic when he'll be faced with the most polished freshman post scorers in recent memory. It will be interesting to see if Wisconsin can once again get Okafor into foul trouble, or what lineup Wisconsin would resort to if Duke managed to do the same to Kaminsky. The Badgers really struggle offensively when forced to play without Kaminsky.
As much as the Karl-Anthony Towns vs Okafor matchup would have been intriguing for NBA Draft fans, the matchup between National Player of the Year Front runners Okafor and Kaminsky has just as good of a chance to be a truly memorable one.
Kaminsky scored in every conceivable way against Kentucky putting up six points over six Post Ups, but also operating as both the ball handler and screener in the pick and roll, using a number of off ball screens, and scoring a few key baskets moving into the open area at the rim and on the perimeter when his teammates looked to improvise.
Okafor scored 23.5 points per game over 17 possessions per game in Duke's first two NCAA Tournament games. He scored 7.5 points per game over 11 possessions per game over the next two.
The freshman center bounced back in a big way against Michigan State scoring 17 points over 17 possessions and seemingly righting the ship against the Spartans, who like Wisconsin, prefer not to use too many hard double teams. He ended the game with 7 points on 10 post ups including one memorable bank shot on a spin to the baseline where he displayed the deft touch that many expect will help him become an immediate contributor from the block at the NBA level.
Wisconsin's forward duo of Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker have been scoring at a very high level this season. They've continued their efficient scoring inside the arc, mainly by being aggressive when attacking the rim, but have also shot the ball exceptionally well from the perimeter in the NCAA Tournament.
With that said, their worst game of this season came against Duke when Hayes got into foul trouble and the duo only scored 9 points, going a combined 3-10 from the field. Considering they're shooting 54% in the post, 64% in isolation situations, and 46% on spot ups in the NCAA Tournament as Dekker in particular has been tremendous from the perimeter, there is a good chance they have a far bigger impact when they take the floor against Duke this time around.
Dekker has been terrific from the perimeter scoring 1.464 points per Spot Up possession through five NCAA Tournament games, on 28 attempts. He is also scoring 1.56 points per shot around the rim in the half court as he's finished at a high level as well. Hayes hasn't been as efficient, but he hasn't shied away from taking big shots this postseason.
Justise Winslow has been extremely hot from the perimeter in his own right. He is scoring 1.636 points per Isolation possession and 1.1 points per Spot Up possession. He came up huge for the Blue Devils against Gonzaga in the scoring column and by doing the little things and got to the line on 35.7% of his possessions against Michigan State, attempting 11 free throws.
Winslow has made 50% of his jump shots in the NCAA Tournament, albeit on only 3.2 attempts per game. He made 32.7% prior to the start of the tournament on 3.1 attempts per game.
His matchup with Dekker and Hayes will be one of the most intriguing of the NCAA Tournament for NBA Scouts. His athleticism and aggressiveness makes him a difficult matchup for anyone at the college level.
With Winslow guarding one of Wisconsin's two forwards, Duke may be forced to play bigger than they had to against Michigan State to match up with the other. Matt Jones's solid play in the NCAA Tournament has earned him extensive minutes recently, but he's a poor matchup for Hayes or Dekker defensively.
Could that mean more minutes for Amile Jefferson, who has only averaged 15 minutes per contest the past four games? Jefferson simply doesn't provide the same offensive value as Jones does and is only a middling defensive player away from the rim. Jefferson can score efficiently with garbage points inside, but Jones demands attention on the perimeter and draws another defends out of the paint away from Jahlil Okafor. Duke may opt to play zone to keep Jones on the floor, or simply try to have him guard Nigel Hayes, the smaller of Wisconsin's forwards, and hope he doesn't get abused inside. It will be interesting to see how Duke approaches their rotations at the forward positions and whether they shift their base defense to matchup with Dekker and Hayes.
Duke's decision of whether to go zone will be an interesting one to monitor, as their aggressive man-to-man defense has been a program staple since its rise to prominence under Mike Krzyzewski. They've also improved by leaps and bounds when playing man-to-man in the NCAA Tournament, allowing only 35.8% shooting over that period, down from the 40.6% they allowed up that point.
The Blue Devils have gone zone on only 6% of their possessions in the NCAA Tournament, a far cry from the 15.6% mark they posted in the regular season. They've been just as effective in limited possessions playing zone as they have been when playing man allowing 35.7% shooting in the NCAA Tournament and 40.6% prior to that point.
Wisconsin has seen zone on 18 possessions in the NCAA Tournament, scoring an outrageous 32 points, as their ability to spread teams out with 5 shooters and score efficiently from the perimeter has made it difficult for opposing teams not to shift to man.
The Badgers' efficient play against zones is a bit of a recent development as their hot shooting in the NCAA Tournament has been a big difference-maker in their ability to make teams pay for not matching up man to man. They scored 225 points over 239 possessions against zone defenses during the rest of the season which is solid, but not nearly as impressive. If Duke knew it could count on giving up only 0.94 points per possession each time Wisconsin brings the ball up, they would likely go zone for all 40 minutes. Against man coverage, the Badgers are scoring 1.044 points per possession, second best in the country after Notre Dame.
What about the backcourt matchup? Both sets of guards can put points on the board in a hurry from the perimeter.
Quinn Cook scored 13 points in the first meeting between these two teams. Jones scored 22 as the Blue Devils pulled away late. Jackson scored 25 points, as he was terrific at times early on before getting hurt a few weeks later. He's looked somewhat out of shape in limited minutes in the NCAA Tournament, but may see more action tonight. Bronson Koenig, who made some huge shots against Kentucky on Saturday, went a dismal 1-7 from the field the last time he faced Duke.
While Cook has had no problem scoring in the NCAA Tournament, Jones has had his ups and downs. His 33.3% shooting in Spot Up situations and 36.4% shooting on the Pick and Roll aren't impressive. Wisconsin will need to slow him down, as his impact in the second half of their first matchup put the game out of reach.
Cook is the best defensive player of the five, but Gasser does all the little things and Jones, Jackson, and Koenig are all wildcards in a game that should feature plenty of half court sets and tremendous spacing on both sides.
In a draft class lauded for its guards, three exceptionally talented, and wildly different, forward prospects sit in the top six of our mock draft, each taking a very different path to the top, and demonstrating wildly contrasting strengths and weaknesses. So who is the best prospect among the three?