SCOUTING THE BLUE DEVILS
Duke was once able to effectively attack the basket in transition, making foes pay for turnovers by using dynamic players with surefire NBA ability. Now, with the coaching staff able to lure more shooters and add a threesome of solid interior players, head coach Mike Krzyzewski has changed his game plan to outside shooting and rebounding off the long miss for added kickouts. Only guard Nolan Smith (6-2, 185 lbs.) has significant ability to get into the lane and challenge the rim, putting pressure on a defense on drives and a series of short jumpers. The junior averages 17.4 points and three rebounds per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor, 40 from three. Smith is third on the team in total points this season, and like most of his teammates, gets to the line well and makes an excellent percentage at 78. Backcourt mate Jon Scheyer (6-5, 190 lbs.) is the team leader in scoring at 18 points per game, and the lengthy senior adds more than three rebounds and almost five assists per game from his two slot. Scheyer’s main weapon is the three, and he has hit 104 of 273 from deep (38 percent). He has totaled 96 two-pointers this season, giving one an idea of his shot selection’s focus on the outside. Scheyer has excellent range and must be challenged during every shot. He isn’t likely to be able to get past a longer West Virginia team on the drives, but he does need to be accounted for in the rebounding department, as many of Duke’s misses from outside cause long rebounding changes for guards. Forward Kyle Singler (6-8, 230 lbs.) is the other Blue Devil averaging about 18 points. Arguably the best all-around Duke player, Singler tallies about seven rebounds and two assist per game. WVU must get a body on him, and needs to close out well on his outside shots. Singler makes about 40 percent from anywhere on the floor, and his 79 threes are excellent for a forward. He also converts well from the line. Defending both Scheyer and Singler is mainly about staying in front of them and forcing challenged outside shots. West Virginia needs top keep Smith from collapsing the defense via drives, then being able to unload outside for good looks. Stifle that, and one stifles much of the Blue Devil attack – as long as it can rebound and get a body on Duke as well.
Interior talents Lance Thomas (6-8, 225 lbs.) and Brian Zoubek (7-1, 260 lbs.) aren’t major scorers at about five points per game each. But the staff recruited them for their rebounding and body sizes, especially in the case of Zoubek. The senior has given Duke exactly what it was missing in the past, namely a major body inside that could at least match opponent physicality and negate some of the rebounding disadvantage of past Coach K teams. Zoubek isn’t easily frustrated, though he has fouled out eight imes on the season, and if WVU can get him in foul trouble early, it would significantly impact the game and likely swing the rebounding to the Mountaineers – provided they, too, are not having foul issues. Zoubek won’t shoot from outside, and doesn’t have a great array of around-the-rim moves. But he does make a whopping 62 percent from the field, is steady, fights for every rebound and can become tough to handle due to sheer size. Thomas, also a senior, is more honed offensively despite shooting 43 percent overall (a solid number itself), and uses his agility and vertical, combined with a 6-8 frame, to aid the Devils in rebounding. This is the player most of the Mountaineers can match up with, and he certainly is the fifth-biggest threat in the first five. Don’t account for him on the boards, though, and one pays the price.
Duke is most comfortable with an eight-man rotation. Krzyzewski uses Andre Dawkins (6-4, 190 lbs.) and brothers Miles (6-10, 240 lbs.) and Mason Plumlee (6-10, 230 lbs.). Dawkins, a freshman, shoots well from the field and long range and scores effectively at the line. Primarily a two-spot player, Dawkins can sub in at either position fro short stretches. He isn’t as solid a ballhandler as is Smith, and the vast majority of his looks come from three-point ranger. He plays about 13 minutes per game. Miles, a sophomore, and Mason, a freshman, weren’t a true package deal, but the two bodies were ones that, again, the coaching staff needed to keep from getting bullied on the boards as it did in the 2008 NCAA Tournament in a loss to West Virginia. Miles averages five points and five rebounds per game, and, like Zoubek, finishes reasonably on the inside. The sheer size could be an issue for WVU, as Duke will keep running players 6-10 or taller at it. Mason averages three rebounds and three points, and the combined eight points and rebounds are a major factor in many games. A lot of those are putback chances or elongated rebounds that either of the brothers will kick to open guards. West Virginia must use its greater strength to move the (younger) Plumlee duo away from the bucket, thus bettering defensive rebounding chances. Check the numbers after the game. If Duke thrives on the offensive glass, it could be a very difficult game for the Mountaineers. WVU must limit second chances, defend the perimeter and remain as physical as possible with the Devils. This isn’t a foe that will get frustrated or quit – meaning another grinder, mentally and physically, is likely in the works.
|Sat. April 3
8:47 p.m. EST
Lucas Oil Stadium
|Sirius Channel: 123
WVU – 4
Duke – 3
This isn’t a typical Duke squad, excellent outside shooting making up for lack of a major rebounding prowess. Now, the Devils have several bodies 6-9 or taller, crash the glass as well as almost every other Division I team and can get into the lane and kick for threes. The issue, as Krzyzewski has said, is that his current squad is a very good team – but not a great one. It doesn’t hit from outside as well as many past Duke teams, and it lacks an exceptional point guard, though it does have a very good one. West Virginia must get on the glass more effectively, in terms of numbers, than it did against Kentucky and defend the perimeter well. Duke’s three-point shots must be challenged, and the resulting long rebounds need to be gobbled up be getting a body on each Blue Devil and utilizing WVU’s length. The Mountaineers could well bother the top seed with its length and ability to close out quickly on shots. What it won’t have going for it is an in-game edge via tempo. Duke plays about as methodically as does West Virginia, and one should expect a game in the 50s or 60s, where possessions are prime and, perhaps to WVU’s chagrin, three-pointers are even more valuable in a points-per-make breakdown. Also, Duke’s seasoned players aren’t likely to press as much as UK’s younger set, and the Devils’ mental approach should aid it in a game in which focus will be major. Joe Mazzulla will again need to keep his counterpart out of the lane, where he can score well or distribute for potentially open looks. WVU needs to rebound, make its free throws when it gets to the line and – a must – remain out of foul trouble. Its physical style and approach might have the refs blowing the whistle more than usual when paired against Duke’s style. The Mountaineers must play intelligently to take full advantage of opportunities. Rebound. Be physical. Defend the three-point line, keep the guards away from the bucket and out of the lane. Hustle, play smart on both ends, grit out the full game with focus.
WVU: Truck Bryant (Foot), Doubtful.
West Virginia has won a single-season school record 31 games, including 10 in a row. The Mountaineers are making their second Final Four appearance in school history (1959, 2010).
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Bob Huggins is in his second Final Four (Cincinnati, 1992). WVU’s 31 wins tie the single-season mark for a Huggins-coached team. Huggins’ 2001-02 Bearcats went 31-4.
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WVU is 27-0 this season when holding foes to less than 70 points. It is 12-0 in neutral court games this year and has won an NCAA-most 19 games away from home this season.
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The Mountaineers have set the school record for offensive rebounds this season with 574.
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This is the latest calendar date upon which West Virginia has played. Its previous latest was March 29. It defeated Clemson in the NIT finals on the date in 2007. The game will be WVU’s 38th of the season, breaking the all-time school mark for games in a season. The 2007-08 team played 37 games.
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WVU is 4-4 versus Duke on neutral floors, 1-1 in NCAA Tournament games. Huggins is 2-1 against Duke; his No. 15 Cincinnati team beat top-ranked Duke 77-75 in the 1998 Great Alaska Shootout. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is 1-1 against the Mountaineers.
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West Virginia has won seven straight games over ACC teams. Its last win over an ACC foe was against Duke in the 2008 NCAA Tournament.