Back in November when Duke and Louisville met in the Battle for Atlantis final, most knew that these two teams were elite, few probably thought they would meet in the Elite Eight.
That is exactly though what will happen when the No. 2 seeded Blue Devils attempt to knock off the No. 1 seeded Cardinals in the Midwest Regional Finals on Sunday afternoon.
Much will and has already been made of this rematch of a game Duke won 76-71, however, that game carries no real bearing on the outcome of this game other than he Blue Devils should known they can beat Louisville. The fact is that these two teams are virtually nothing like the versions of the two teams that met in the Bahamas.
Louisville has evolved with the return of big man Gorgui Dieng who missed the first meeting and the development of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith as two of the most dynamic and explosive guards in all of college basketball.
In the first match up Siva and Smith were the only two Cardinals starters to score in double figures with only Montrezl Harrell the only other to score 10. The Blue Devils game up 45 percent shooting but kept the Cardinals from opening things up from behind the three point line.
Duke wasn’t any better shooting 43 percent from the floor and only 25 percent from behind the arc, but they had an incredibly balanced scoring effort for its starting lineup as every starter scored in double figures in the game. That unfortunately has not been the case for the Blue Devils for quite a long time.
It has become increasingly rare to have a majority of Duke’s lineup clicking all in the same game. Ryan Kelly is mired in a slump while Quinn Cook is coming off one of his worst games of the season and you never know what you are going to get game in and game out out of Mason Plumlee.
The Blue Devils have not been a particularly good offensive team during his tournament with the exception of perhaps Seth Curry and at times Rasheed Sulaimon.
Duke’s defense, however, has been good–not great– but certainly the best it has looked all season and there is no better time for that to happen than the NCAA Tournament.
The Blue Devils haven’t allowed an opponent to shoot greater than 40 percent from the floor in any of their three tournament wins so far. Michigan State shot right at 40 percent but at times Duke’s defense reminded you of the Duke of old.
Louisville who is a very good defensive team in their own right, will bring their own brand of pressure that could prove to be tough for Duke has it has been for all of the Cardinals’ opponents in the tournament so far. It will be key for the Duke guards, namely Cook to take care of the ball.
Duke will use its big men to flash to the middle of the court to help beat the press that Louisville will throw at them. so it will be important for them to avoid foul trouble.
Ultimately this game is going to come down to whether or not the Blue Devils can get some consistent production. Seth Curry hasn’t always been good with only a days rest and he has been crucial for Duke in the tournament. Mason Plumlee has to play big and he has to play smart and finish strong.
At this point you can’t count on Kelly giving you the kind of production he did earlier in the year so it could be up to guys like Sulaimon and possibly Tyler Thornton to come through in clutch spots, especially in a close game.
The Cardinals are 4 point favorites as of Saturday night and for good reason. They have looked like the best team in the tournament and are the team to beat. Duke has been in the position of being the underdog and have almost always come out on top this season so it can be done. But it is going to take a complete effort.
Anything less than that and Duke’s run comes to an end.
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