SCOUTING THE BLUE DEVILS
In on respect, it's the essence of balance for Duke, which has five players averaging in double figures. The Blue Devils have seven legitimate three-point threats, which makes teams cover them all over the floor. The flip side of that, however, is a less than stellar inside game (both offensively and defensively), which can leave them vulnerable to opposing penetration and post play.
Around the perimeter, Greg Paulus (Jr., 6-1, 185 lbs.), Gerald Henderson (Sr., 6-4, 210 lbs.) and DeMarcus Nelson (Sr., 6-4, 200 lbs.) range with deadly efficiency. Paulus is the leader of a long-range band of snipers, and averages 11.3 points per game on the strength of 80 three-pointers. Henderson, the one Duke player that can consistently create his own shot, is the slasher of the group, averaging 12.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest. The best of all might be Nelson, who has good balance in his shot selection. He hits 50% from the field and 40% from three-point range – efficiency that accounts for his team best 14.8 points per game. He also is one of Duke's two leading rebounders with 5.9 retrievals per outing.
Kyle Singler (Fr., 6-8, 220 lbs.) is the star up front, but he's as likely to be found on the perimeter as he is patrolling the lane. Almost one-third of his 13.5 points per contest come from long range, and while he also tallies 5.9 rebounds each time out, he isn't a post-up inside force. He is very mobile, however, which give opposing big men extreme problems in covering him. Lance Thomas (So., 6-8, 220 lbs.) provides what inside force the Blue Devils can muster. While there aren't many shots left for Thomas, he is efficient with his chances, shooting 50% from the field on his way to 4.3 points per game.
Off the bench, there's more shooting skill to be found. Jon Scheyer (So., 6-5, 180 lbs.) tallies 11,6 points per outing, with many of those points coming from the free-throw line, where he converts at the rate of 88.1%. He also chips in with 4.0 rebounds per contest. Nolan Smith (Fr., 6-2, 180 lbs.) averages 6.0 points per game in nearly 15 minutes of action per game, and is yet another three-point threat that must be dealt with. Inside, Brian Zoubek (So., 7.1 260 lbs.) provides a bit more muscle, contribution 4.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per appearance.
Although WVU head coach Bob Huggins likes to say that it's all about shooting for West Virginia, there are other aspects to games in general, and this one in particular, that the Mountaineers must execute in order to be successful.
|Sat Mar 22
WVU - 7
"Knowing Bob, he may say that, but knowing Bob and knowing me, it starts with defense," the ultra-successful Duke mentor observed. "His team plays good defense and they rebound well. And then maybe when he said that, it was the assumption that those first two things were going on and that was the missing element. Right now they're doing all three, rebounding, playing defense, and they are hitting their jump shots. They hit their jump shots very, very well [against Arizona]. For us, [it's] similar. We have to get to the line, too, by penetrating. We haven't been doing that as well. And that sets up a few better jump shots if you're penetrating better."
So, more than just a question of who can hit threes, this game will be about the ability of each team to deny the other open looks and good scoring chances. Neither Duke nor West Virginia are overloaded with penetrators that can get to the basket, and those players that can drive it will be focal points of the other team's defense. Stop the penetration, eliminate the kickouts to open teammates, and one of these teams will be on the path to Phoenix and a Sweet 16 date.
While all the focus is on perimeter shooting, the game might come down to which team is able to make the most of its inside game. In contests such as this, where strength matches strength, it is sometimes contributions from unexpected areas that make the difference. The team that gets some second chance points from offensive rebounds or from players driving the lane (or even the occasional post up) will certainly earn a big advantage – one that might be enough to secure the win.
DU: Nolan Smith Questionable
In its 28 wins, Duke has shot 39.7% from three-point range. In its five losses, it has shot 30.7%.
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Barring an unexpected event, Darris Nichols will move into second place on the season minutes played record list. Nichols has played 1,203 minutes this year, trailing Jerry West's second place mark of 1,210 set in 1959. The all-time leader? Nichols, who last year played 1,251 minutes. To break that mark, Nichols needs either another game or an ironman double-overtime performance against the Blue Devils.
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Duke is an incredible 86-28 in the NCAA tournament. That winning percentage of .754 is the all-time best in NCAA history. With a win, WVU could even its all-time NCAA record at 20-20.
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West Virginia has won its last six games against ACC competition. The Mountaineers have owned N.C. State with three consecutive victories, and have defeated Clemson, Wake Forest and Maryland over that span as well.