Actually, the fact that Duke and Indiana are facing each other in a Sweet Sixteen is somewhat of a story in itself. For all of its proud tradition, Indiana hasn't made it past the second round of the tournament since 1994 when they lost to Boston College in the Sweet Sixteen. Given that, it is unlikely that anyone outside of Indiana has picked the Hoosiers to even be playing in this game, especially since USC was labeled as the "team that will beat Duke" by most in the media. All that was before the Trojans were bounced from the tournament by UNC…….uh, Wilmington.
Indiana opened the tournament by doing the English speaking basketball world a favor when they eliminated Utah, thereby ending the collegiate career of Little League dad Ken Burgess. Not to be deterred, poppa Ken has dipped into the Burgess fortune (he is richer than Elton Brand ever will be, you know) and purchased several Berlitz courses - hell make that several Berlitz franchises - so he can learn how to say "My son should be playing more" in several Eastern European languages. Hey, Ken, " Comece meu filho ou comprarei a seua equipe," is a the rough Portuguese translation for "Start my son or I will buy your team." But I digress….
After the public service they did with Utah the Hoosiers faced off UNCW and appeared to put the game out of reach early as the built up a 17-point lead. But the Seahawks showed the same determination they displayed in defeating USC and came back to make things interesting down the stretch. The Hoosiers won using the same strengths they relied upon during the season, namely Jared Jeffries who scored 20 points in the second half.
Indiana coach Mike Davis starts three guards and a couple of Jareds. The one with the NBA future is Jared Jeffries and the one that does all the dirty work is Jared Odle. I'm not sure which one is the guy from the Subway commercials but I think it is Odle. Jeffries should be pretty well known to most Duke fans as he was the subject of one of the most heated recruiting battles Duke has ever lost. Two years ago, Jeffries was supposedly a lock for Duke right up until the day before he announced for Indiana. The lesson here is:
Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
Never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line.
Never try and take a Bloomington kid away from Indiana.
You watch Jeffries on the court and it is easy to see why Krzyzewski wanted him so badly in the first place. At 6-9 Jeffries is incredibly smooth in a manner that will remind Duke fans of Mike Dunleavy. He isn't as strong handling the ball as Dunleavy (which means he's only very good, not exceptional in that regard) but he's a better interior defender, averaging nearly 1.5 blocks a game. Like Dunleavy, Jeffries is a very good shooter who can take bigger defenders outside or smaller defenders inside. Indiana likes to use him up around the top of the key on occasion where his size allows him to distribute the ball to the post or any of the team's excellent outside shooters.
Don't be misled by Jeffries' modest 15 point average. He's played much of the latter half of the season on a gimpy ankle and has seen his average fall from its season high of nearly 18 points. Jeffries health is a major concern for Indiana as he is one of the few guys in their starting lineup capable of creating his own shot.
While Jeffries' game is a graceful athleticism the other Jarrad - Odle - is on the other end of the spectrum. Odle isn't quick, doesn't jump well, and is limited offensively. So why does he start? Mainly because the senior is the most physical of the Hoosiers frontcourt players and is willing to work within the system. At 6-8 / 220 lbs, Odle isn't exactly a huge guy, but he's the best that Davis has to work with. He is judicious with his shot selection and scores a number of his points when his man leaves to double down on Jeffries.
Off the bench the Hoosiers rely primarily on junior Jeffery Newton and sophomore George Leach. The 6-9 Newton sees the majority of those minutes and is a good rebounder, particularly on the offensive glass. Newton has limited range on his shot but makes up for that by slashing to the basket. Leach is even more raw offensively but, like Newton and Jeffries, is a very good shot blocker. Leach hasn't played much since the start of the Big 10+1 season - due partly to injury and partly to the emergence of Odle - and if he sees action on Thursday Duke may look to steal a few minutes with Casey Sanders or Nick Horvath in the game for Carlos Boozer.
What the Indiana backcourt lacks in athleticism they make up for in experience, starting two juniors and a senior. That senior is Dane Fife, another recruit Duke was interested in several years ago. At 6-4 / 205 lbs., Fife is a physical and fierce backcourt defender. As a rising high school senior he was matched up against Corey Maggette in one of the summer camps and barked in Maggette's face, "I don't know who's been ranking you." He then proceeded to lock up on Maggette and make many other people in the crowd ask the same question.
Fife handles the ball well enough to play some point guard, but is more of a two guard. He is one of the best three point shooters Duke has faced all year, hitting on a frightening 46.3% of his attempts. An even more frightening thought is that Fife isn't the team's most prolific three point shooter. 6-5 guard Kyle Hornsby has made 62 three point shots this year, 6 more than Fife. Now if you really want lose some sleep consider that point guard Tom Coverdale has hit 64 attempts this year. With Fife at 46.3%, Hornsby at 43.4%, Jeffries at 36.9%, and Coverdale at 36.8% the Hoosiers resemble the Duke team from last year (or this year with Ewing in the game for Jones) when they could flood the floor with 4 excellent shooters.
Hornsby and Coverdale are also tough defenders but they lack exceptional quickness. Coverdale's problems are compounded by an injury to his ankle that limited his time against UNCW. He's expected to practice this week and play Thursday but probably won't be 100%. If Coverdale struggles with his injury Davis can turn to sophomore AJ Moye or freshman Donald Perry. Moye is a little like former Blue Devil Nate James in that he played inside in high school and has had to adjust to playing in the backcourt. Like James, Moye is a tough player who can hit from the outside as well as rebound from the guard position.
Perry is a more traditional point guard at 6-2, although he lacks the shooting touch of the other Indiana guards. Perry started earlier in the season but his shooting woes have relegated him to a backup role. When he's in the game he gives the team some much-needed quickness in the backcourt.
Although the familiar face in the red sweater is gone from the Indiana bench this still remains a traditional Hoosier team. They rely on a team defense and motion offense that hides their primary weakness of backcourt speed. Taken as individuals, Fife, Hornsby, and Coverdale aren't likely to make anyone forget Isiah and Odle isn't even going to make anyone forget Uwe Blab. Jeffries on the other hand is the real deal and is the key to the team's success this year. How well Duke contains him is the key to the overall defense.
Duke is likely to start out with Dunleavy on Jeffries and hope that they can limit his effectiveness in the paint. That's a tough defensive assignment for a number of reasons, particularly since Dunleavy is the team's best help defender in the paint. There's a temptation to let Boozer defend Jeffries and have Dunleavy available for help, but in that case Jeffries would simply take Boozer away from the basket and use his superior quickness to drive the lane. The other option would be to use Jones on Jeffries but gives the Indiana superstar a huge size advantage and would force even more double teams in the post - something Duke is hoping to limit.
This is where Indiana is very tough; the perimeter players surrounding Jeffries are all exceptional shooters and Odle is an effective finisher inside. Indiana wants to force Duke to adjust and then rotate the ball to the open shooters. Duke will need Dunleavy to minimize the number of times they have to double on Jeffries. The one positive for Duke is that, with the exception of Fife, Indiana's outside players are more comfortable as spot up shooters rather than shooting off the drive.
The other thing Duke can do to try and limit Indiana's offense is to prevent them from getting the ball into places where they can pressure the defense. The Big 10 has several good teams this year but there are few conferences in the country that have teams that can attack the ball like Duke. Chris Duhon is coming off an exceptional game against Chris Thomas where he made the Big East Rookie of the Year look like a guy you would see playing at the local Y. Coverdale is the kind of point guard that is effective because he is conservative with the ball. What he's not is exceptionally quick which leads to him being less effective in faster paced games. The Devils will want Duhon to push Coverdale further away from the basket and not allow Indiana to set up their offense as comfortably.
On the other end of the floor, Duke presents some interesting matchup challenges for Indiana, particularly with Carlos Boozer, Jason Williams, and Mike Dunleavy. Davis is on record as saying that he will start Fife on Dunleavy and Coverdale on Williams. That leaves Odle on Boozer, Jeffries on Jones and Hornsby on Duhon.
That plan would seem to indicate that Davis is primarily concerned with Boozer. By using Jeffries on Jones the Hoosiers can free him up for more help doubling on Boozer. The tradeoff for that is that you have to find someone to defend Dunleavy and in this case, despite giving up a substantial size differential, that someone is Fife. The ripple effect continues further as Indiana has to figure out what to do with Williams, who would normally be guarded by Fife. That's where things get a little dicey for Indiana as Coverdale is not equipped to stay in front of Williams.
On the surface the plan would appear to be madness, especially when you only think about Fife trying to stop a guy 5 inches bigger than he is or Coverdale, with a bad ankle, trying to stay in front of this year's Naismith Award winner. But when you look at the larger picture of team defense, and consider the alternatives, it's actually a pretty sound approach.
Much like the triangle and two used by Notre Dame, the idea here is to force Duke's secondary offensive threats to win the game. If Indiana used Jeffries on Dunleavy and Fife on Williams it would mean that the primary help defenders would be Hornsby and Coverdale. In that situation it's easy to see Duke going inside repeatedly to Boozer who would probably enjoy the same kind of evening that Kris Lang did when he scored 27 on the Hoosiers back in November. It's also easy to see Jason Williams getting into the lane and, with the best shot blocker in the Hoosiers' starting lineup (Jeffries) drawn outside to defend Dunleavy, either finishing or dishing the ball off to Boozer for an easy score.
But in the other defensive set, with Jeffries free to roam the lane and help on defense, it makes it tougher for Boozer inside. It makes it tougher for Williams to finish even if he does get around Coverdale. And it makes it tougher for Dunleavy to use his size advantage over Fife by posting him inside.
Duke can counter Indiana in a number of ways. Obviously if Dunleavy is hitting from the outside over Fife it will force Davis to make some adjustments. Duke's also going to need a solid game out of Jones who should be able to crash the offensive glass with Jeffries not defending him tightly. The Devils can also use Jones to set some screens on the outside for Williams. With no defender on Jones there to hedge on the screen, Williams will have an open look at the three point shot. Krzyzewski can also bring Daniel Ewing into the game and give the Devils another outside scoring threat, forcing the Hoosiers to play a more traditional man defense.
It's tempting to look at the Hoosiers and see a team with limited outside athleticism, with little inside bulk, and with not much scoring outside of Jeffries. But the reality is that Indiana is a team that knows its strengths and plays to them. If Duke is able to force Indiana outside of their traditional offense and make individuals make plays then they should be able to win this game easily. Indiana simply does not have as many athletes. Unfortunately a lot of teams have tried to do just that and lost. If the Hoosiers are able to run their offense through Jeffries, using him to set up his teammates, then you should break out the Tums as this will be another uncomfortably close game.