Let's get right into breaking down the title game. As always, feel free to shoot me a comment to this blog post, or tweet at me. I'll do my best to respond to everybody.
Final Four ATS: 2-0-0
2015 Tournament ATS: 39-27-0 (59%)
2014 Tournament ATS: 40-23-4 (63%)
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2 (46%)
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1 (61%)
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3 (58%)
Wisconsin (-1) over Duke: When breaking down the Final Four I took Duke over Michigan State against the spread, but I also argued that their incredible defensive resurgence in the NCAA Tournament has been mostly a mirage due to bad opponent jump shooting. What happened against Michigan State? For the fifth straight game, Duke held an opponent to 0.9 PPP or fewer, holding Michigan State to precisely 0.90 PPP. That said, outside shooting was again the predominant reason. Michigan State shot 9-for-36 (25%) on all shots not taken at the rim. Duke wasn't much better offensively shooting the ball, hitting just 6-for-23 (26%) on such shots, the difference being that Duke was able to take a ridiculous 27 shots at the rim (20-for-27). Duke was able to get to the rim at will, not just in transition but also out of their half court offense. The fact is that Michigan State had been extremely dependent on hitting threes and having their opponents missing threes in their Final Four run, and when that outside shooting luck ran out, they got beat. So in other words, I'm still not convinced that Duke has suddenly turned into Kentucky defensively. I still believe jump shooting luck has been the dominant cause of Duke's great defensive numbers the past five games.
In addition, I don't think the Wisconsin/Duke game from earlier in the season is particularly instructive, for a number of reasons. For one thing, a narrative developed during the game that you still see everywhere which is that Duke shut down Wisconsin offensively by switching all screens and confusing them. Yet the reality is that Wisconsin's offense ran fine. They scored 1.13 PPP, which is a little below their season average, but it came with an injured, ineffective Sam Dekker (5 points in 24 minutes), and with Traevon Jackson running the offense (their offense has gotten better since Bronson Koenig took over the point). Also, Wisconsin actually was able to take more shots at the rim (22) than Duke was (17).
The reason Duke won that game at Wisconsin going away was because of jump shooting that was, to put it mildly, ridiculous. If we look just at shots taken seven feet or further from the rim, Wisconsin shot 36% while Duke shot 69%. Duke's 72.8 eFG% was the single best eFG% by any road team in the history of the Kohl Center, which opened in 1998. It was also Duke's best shooting day against a major conference team since a 76.8 eFG% against Miami on January 14th, 2007. Yet based on the season as a whole, one would expect jump shooting to be pretty even. Duke has a 39% to 37% advantage in three-point shooting for the season while Wisconsin has a 43% to 34% advantage in mid-range jump shooting.
Yet while Wisconsin should score plenty, barring terrible outside shooting, Duke poses a much more serious offensive threat than Kentucky did. For one, Jahlil Okafor is going to go right at Frank Kaminsky to try to get him in foul trouble. And if Kaminsky gets in foul trouble, Wisconsin might be forced to put Vitto Brown in to defend Okafor, which will put a significant crimp in the Badgers' offense. And while Wisconsin sagged off of Kentucky to dare them to take long jump shots (Kentucky hit them at a high rate, but the strategy was still sound from Wisconsin's perspective), Duke is a team that is happy to launch threes. Duke's guards are also quicker off the dribble than the Harrison twins, which will be a problem for Wisconsin's relatively slower backcourt to stay in front of. Duke isn't anywhere near as dependent on offensive rebounds and drawing fouls offensively as Kentucky was, which means Wisconsin's plan to give long jumpers while protecting the defensive glass and not fouling is not as ideal a strategy against Duke as it was against Kentucky.
In all, this is a fair Vegas line, and it's hard to feel too strongly either way. Obviously if there is another disparate jump shooting performance, the team that shoots better will probably end up winning. But if the jump shooting is even, I like Wisconsin's size and flexibility on offense against a Duke team that has fewer options. Anytime Jahlil Okafor or Amile Jefferson is off the floor, Wisconsin is going to have a front court mismatch, and they'll create others with screens, like they did against Kentucky. Duke was able to have a dunk+layup party against Michigan State, but Wisconsin is a much better team at preventing easy baskets. They will force Duke to hit jump shots, just as they forced Kentucky to. If Duke hits 50% of their threes then they'll likely win. But if they shoot at or around their season average, I like Wisconsin to prevail.