Led by the best coach in the game, the Duke Blue Devils are the 2015 National Champions! In a constant back-and-forth battle between two talented teams, Duke was just too far down the stretch. It was even more impressive, given the fact that both Jalil Okafor and Justise Winslow were in foul-trouble throughout the game. When the freshmen were sitting out due to fouls, other players stepped up to the plate to deliver big play after big play. Tyus Jones was huge in the second half and fellow freshman, Grayson Allen went insane for a period in the game, scoring 8 consecutive points and finishing with 16. I’m not much of a Duke fan but I enjoyed the style that they played last night. Congrats to all the Blue Devil fans out there! Shout out to AK!
Although they fell short, Wisconsin deserves a lot of credit and respect for what they accomplished. They knocked off an undefeated Kentucky team stacked with NBA-caliber talent, took out the Arizona Wildcats — the PAC-12 champions — and overpowered a scrappy North Carolina team. With the end of the tournament, Wisconsin loses seniors Frank Kaminsky and Josh Gasser, while Sam Dekker may decide to leave early for a chance to play in the NBA. That would be a huge blow to Wisconsin, but they have talented young players who’ve gained valuable experience this year. Look for Nigel Hayes to lead the Badgers next season.
Let’s recap the excitement from the past three weeks. Kentucky, the top overall seed and undefeated team during the regular season, lost in the Final Four to Wisconsin. Michigan State was this year’s dark horse to advance to the Final Four. The top seeds in the East were all eliminated earlier than expected. Surprisingly, we didn’t see any #12 seeds upset a #5 seed. This is the first year since 2007 that this has occurred. However, we saw two #3 seeds (Baylor and Iowa State) teams lose to the #14 seed (Georgia State and the University of Alabama-Birmingham, respectively).
Coaching is undeniably a huge factor, confirmed by the four coaches represented in this year’s Final Four. We’re talking about coaching royalty when we speak about Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Tom Izzo, and Bo Ryan. It takes talent, team chemistry, and a little bit of luck to advance far in the tournament. The leadership of these coaches, however, plays a giant part in getting over the hump.
I’ve always been a firm believer that experience is one of the most important factors when it comes to March Madness success. Wisconsin proved that. They made the Final Four last year before eventually bowing out to Kentucky after a one-point loss. The Badgers returned with an experienced lineup this year and avenged their loss to Kentucky, advancing to the National Championship game against Duke.
Experience is vital, but their’s one thing that can overcome it, and that’s talent. Kentucky lost Julius Randle and James Young to the NBA but still managed to return to the Final Four thanks to their returning sophomore leaders and freshman Karl-Anthony Towns. As for Duke, they sent Jabari Parker to the NBA as the second overall pick. Parker was the runner-up for the John R. Wooden Award, representing the college player of the year. In addition, they lost Rodney Hood, who was also drafted in the first round of the NBA draft. Losing that kind of talent and returning to win the National Championship is an amazing feat that should not be taken lightly, although it’s occurring more often, with the rising popularity of the “one-and-done.” It helped to have one of the top recruiting classes in 2014, as they were led by three freshmen in this year’s tournament.
It’s been amazing to watch these student-athletes strive for greatness. The tournament allows players, whether from a powerhouse like Duke or a small program like UC Irvine, to showcase their talents to NBA teams looking ahead to the draft. Some may get drafted, and some may head to Europe or China to play in the professional leagues abroad, while others move on to live normal lives. No matter where their talents take them, they will always remember their journey during March Madness.