Mike Krzyzewski has mentioned many times that Duke has worked hard every day since Oct. 3 to be a better defensive team.
Wednesday night at Wisconsin, they’ll get a chance to evaluate how far they’ve come.
The No. 2 Badgers (7-0) are one of the most experienced and talented teams offensively, and they rarely lose on their home floor. In 14 seasons under Bo Ryan, Wisconsin has a .905 winning percentage (199-21) at home. And the Badgers, returning four starters off last season’s Final Four team, have arguably never been better.
That’s the challenge that awaits No. 4 Duke (7-0).
“This is why they came to Duke, for big time games like this,” Quinn Cook said of what he has told the freshmen. “This is what they all signed up for.”
Wisconsin’s preseason All-American, 7-foot senior center Frank Kaminsky, will be one of the toughest matchups Duke faces all season. Not only does he have the size and ability to play like a center in the lane (a team-high 16 blocks, to go along with 8.7 rebounds per game), but Kaminsky is a legitimate 3-point shooter. In fact, he has made more 3s than any other Wisconsin player this season, shooting 40.7 percent from behind the arc.
It’s not just Kaminsky, though – all five of Wisconsin’s starters are threats from 3-point range.
“They move a lot, and they pull a lot of guys, especially their bigs, out of the post,” Duke’s Amile Jefferson said. “For all of our bigs, it’s about moving with their guys, always being in a stance and always being aware. They catch a lot of guys sleeping for 3s and back-door” cuts.
Of course, the defensive assignment to stop the Badgers’ senior big man will fall to fellow preseason All-American Jahlil Okafor. If Okafor does have any extra excitement or motivation for the individual matchup that will be watched by every NBA scout and general manager, he isn’t willing to say.
Okafor was asked six questions about his matchup with Kaminsky. This was as expressive as he got:
“How do you feel about guarding him on the perimeter?”
“I feel fine,” Okafor said.
His teammates hadn’t detected any extra anything – excitement, motivation, anything – from Okafor, either.
“I haven’t seen it,” Cook said. “He comes into every game excited.”
Ryan, when asked about about Okafor, pointed to the freshman’s size and enormous hands when asked what stands out about him most.
“Size and maneuverability,” Ryan added. “I haven’t seen him dance, but I bet he can dance. He’s got good feet. That baseline move he has, he’s pretty good that way. You can put names on guys, McDonald’s All-American Player of the Year, Freshman Player of the Year, but he backs it up.”
Okafor rated himself a “solid” dancer, for the record.
But Wisconsin is more than just Kaminsky on offense, just like Duke is more than just Okafor. Small forward Sam Dekker, a junior, has first-round NBA draft potential. And the Badgers had four starters and one reserve score in double figures in their 69-56 win against Oklahoma in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship last week.
All of that movement and all of those offensive options will test the young Blue Devils’ improvements on defense. But there’s no time like the present to establish a measuring stick.