Saturday, April 3, 2010

my thoughts on the game

much thanks to ken pomeroy and basketball prospectus. They really do the best most comprehensive breakdowns of the games and teams.

Both teams are coming into the game leading the tourney in rebounding margin, and especially offensive rebounding margin. This obviously makes rebounding the focal point and I think you'll hear the announcer allude to this fact repeatedly. The advantage Duke has on the boards is size and numbers. Duke is bigger on the blocks, and can bring in more big athletes to go after the boards. The helps as we can be more aggressive on 50/50 balls without fear of foul trouble. WVU definitely won't back down, but whether the game is called tight or the players are given free reign I think a physical rebounding struggle leaves duke with a slight edge. A lot of this is predicated on both Plumlee's giving us solid minutes as they did against both Purdue and Baylor. Both have improved their defensive discipline and help defense throughout the season and that will be very important when they see the floor to spell Thomas and Zoubek.

I think the second big factor will be mismatches, and this is a much tougher comparison. WVU's two biggest threats (imo) are Kevin Jones and Desean Butler (not Ebanks). Jones is a problem because he's the same athletic play away from or near the basket type of forward that gave us problems against Baylor. The difference is he can also shoot the 3. In the Baylor game I thought Zoubek should have sloughed off of Acy and Udoh much more and tried to remain under the basket where he could be more effective on help defense as well as avoid some of his reaching and late-hacking fouls. However if he gets matched up with Jones he'll have to follow him out to the arc as the guy is too good of a shooter to be left alone. The Plumlees and Thomas are much better matchups in this department and I expect Coach K to do his best to avoid having Zoubek chase these athletic forwards 25 ft from the basket.

Butler is arguably the biggest scoring threat on the floor, and I think K will put singler on him hoping to slow him down like he did against Dunn last week. Really the only other choice is Lance Thomas, but that leaves singler playing under the basket a lot on defense and Lance less available for rebounds. Scheyer isn't quick enough and Smith isn't big enough, but Singler should be ok if he can avoid reaching and picking up early fouls like he did last week. I think it is very likely his wrist was reinjured in the Purdue game (his shot has been a wreck ever since he fell on it in the second half) so I wouldn't be surprised to see him putting more of a focus on defense and rebounding since his shot may not be falling. I think his offensive impotency in the Baylor game affected his focus on the defensive end, but I don't think that will be a problem this week. Also it will be incumbent for him to attack the basket when given a step on offense to both create space for himself on the perimeter in the future, give Duke a chance to get Butler a few fouls, and to create offensive put-back opportunities for all four of our big men.

One thing I don't expect is to see Joe Mazzulla have the kind of impact he did two years ago or last week in the UK game. While I think Mazzulla has a really quick and strong move to the basket, he's going to face a more disciplined and focused help defense effort this week from Duke. Duke's team two years ago wasn't really comparable to this group now, so we really can't draw many conclusions for that. But Mazulla isn't a huge threat from the outside, and if Smith stays in front of him and forces him right I think he can to a large extent neutralize his offense. I think last week's game against UK was more of a testament to John Wall's undisciplined defense than to Mazulla's potency as a scorer.

As for Duke's offense I think it comes down to taking more shots, and making open looks. WVU is a fantastic defensive team, but whether they play zone or man-man we're going to get open looks. I expect Huggins will play more man than zone as he won't want duke to be getting the open 3s that he was contest to let UK shoot. At the same time the man will allow our screens to be more effective and also give us a better chance of getting them in foul trouble as we attack the glass. Expect this game to look more like the Purdue game (somewhat depending on the mood of the refs) than the Baylor game. Except WVU has some tougher scorers than a Hummel-less Purdue.

But back to the main point. As ludicrous as it seems to imply that the team that shoots better is going to win, I think there is a good chance that is the case. In the first half of WVU-UK, WVU stayed in the contest thanks in large part to one of their best outside shooting performances in the year. That success lead to a disheartened and undisciplined UK defense in the second half. I think you've got to put the blame squarely on Calipari for UK's failure to make basic defensive adjustments (never mind jacking up 36 3s with a team that was full of bad shooters), and I don't expect you'll see Duke make those mistakes. So in a game in which neither team will be touting their scoring prowess, the team that has the better shooting night is likely to win. That is both the beauty and madness of the NCAA tourney. It's one and done. Any team can get hot at the right time and negate a large portion of their opponents edge.

Duke's only chance if they find themselves shooting like we did for the first 3 tourney games is to look to zoubek, thomas, and the plumlees to crash the glass. It is very likely we could come up with close to 50% of our missed shots as offensive rebounds. And I think we may need to get over 40% in order to have a good chance to win. Nolan Smith as also got to be strong off of the dribble because Scheyer and Singler will have some trouble getting their first step by the quick and strong WVU man defense. If WVU decides to go zone we'll have more opportunities for offensive rebounds, but we'll also need to make shots because we'll certainly see open looks from behind the arc.

Final thoughts, Duke is the better team and has a slight advantage. If the game plays out as expected it should be a grind the whole way and a late Duke run along with good FT shooting down the stretch could be the difference. Much like the Baylor and Purdue games. I think neither team gets more than about 70, and I think Duke is about a 3 pt favorite. But with those expectations this game could easily be won by either team, and I don't think Duke is much more than 60-65% to win.

This should be the toughest most complete opponent either team has faced all year. Both teams are coming in playing their best basketball of the year, and I expect a great game albeit maybe not a pretty one. I think my devils have a slight edge in size, depth, offensive weapons, and coaching. Overall I think those traits carry the day against WVU's quicker and more offensively dangerous forwards.

go devils and here's hoping I get to write another of these before monday.



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