Opponent: Duke Blue Devils
Game Location: NCAA Tournament Elite Eight – Lucas Oil Field, Indianapolis, IN.
Tip Off: 5:05 pm
Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (33rd season)
TV: CBS with Jim Nanz and Clark Kellogg on the call
Radio: 84-WHAS with Paul Rogers & Bob Valvano on the call
Record Vs RPI Top 50: 9-2
Key Wins: Louisville, Ohio State, Miami, North Carolina
Spread: Louisville – 3
Previous Meeting: Duke, 76 Louisville, 71 – November 24th, 2012, Battle 4 Atlantis Championship
Projected Starting Line-up’s
C Gorgui Dieng, 6’11”, 235 pounds
PF Chane Behanan, 6’6”, 250 pounds
F Wayne Blackshear, 6’5”, 230 pounds
G Russ Smith, 6’0”, 165 pounds
PG Peyton Siva, 6’0”, 185 pounds
F Ryan Kelly, 6’11″, 230 pounds
F Mason Plumlee, 6’10″, 235 pounds
G Rasheed Sulaimon, 6’4″, 185 pounds
G Seth Curry, 6’2″, 185 pounds
G Quinn Cook, 6’1″, 175 pounds
First of all, I think today’s match-up between Louisville and Duke will feature the two best teams in the nation. And I think they’ve been the best all year long. Yeah the Cards hit a little skid in January and dropped three in a row and Duke dropped a few without Ryan Kelly in the line-up, but overall, these two have been the best. It’s just a shame that only one will march on to the Final Four. In all reality, Duke deserved a 1-seed over Indiana for sure and you could also make the case that at worse they should have gotten the final 1-seed and been sent out west over Gonzaga. But whatever. We’re here, there’s nothing we can do about it and we have an incredible game on tap. The Blue Devils are here by virtue of their wins over Albany (1st round, 73-61), Creighton (second round, 66-50) and Michigan State (Sweet 16, 71-61). In their win over Michigan State, Seth Curry went off for 6 three-pointers and was a perfect 7-7 from the free-throw line en route to his huge 29-point performance. Senior forward Mason Plumlee chipped in 14 points and 7 boards and freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon posted 16 points and 4 rebounds. Duke was clutch down the stretch at the free-throw line and finished 24-26 for the game. They did get outrebounded by the Spartans, 33-29, but took care of the ball and only turned it over 8 times.
Today’s game will mark the rematch of the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship in which Duke outlasted Louisville, 76-71 in the Bahamas. However, as has been widely discussed, the Cards were without their future NBA center, Gorgui Dieng, who injured his wrist the previous night in a win over Missouri. Dieng’s absence in the middle meant big time minutes for seldom-used back-up center Zach Price, and the Blue Devils were able to get into the paint and make plays at the rim throughout the night. Plumlee did whatever he wanted around the rim – with little resistance – and led Duke in scoring (16 points) and rebounds (7). Big man Ryan Kelly also had a solid outing, netting 14 points and grabbing 6 boards. Point guard Quinn Cook played one of his better games on the season, totaling 14 points and dishing out 6 assists. His counterparts in Duke’s three guard line-up, Rasheed Sulaimon and Seth Curry, also played well and put up 14 points a piece. As a team, Duke shot 43% from the field, 25% from behind the three point line and 85% from the free-throw line. If you’re pegging a weakness from that first meeting, without a doubt it was bench production (or lack thereof). The Blue Devils got just 3 points, 3 assists and 6 rebounds from their bench – total.
For Louisville, they got a huge performance from both Russ Smith (17 points, 7 rebounds) and Peyton Siva (19 points, 4 assists) in the first meeting and will need a similar effort to put away this efficient Duke team. Siva got in early foul trouble against Oregon and, though Kevin Ware has played brilliantly lately, will need to play smart, alert and avoid any costly reach-in fouls. Smith, the Tournament’s leading scorer at 27 ppg, has been sensational in Louisville’s first three games and has showed no signs of letting down. For me, the real difference is the presence of Dieng this time around and the emergence of the Cardinals’ bench. In the two teams’ first meeting, Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear combined for just 2 points and Kevin Ware only scored 4 points. The rise of Hancock and Ware have directly coincided with Louisville’s ascent up the national offensive rankings. In fact, they’re now 9th overall in Ken Pom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings. This is a vastly different team than the one the Blue Devils saw in November.
On the season, Duke averages 78.3 points per game (6th in the nation), shoot 47% from the field (17th in the nation), dished out 14.7 assists per game (57th in the nation) and average 33.8 rebounds per game (213th in the nation). They’re 3rd in ESPN’s BPI Rankings, 4th overall according to KenPom’s rankings (including 4th in adjusted offensive efficiency), they’re 6th in the Sagarin Ratings and #1 in the RPI. Basically, this is a really, really good team that doesn’t have many weaknesses. So far in the Tournament, Curry has led the Blue Devils in scoring, averaging 24 points per game including 10-20 from the three-point line. He’s been phenomenal and has caught fire at the right time for Duke. He’s been bothered by a nagging shin injury all year, though, so the quick turn-around after a physical battle against Michigan State could cause some issues for the senior. Sulaimon has also shot the ball well in the Tournament, averaging 14 points and shooting 50% from the field. Cook hasn’t scored in bunches but he’s handed out 19 assists in the three games against just 6 turnovers.
Today’s game marks the 27th anniversary – to the date – that Louisville defeated Duke in the 1986 National Championship game.
Fate? I don’t know, but it should be a classic match-up between two of the blue bloods of the sport. Go Cards.