A game that could have easily been the NCAA tournament’s final if the seeding was slightly different, Duke and Louisville provide us with the only number one vs number two game in the bracket, with Big East defense and all-around solid basketball stepping up to take down incredible shooting and underrated ACC defense.
Before the tournament began, just after the conference titles were handed out, the Cardinals looked like the big favorites to go all the way. They followed that up with impressive wins over North Carolina A&T, Colorado State and even the hot Oregon, beating the Ducks 77-69. Russ Smith isn’t the only worthwhile mentioning name on a team that’s great on both ends of the floor, but there’s no doubt who’s the star of this team, averaging 27 points per game in the tournament.
The Cardinals are looking for their second consecutive final four, something that hasn’t happened to them in 30 years, with guys like Chane Behanan, Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng hoping to make it a little further than they did last season, when they ran into the impossible wall of Kentucky. Being aggressive on defense without getting into foul trouble is a big key for them, and especially Siva.
Because unless Duke feel pressure all the time, they’re going to get real comfortable in stretching the floor with Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly making the shots. Getting Quinn Cook to get rid of the ball early (6.3 assists in the tournament, 2.2 turnovers per game this season) and hopefully crumble under the pressure is what both teams will be looking out for.
For Duke, keeping an eye on the rebounding with Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee is a must. Their improved defense is what has allowed the outstanding scoring performances from Curry and others so far in the tournament, as Curry scored 29 points against Michigan State. Not cowering from aggression, and enjoying a little bit of help from the officials, will get them to the line, where they were exceptional from against the Spartans, making 24 of their 26 attempts.
Prediction – We were 0-2 yesterday, hopefully doing better by going with the number one team here. Duke have more offensive talent, no one would argue. But Louisville can win in more ways, and are a good enough shooting team to not be scared off by Duke’s sharpshooters. It might be the best game of the tournament when it’s all said and done, but Louisville should come out on top.