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Duke Faces Wisconsin (Not Kentucky) In NCAA Championship

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The NCAA championship is tonight, and if you had Wisconsin going this far in your bracket, you might be from Madison - all right, a little unfair. The Badgers were one of the best teams in the country this year, after all. But their win on Saturday against undefeated Kentucky was still considered an upset. The surprising semifinal win by the Badgers set up tonight's title game with Duke. NPR's Tom Goldman is in Indianapolis for the game. He joins me now. Hey there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hiya, Audie.

CORNISH: All right, let's get right in it. Wisconsin's Badgers - they're playing for their first title since 1941. On the other hand, Duke has a serious resume. The team's head coach, Mike Krzyzewski - this is the ninth time he's appeared in the finals. They've won four. So does that mean that history is favoring Duke here?

GOLDMAN: Well, it does, but, you know, that's history. And, Audie, we're all about the now, aren't we? OK, so let's have some now-type statistics. How about shooting percentage numbers? I know you're probably eager to hear them.

CORNISH: I am. Bring it on.

GOLDMAN: OK. During this entire postseason, Wisconsin has been a very good shooting team at the end of games, the last five minutes, shooting nearly 64 percent. That means the Badgers sink baskets when it matters. On the other hand, Duke has been playing great defense, limiting tournament opponents to a paltry 37.4 shooting percentage. So it seems something has to give there, right?

Now, Las Vegas oddsmakers have Wisconsin a one-point favorite right now. You can see why. You look at the body of work in this tournament, Wisconsin has beaten tougher opponents, including overall number one seed, Kentucky. You look at the top two players for Wisconsin, Frank Kaminski and Sam Decker, they're both playing really well.

CORNISH: So are those Vegas oddsmakers looking at the Badgers?

GOLDMAN: I think so. I would say, also, there's this feel - and it's always dangerous to go on this - but you just have the sense that after beating Kentucky, that was so big that Wisconsin is going to finish it with a win over Duke, unless the Badgers have a letdown, which you can almost guarantee they won't. I mean, this is the title game.

CORNISH: Tom, there are very many sad Kentucky fans this Monday. And the Wildcats, of course, were two games away from the first undefeated season since 1976 before losing to Wisconsin on Saturday. And this is the second year in a row you've had, like, a young Kentucky team fail to win the title. What's going on there?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, that's an interesting question. The Wildcats won the championship in 2012 with an all-freshman starting lineup. And Coach John Calipari was both lauded and criticized for being the master of the one-and-done era, you know, getting top-notch high school players who have to wait a year before the NBA, turning them into a team and winning. But, as you say, last year the young Wildcats lost in the final to a Connecticut team led by a senior star, Shabazz Napier. This past Saturday, junior-and-senior-heavy Wisconsin beat the Wildcats.

Now, two straight doesn't exactly make a trend, but we have seen maturity and experience winning out. Even Coach Calipari, who talks so glowingly about his young pups, said after both defeats, hey, they're 18 and 19-year-olds. So maybe he's rethinking the concept. I highly doubt it though.

CORNISH: On the other hand, Tom, Duke is led by three highly-touted freshmen. So if the Blue Devils win?

GOLDMAN: Well, that's a great point. Center Jahlil Okafor, forward Justice Winslow, guard Tyus Jones - they're all freshmen. They've been great for Duke, and they could flip the conversation back if they win tonight.

CORNISH: Tom, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You bet.

CORNISH: That's NPR's sports correspondent, Tom Goldman, talking about tonight's men's college basketball final between Wisconsin and Duke. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.