The last time these teams played it was a “Battle for Atlantis” but on Sunday it will be a battle to see who goes to Atlanta. The game between these teams in November was one of the most anticipated of the pre-season and watching that game most thought the next time these teams played that it would be for the national title. It’s not the national championship Sunday evening but it will have that type of atmosphere as these great teams play for the regional title. Duke beat the Cards in that early game in the Bahamas 76-71. The Louisville program has been to the elite 8 four times in the last six years. This is the 12th elite 8 in school history. This will be the first meeting between Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski since the classic 1992 battle.
When your team is getting ready to play the Duke Blue Devils one thing comes to mind.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski. He is the winningest coach in college basketball history and has a track record that is unmatched. We are talking 2 Olympic gold medals, a World Championship, over 900 wins and four NCAA titles folks. His record in the NCAA Tournament is 79-24. This is obviously a slight edge that Duke has in every contest. The Devils also return four starters and six key players from a year ago. This includes five starters who all averaged double figures this season. Offense is not a problem for this team. They boast five regular three-point shooters who broke 35 percent or better this season, three guys who shot better than 40 percent on twos, and two players who have picked up over 100 points from the free throw line. This team will also take very good care of the ball as they commit very few turnovers. They don’t rush their offense and usually get good shots with most of their possessions. The Blue Devils have excellent balance, with all five starters averaging in double figures. They space the court and let their skilled starting five go to town in Coach K’s simple but lethal plan.
The Devils are very talented folks, but do have some question marks. Their group is a very capable bunch but sometimes lack the one player who will step up and take over a game if need be. Two point defense has often been a problem as well. They have especially had trouble with teams that have guards who can penetrate the lane. Duke starts three guards, so rebounding can also be a problem at times. They will play 7 guys so their stamina might come into question having to face a Louisville team that goes 9 deep and will press the whole game.
ADJ Efficiency- Offense 119.5 Rank 4
ADJ Efficiency- Defense 89.5 Rank 17
Kenpom Overall Rank: 4
Their National Statistics:
-POINTS PER GAME
-REBOUNDS PER GAME
-ASSISTS PER GAME
-FIELD GOAL PCT
Duke’s season averages on offense:
3pt-49.3%, 2pt-47.5%, FT-73.8%
Duke’s season averages on defense:
Turnovers Forced- 14.1, Blocks- 3.8, Steals- 6.5
C Mason Plumlee SR: He rebounds well at both ends of the floor, and is one of the best-passing big men in the league. He is also a good defender in the lane and blocks a lot of shots. He has 57 points and 27 rebounds in the NCAA tourney.
F Ryan Kelly SR: He can truly be a dangerous offensive weapon. This guy has and is always capable of shooting over 50% from the 3 point line in a game. He is also another good defender in the lane and is a capable shot blocker. He has 26 points and 7 blocked shots in the NCAA tourney.
G Rasheed Sulaimon FR: He is Duke’s top-rated recruit. He is a player that takes pride in his defense and is a good three point shooter. He is a really good rebounder for a guard and can be a big x-factor for this team if he has his game. He has 60 points and 17 rebounds in the NCAA tourney.
G Seth Curry SR: Since coach K started using him more as a scorer and less as the guy running the offense Curry has been the most consistent player on the team. Whenever they need a big shot he is usually the guy that takes it. He can be lethal from deep. He has 87 points in the NCAA tourney.
G Quinn Cook Soph: He is a great penetrating guard who can find the open man. He is a great assist guy who has very few turnovers. He is also a very good defender up front for the Blue Devils. He is the player that really hurt the Cards the most the last time these teams played. He has 20 points and 21 assist in the NCAA tourney.
G Tyler Thornton JR: He isn’t a great playmaker, but he takes care of the ball Isn’t a great on-the-ball defender, but may be the toughest, most versatile defensive player. He has 21 points and 6 steals in the NCAA tourney.
F Josh Hairston JR: The Duke coaches like the energy he brings to the court and the fact that he’s a vocal defender. He has 2 points and 7 rebounds in the NCAA tourney.
This will be the first time the Cards have played Duke in the tournament since the 1986 NCAA Championship Game. Pervis Ellison, Milt Wagner, Johnny Dawkins and Jay Bilas were the stars of the show the last time around. Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith, Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee will play those roles Sunday and will more than likely be the players that determine the outcome in this one. The battle in the paint between Plumlee and Dieng features two of college basketball’s premier big men going head-to-head. With Gorgui being the more physical player and Mason being the more skilled player. Plumlee is having the better NCAA but I’m expecting Gorgui to find his mojo again and step up to the challenge Sunday defensively. Duke struggles with guys that get out well in transition. Russ is the best in the NCAA at that.
All eyes will also be on the battle between two Hall of Fame coaches Sunday as well. Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski are master teachers who really develop their players from an individual standpoint. From start to finish, they emphasize roles and responsibilities. They both do a great job at connecting with their players coaching with high intensity always instructional rather than critical. When coach Pitino last faced Krzyzewski in 1992 it was his team who were playing as the underdogs. Sunday the role will be reversed. It’s gonna be fun watching these masterminds of the game go at it.
Duke has some great players but Louisville has them to and more of them. I think the depth of our Cards will play a huge role in the outcome of this one. Duke typically plays 6 guys and at most 7. While Louisville could have 10 guys see action. And this is a big deal when a team is playing the quick turnaround of the NCAA tournament. I look for our Cards to play that tough man-to-man from start to finish in this one. To beat the Devils, an opponent must exploit their lack of frontcourt speed, doggedly defend the 3-point line and hold its own on the glass. It’s quite a daunting to-do list but this group of Cards will be up for the challenge. And while this one stays close throughout Duke’s legs will eventually give out allowing our Cards to win a close one. I can’t hardly wait it’s gonna be great.
The Beak Prediction:
Louisville 78 Duke 73