It wasn’t the same team that defeated Presbyterian 113-44 and opened the season in November, nor was it the same team that gave up 90 points at home to Miami and lost back-to-back ACC games for the first time in nearly six years.
It was a team with three freshman starters, a fourth coming off the bench and a roster of only eight scholarship players by the season’s end that brought the Duke Blue Devils their first National Championship since 2012. It was a team that committed to defense, played together and proved everybody wrong.
Mike Krzyzewski won his fifth National Title and Duke beat Wisconsin 68-63 on Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
It was a season of major ups, and major downs. Duke started 14-0, including wins over Michigan State and at then No. 2 Wisconsin, before dropping their first game of the season at N.C. State. Then Miami beat Duke at home.
The threes weren’t falling and couldn’t play defense. It was so bad that Coach K resorted to playing zone in a game at No. 6 Louisville, which Duke won, ending their two game losing streak.
Junior and former McDonald’s All-American was kicked off the team after the loss to Notre Dame on Jan. 28. The season seemed to be going up in flames. Then Duke went to No. 2 and undefeated Virginia three days later and defeated the Cavaliers with College GameDay in the house.
It was high-flying from there on out for the Blue Devils, as they won 18 of their final 19 games, en-route to their fifth National Championship.
It took until their second round game of the NCAA Tournament against No. 16 seed Robert Morris for it all to come together defensively. A team that was so lackluster on defense all season finally committed to playing defense, and is the reason why Duke won the National Championship.
They finished with the No. 1 ranked defense in the NCAA Tournament, as only two teams scored more than 60 points against them — Michigan State scored 61 and Wisconsin scored 63.
The National Championship Game was as good as it could have been. It wasn’t Duke and Kentucky like everyone had hoped, but freshman point guard Tyus Jones took over the show, like he had done many times this season.
Jones poured in 23 points, including an insane floater on a three-point play, and hitting two huge threes down the stretch, which propelled Duke to the win. Jones was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
But we can’t forget about their fourth freshman, Allen. Allen was left behind in all of the chatter with Duke having three star freshman in front of him in Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Jones.
With Duke trailing by nine in the second half, Allen hit a three and scored eight straight points to pull Duke closer and closer. He scored 16 points in the game and was on the 2015 All-Final Four team.
With Okafor quiet for basically three out of the final four games of the tournament, Winslow emerged. Winslow averaged 12.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game this season, but stepped his game up a notch in the tournament.
He had three double digit rebound games to start the tournament, including two double-doubles, and was Duke’s X-Factor for the entire tournament.
Okafor and Winslow could definitely end up being lottery picks in this year’s upcoming NBA Draft, and Jones could be thrown in there too, if they decide to leave school.
This was a very special Duke team. It was the perfect ending for a team with only one senior, Quinn Cook, who had not won one thing in his four years at Duke, to end up winning a National Championship.
It seems as though the one-and-done era has made it’s trip to Duke, and that’s why this championship is special.
Coach K said repeatedly that this was his favorite team to coach, and it showed by how happy they all were, watching them celebrate for one last time in the 2015 season, on the stage at Lucas Oil Stadium.