In a game with a couple of potential Final Four contenders with a couple of Hall of Fame coaches there are just so many side stories that could play out when Duke takes on Louisville for the Battle 4 Atlantis title.
Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino haven’t faced each other since 1992 in the famed Duke-Kentucky game in the East Regional Finals, a game considered by many to be the best college basketball game ever. It is hard to believe that it has been 20 years since these two coaches have faced off and hard to imagine this game will be better.
Still this has the makings of a classic early season battle between two top 10 teams.
Duke earlier in the year took onPitino’s former team, Kentucky, and the game that featured Christian Laettner’s last-second game-winning, was a prominent story line in that game. Now with the two architects of that classic game squaring off in the Bahamas look for Duke-Kentucky circa 1992 to be featured prominently more than once.
But ultimately this is a game between the No. 2 Cardinals and the No. 5 Blue Devils that could end up being the early season game of the year. Both teams enter the game undefeated and both feature their fair share of weapons.
For Louisville they roll out junior guard Russ Smith who is averaging 19 points a game this year. Peyton Siva will lead Pitino’s offense against an improving Duke perimeter defense. Louisville’s second leading scorer Wayne Blackshear averages 10 points per game while the Cardinal have two others that are close to double digit averages.
But it isn’t the Cardinals offense that could be the most problematic, but its defense that could turn the tide in favor of Lousiville. Duke will have to handle the pressure and take care of the basketball if they want to win.
The Blue Devils will counter with Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee. Plumlee is averaging a double double on the season but is likely to see Louisville throw some big guys of their own to try and slow him down. Curry has been scoring almost as much as Plumlee despite a lower leg injury that has limited his practice time.
Duke also has capable players in Ryan Kelly and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon who are both averaging more than 10 points per game that could present matchup problems for Louisville.
The Blue Devils got a test from a very good VCU team while the Cardinals soundly beat No.13 Missouri to make it to the title game. Many might look at those two games as some indication that Louisville has a better team. However, Duke played a team whose defense may have better prepared them for the intensity they can expect to see today.
Louisville forced Missouri to play a sloppy turnover filled game and Duke can expect them to bring that same intensity tonight. Blue Devil point guard Quinn Cook continued his development dishing out 9 assists and benefiting from Plumlee and Kelly’s ability to handle the ball to help break the Rams’ press.
Expect Duke to employ a similar style of play if Louisville comes out pressing. If Cook and Tyler Thornton can take care of the ball and not give the Cardinals additional possessions, then you have to like the Blue Devils chances, especially if they shoot well. Still, this is likely to be Duke’s biggest test of the season on both ends of the court.
Louisville is arguably the best coached team Duke has faced and is experienced, talented and certainly worthy of their No. 2 ranking. It will take a complete game for the Blue Devils to win.
One thing of note to watch is how deep Krzyzewski goes into his bench. Duke essentially played seven guys substantial minutes and the teams’ conditioning could play a factor. Louisville equally played seven guys 10 or more minutes in their blow out victory against Missouri.
This game feels like advantage Louisville but I’d put it at a coin toss and whoever plays better defensively should win this game.
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