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Sweet 16 Preview: West

Tue, 03/22/2011 - 5:49pm

Duke vs. Arizona

Kyrie IrvingKyrie IrvingThe top seeded Blue Devils advanced to Anaheim by the skin of their teeth, prevailing in a two-point decision over pesky Michigan. On a positive note, Duke shot 51% from the field (25-49), a ridiculous 69% on two-point attempts (20-29) and manhandled the Wolverines on the glass 31-18. However, if they shoot 5-20 from three-point range against a more dynamic, talent-laden opponent, they will not be standing after 40 minutes. In addition, they let a double digit lead dissipate, allowed Michigan to shoot 51% from the floor and forced just seven turnovers. They need to find an outlet for easy buckets, whether it's via turnover or offensive glass.

Ambiguity over the status of Kyrie Irving was put to rest quickly, as the freshman sensation saw 20 minutes of action in an opening round double up of Hampton. He followed up that effort with 21 minutes in the round of 32. While obviously a long way from operating on all cylinders (3 total assists), Irving averaged 12.5 points in the opening two rounds and has lived at the free throw line converting 13 of 14. Now with two games under his belt, and rust beginning to wane, the backcourt duo of he and Nolan Smith is as devastating as you'll find in the collegiate game.

2010 Tournament MOP Kyle Singler continues to look out of sync offensively, hitting 9 of 21 field goals, 2 of 8 threes and 4 of 8 from the charity stripe. He needs to raise his level several notches and re-find confidence in his stroke. Duke doesn't get scoring from the power forward and center spots, and will need to get All-American caliber play from Singler on the wing as the tournament churns forward.

The 5th seeded Wildcats survived two nail-biters, requiring late game heroics from Wooden Award finalist Derrick Williams on both occasions. Williams swatted away Wesley Witherspoon's layup in the final seconds to secure a victory over a youthful Memphis squad in the round of 64, and completed an acrobatic and-one scoop to put Arizona ahead to stay over #4 seed Texas. In the opening two games he averaged 19.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and got to the free throw line 24 times, converting on 18 (75%). Touted as the "closer" by head coach Sean Miller, Williams has not disappointed in front of a national audience.

As per usual, Arizona utilized line-change like substitutions in the opening rounds. Eight guys played 14+ minutes versus Memphis and nine guys 11+ minutes versus Texas. Player roles are firmly established, and everyone that sees the court makes a notable contribution in some facet of the game. Their roster boasts a mixture of versatility and specialized skill. What they're missing is a true lead guard. Lamont Jones scored 18 points in round one, but did not record an assist and struggled with pressure down the stretch. In 21 minutes against Texas he failed to score (0-6) and dished out two assists. Freshman Jordin Mayes, who’s quietly had a very effective season, picked up the slack. Mayes went berserk hitting 6 of 7 field goals, including a perfect 4 of 4 from distance, in just 19 minutes. At the very least, "Momo" needs to provide scoring punch.

Arizona attacks the bucket or takes a three-pointer, with very little in between. They got to the stripe 53 times in two games (40 makes) and attempted 33 treys (13 makes). They don't settle for jump shots, and have sworn off the "long two". The Wildcats have also had thievery on the mind, swiping 16 total steals and getting a number of high percentage baskets in transition. They will need to continue their opportunistic ways to advance past Thursday.

San Diego State vs. Connecticut

Kemba WalkerKemba WalkerSan Diego State earned their first NCAA Tournament triumph in school history, downing Northern Colorado with relative ease 68-50. The Aztecs second round tussle with Temple, on the other hand, was a complete 360. After holding comfortable leads throughout the first stanza, SDSU scored only 18 second half points, and were forced into a pair of overtimes by the Owls. Despite a myriad of inexplicable, costly turnovers, the Aztecs athletic edge took center stage in double overtime as they "escaped" with a 7-point win. Most champions survive a "defining moment", but I'm not sure this is what Steve Fisher envisioned.

The good: 1. Not renowned for their three-point marksmanship, the Aztecs connected on 15 threes (33 attempts) in the opening two rounds. 2. +21 margin on the glass, including 25 total offensive rebounds. Their long, lean jumping jacks are impossible to keep off the backboards. 3. They've held their first two opponents to 34% and 38% shooting respectively, have blocked 11 shots and altered countless others.

The bad: 1. SDSU is shooting just 42% as a team. Despite being effective from three, it's fools gold. 2. Tying into point number one, the Aztecs have attempted 17 total free throws in 90 minutes of action. Where's the aggression? This team won't succeed on finesse. 3. Point guard D.J Gay is doing good things (5 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 turnover), but he's been unable to find the bucket. He's 5 of 24 from the field and 2 of 9 from beyond the arc. He doesn't get the publicity, but he's the team engine and go-to shot creator in crunch time.

The frontcourt trio of Kawhi Leonard, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas have been nothing short of spectacular. Leonard is putting up 18.5 points and 9.5 boards, White 14 points and 13 rebounds (6 offensive per game) and Thomas 8.5 points, 6.5 boards and 2.5 blocks. Despite the singular talents of each, they work extremely well together. Holding them down will be a trying task for any future opponent.

Fatigue, both physical and mental, was a trying obstacle facing Connecticut as they prepared to play the NCAA Tournament. Well, at least that was the common belief amongst the experts. The "Fighting Calhoun's" were oozing youthful exuberance as they came raging out of the starting block, embarrassing a well-schooled (but outclassed) Bucknell team from the word go. They shot 49% from the floor, assisted on 20 of 32 field goals (6 turnovers), held a 43-21 edge on the glass (Bucknell had a lone second chance opportunity) and limited the Bison to 31% shooting.

The Huskies next faced off against Big East compatriot Cincinnati in the round of 32, and emerged victorious for the second time in 2011. They held the Bearcats at bay throughout, dominating the backboards to the tune of 34-22 (9 offensive) and getting to the free throw line 30 times (converting 25). Once again they took meticulous care of the rock, turning it over just 8 times.

Where would Uconn be without Kemba Walker? That's a scary thought. Walker compiled freakish numbers in the two victories: 25.5 points (31 versus Cincy), 20-20 free throws, 5 total three-pointers, 8.5 assists (2 turnovers), 7 rebounds and 1.5 steals. Assistance in the scoring column came from the blossoming Jeremy Lamb who averaged 15 points, shot 11 of 16 from the floor and 6 of 8 from deep. Alex Oriakhi filled his role grabbing 11.5 rebounds, but an 0-6 shooting night versus UC was not inspiring. 6'8 Freshman, Roscoe Smith, put together a big effort in the round of 64 with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks, and the Huskies will need the talented wing to play strong versus SDSU.

Who will reach the Final Four?

Duke

Sweet Sixteen: Arizona is solid, but the perimeter playmakers are all in Duke's corner. They have two NBA guards that can create and/or make a shot in late clock situations and salvage a broken offensive set. The Wildcats have none. While Derrick Williams is a beast, Arizona lacks the size and athleticism on the interior to overwhelm Duke. Their rhythmic offense should also find tough sledding against the Blue Devils pressure to man-to-man.

It's impossible to downplay the Kemba Walker factor, as he's carried the Huskies to depths unforeseen by any hoops prognosticator. Albeit, the dramatic edge in front line scoring favors SDSU. The Aztecs don't have a go-to-guy, but have a plethora of options to get a basket. Both teams thrive in transition and struggle in the half court, and are premiere rebounding units. Fast break opportunities and second chance points should decide the winner. (The Aztecs have a pseudo home court advantage in Anaheim)

Elite Eight: The Aztecs length inside will give Duke fits, but the disparity in backcourt productivity is massive. The Blue Devils overcome the local favorite and advance to Houston behind shot making, consistency and experience, despite their lack of a true post presence offensively.

Top Player Matchups

D.J. Gay versus Kemba Walker

Gay is the epitome of a solid point guard. He's posted a nearly 3:1 assist to turnover ratio on the season, and has coughed it up just once in two tournament games. That being said, he's not a penetrating, playmaking guard. More than half his field goal attempts come from behind the arc. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Walker brings an electric brand of ball to the Honda Center. Always attacking, Walker slices and dices his way through defenses like no other player in the nation. SDSU will need a team defensive concept to halt his onslaught. It would be surprising if they didn't rotate lengthy defenders on him just to change looks.

Kyle Singler versus Derrick Williams

Will they likely be matched up on one another for significant portions of the game? No. Duke will probably give the mobile Plumlee twins a shot to contain Williams, but he's likely too quick and definitely too powerful for both of them. At 6'8 230 Singler is capable of guarding the post, but the 6'9 240 DW is a tough assignment. Examining it from the other side, Arizona has versatile 6'6, 6'7 players it can throw at Singler in Solomon Hill and Jesse Perry. If they do get matched up, specifically in the crunch, it would be a treat to watch the contrasting styles.

boxn1
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Duke misses Brian Zubeck(sp).

Duke misses Brian Zubeck(sp). The Plumees will fail them against players that they don't have the height advantage over. They loose to SDSU in the elite 8

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Duke's chances

I think Coach K should go smaller, maybe move Singler up to the "4" and play Smith, Curry and Dawkins on the perimeter.

Or if they want to go bigger but still be perimeter oriented, start Kelly at the 4 and bring Mason Plumlee off the bench. Mason Plumlee has talent, but he still makes too many big mistakes, and Kelly's ability to pull big men outside will open up driving lanes for Smith and Singler.

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Coach K will ultimately go to

Coach K will ultimately go to the smarter lineup with Singler at the 4. Miles may step up, but I'm expecting a loss to OSU. My call is a surprise from UNC.

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