Duke (30-6) vs Villanova (28-7)
Boston, Mass. - Garden
TV: CBS / Tip: 10:05 PM EST
Program Vitals Conference: Big East Nickname: Wildcats Colors: Blue and White Head Coach: Jay Wright (8th season) Career Record at Villanova: 176-90
Projected Starters: 22 Dwayne Anderson (6-6, 215, Sr.) – 8.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg 20 Shane Clark (6-7, 205, Sr.) – 5.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg 33 Dante Cunningham (6-8, 230, Sr.) – 16.3 ppg, 7.3 apg 1 Scottie Reynolds (6-2, 195, Jr.) – 15.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg 15 Reggie Redding (6-5, 205, Jr.) – 6.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg Key Reserves: 10 Corey Fisher (6-1, 185, So.) – 10.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg 24 Corey Stokes (6-5, 195, So.) – 9.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg 0 Antonio Pena (6-8, 235, So.) – 5.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg 42 Frank Tchuisi (6-8, 215, Sr.) - 1.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg
Storylines For Villanova:
How They Got Here:
Duke opened the NCAA Tournament by cruising past the Binghamton Bearcats in the first round. In that game six players scored in double figures as Duke ran out to a double figure lead midway through the first half and continued to expand that lead to more than 20 early in second half, before finishing up with a 26 point win. The second game was much tougher as Texas used it's size advantage to pound the Blue Devils inside. Still, Duke used it's pressure defense and a big scoring night from Gerald Henderson to hold off Texas by five.
On the other hand the Wildcats have have a pair of easy wins - dispatching American University in the first round before thumping UCLA by 20 in the second round.
This will be the 11th meeting between the two programs and the fourth time they've met in the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils own a 7-3 advantage in the all-time series and a 2-1 advantage in the NCAA Tournament. The last meeting overall was a 98-85 Duke win in November of 2000. The last time the two teams met in the tournament was 1978 with Duke winning in the Regional Final.
Bother teams' regular rotations appear to be healthy as they enter the game.
Experience Is Key For 'Cats:
The Wildcats entered this season knowing that it was their time. With a starting lineup composed exclusively of upperclassmen, Villanova has certainly answered the bell as the season continued. The team's 28 wins are good enough to tie the school record for most in a season - a record set three years ago when the 2005-2006 team went 28-5 and made the Elite Eight. The team won a school record 25 regular season game - the most since the 1950-51 team managed to do the same. In addition to the overall success, the Wildcats posted an impressive 13-5 mark in the country's toughest conference, the Big East.
The senior class of of guard Dwayne Anderson and forwards Shane Clark, Dante Cunningham and Frank Tchuisi has set a program record for the most wins in any four-year period in school history. The senior class currently has won 100 games in their careers, surpassing the 95 wins of the 1997 senior class. Cunningham has named the Big East's Most Improved Player while sophomore Corey Fisher earned the honor of Sixth Man of the Year. Cunningham also received second team All Conference honors while Reynolds earned First Team honors.
Balanced Offense Equals Victories In Droves:
To say there's no let down when head coach Jay Wright goes to his bench is an understatement as Villanova is one of the more balanced teams Duke will have faced this season. Eight Wildcats average between 15 and 32 minues per game. That group includes Anderson, Cunningham, Reynolds, Fisher, Stokes, Redding, Antonio Pena, and Clark - who average between 16.3 and 5.4 points per night. Such balance in the minutes and rotation have allowed the Wildcats to remain fresh - which allows them to crash the boards from the wings as well. Not being a big team has not prevented the 'Cats out-rebound their opponents by a 37.5 to 32.9 rpg margin despite having no player taller than 6'8 on the roster.
Throughout the end of the season the offense was in a groove as the 'Cats averaged 82.2 points in the month of February while shooting 48 percent as a team from the field and 38 percent from the perimeter.
Perimeter Attack Is Important: Because of their lack of size, Villanova relies heavily on the mid-range and perimeter jump shot. Over the last two seasons the team is 44-11 when hitting at least five three pointers in a game. When shooting well the team is tough to beat. In the 28 victories this season the Wildcats have shot the three ball at a 38.2 percent clip compared to just a 28.7 percent rating in the seven losses. .
Bring The Pressure: If you can't clean the class, you need to pressure the ball. That's just what the Wildcats have been doing this year - forcing an average of 8.1 steals per game. It all starts with Scottie Reynolds who had recorded 56 thefts so far this season - just ahead of Cunningham who sits at 45. Against UCLA the Wildcats came away with an amazing 11 steals which allowed them to get off to the races and enjoy a healthy 12-2 advantage in fast break points.
Watch Out For...:
Scottie Reynolds - the former McDonalds All-American who has been an instant charge of high level offense for the Cats since arriving two years ago. Reynolds has been on a tear in March - posting a pair of 23 point performances in the Big East Tournament that saw him shoot a combined 17-of-25 for the floor and 11-of-16 from the perimeter. He followed that up with 21 points against Marquette on March 12th. That he's scoring at a high level should come as no surprise to anyone. Reynolds has scored 20 or more points 31 times in his three seasons at Villanova. In addition to being a talented jump shooter, Reynolds also makes a living at the free throw line. When he attempts four or more foul shots, the Wildcats are an impressive 49-20.
Balancing Reynolds' scoring is the steady presence of senior forward Dante Cunningham - who is actually the team's leading scorer and, as Coach Wright puts it, the team's "cornerstone". A second team all-conference performer, Cunningham is one of 15 finalists for the USBWA's Oscar Robertson Player of the Year award. In his first three years Cunningham averaged respectable numbers of 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while taking just over five shots per contest. This year those numbers have gone way, way up to 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds thanks in large part to the senior taking 12.2 shots per game. A very good athlete with a tremendous work ethic, Cunningham will no doubt require a lot of defensive attention from Duke if the Blue Devils are to find a way to win.
Duke cruised in Round One. The Blue Devils then had to battle Texas in Round Two despite not playing overly well. Some of the credit goes to the Longhorns there. Some of it may have just been one of those nights for Duke. Either way if the team wants to make the Elite Eight for the first time since the 2004 season, Duke needs to put together a complete performance. This is a game where foul trouble inside could spell the difference for both teams. Duke suffered when Kyle Singler got into trouble against Texas and it's likely that a repeat situation against Nova will be the end of Duke's season. On the flip side, if Duke correct some of the mistakes against Texas and establish a tempo early on, then they can move past a very good Villanova team. In the end it comes down to two similar teams playing similar styles and looking to do similar things. If Duke is going to win it's because they established Henderson and Singler and Nova couldn't match-up.