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Thursday, September 28, 2023
Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky

Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky will be a matchup of quite possibly the two best players in the country, and definitely the two best offensive big men.

Meet UW's final opponent: A cheat sheet for the Duke rotation

INDIANAPOLISIf you want to know how tough this game could be, consider what Grantland’s Mark Titus had to say going into the Final Four: that Duke’s best is even better than Kentucky’s best. It’s a decent bet UW will get that best Monday night. Here are all the players you can expect head coach Mike Krzyzewski to use during the game.

Jahlil Okafor, freshman center

College basketball’s most advanced low-post scorer in a generation. That’s the billing Okafor carries and he lives up to the hype, catching any pass directed near him and unleashing a pornographic array of post moves. To get a sense of what we’re dealing with here, read the Duke blurb in Sports Illustrated’s Sweet 16 power rankings on how Okafor is able to download post moves from basketball’s great big men almost like martial arts in the Matrix.

He shoots a mind-bottling 66.7 percent from the field while taking the most shots on his team and could be the best offensive rebounder in the country.

How is he able to do this? It helps that the size of a basketball in his hand is basically equivalent to a softball in a normal person’s hand.

Entering the season, the Chicago native was the consensus favorite to go No. 1 in the NBA Draft, and he’s mostly worked at that level thanks to his offense. However, there are doubts on the rest of his attributes as a prospect, like defense and free throw shooting, that could cause him to fall a pick or two.

Still, this is Duke’s top option on offense, and Frank Kaminsky being able to contain him and not get into foul trouble will be absolutely massive.

Also, Okafor totally believes mermaids are real. Email to let me know if that is better than Karl-Anthony Towns’ imaginary friend. The people need a decision.

Justise Winslow, freshman forward

Although his name screams satirical Old West sheriff, Winslow might be the most athletic guy on Duke’s team, not to mention a complete two-way player. There are games where he seems to be even more talented than Okafor, throwing down dunks and nailing 3-pointers while shutting down star wings on the other team.

He’s more of a natural small forward, but lineup changes pushed him to play the 4 in a small-ball system for about half his minutes. He is almost certain to be assigned Sam Dekker on defense, and is one of a handful of players in the country who has a chance at being effective when Dekker is shooting like he has been the last couple games.

Tyus Jones, freshman guard

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Wisconsin fans don’t need any introduction to Jones, who bulldozed the Badgers back in December for 22 points (14 in the second half). That was just a sample of Jones’ ability to take over in Duke’s biggest wins.

The freshman from Minnesota scored 17 points against Michigan State in the regular season, 17 against Virginia and 22 then 24 in two games against rival North Carolina.

Duke hasn’t quite had the difficult matchups Wisconsin has seen this tournament, as their biggest challenge was easily Gonzaga, a program known for underachieving in March. If Jones has been saving his big-game magic for the Badgers, things could get rough.

As a point guard, Jones features a balanced mix of pass, shoot and slash (in that order) and gives Krzyzewski the best point guard presence the coach has had in a decade. It’s hard to tell if he’s as likely to enter the draft as Okafor and Winslow, but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous.

Quinn Cook, senior guard

Here, we have an excellent example in how a position change can advance a player’s game. Before this season, Cook was a polarizing player at the point position, clearly talented but turnover and score-first prone. Once Jones arrived on campus, Cook switched to primarily an off-ball position and has flourished. Turnovers sank sharply, foul rate went down and shooting percentages increased across the board.

Currently, Cook is close to an ideal 2-guard for Krzyzewski and one of the coach’s favorite players, which partially explains why they always hold hands in the team huddle. That’s not an insensitive joke, that’s an actual thing.

If he combines with Jones to give the Badgers trouble, UW might only have Josh Gasser to play effective guard defense, which makes Cook the single biggest mismatch Bo Ryan could have to plan for.

Matt Jones, sophomore guard

Jones entered the starting lineup in February and works primarily as a sharpshooter, taking 108 of his 204 field goal attempts from beyond the arc. He can be inconsistent, but his presence causes Duke to play smaller and work closer to their usual identity as a talented, sharpshooting team.

Expect the Texas native to work mostly from behind the perimeter on the right-hand side of the court (facing out from the basket) but be willing to drive if UW doesn’t leave a defender on the inside. He’s a 38 percent shooter from deep overall and third on the team in 3-pointers taken, but that seems to be the only way he sticks out.

Amile Jefferson, junior forward

Jefferson is another player revitalized by a position change, as Okafor’s presence allowed him to shift from center to a more natural forward position. The 6-foot-9 junior was forced to play center on a Duke team last season with no other reliable big men.

It isn’t a coincidence that Duke is in the national championship game the year they found a dominant inside presence, which Okafor drives and Jefferson contributes. While Jefferson doesn’t start anymore (he’s the one who lost his spot to Matt Jones), he is still a very strong offensive rebounder and efficient when he takes a shot.

Grayson Allen, freshman guard

You might remember Allen from when he delivered the backbreaker dunk that immediately shifted Michigan State-Duke from “not over yet” to “depressing blowout.”

Throughout the season, he hasn’t seen a ton of minutes but has been used often whenever he sees the court. He can shoot the ball and is one of the best jumpers on the team, so watch this guy when he sees the court, because he’s probably well ingrained in coach Krzyzewski’s plans for the next few years.

He’s also the most Duke-looking player since the heyday of J.J. Redick or Kyle Singler.

Marshall Plumlee, junior center

Imagine Zak Showalter, but seven feet tall and substantially more awkward. That’s basically what you can expect from ol’ Plumblebum, who is the last of his brothers to come through the program of Mike Kqr$gwe!dfb (I’m not even trying anymore). Unlike Miles and Mason, Marshall doesn’t really have an NBA future.

Plumlee only sees the floor whenever Okafor gets tired and serves mainly as a pick-and-roll dummy who can finish on open dunks. The reaction from Duke’s bench to Plumlee making a 3-pointer kind of tells you all you need to know about the expectations placed on him.

Instead of trying to make a quick buck in Europe, Plumlee will enter the U.S. Army after he graduates, which is pretty cool.

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