Guys, I say this in all sincerity: I've never been more ashamed in my life.
Quick opening notes:
1 - We'll have another live chat here around 9pm.
2 - I'm not in a position to update the Kyrie twitter stuff, but I will tomorrow. I think by then we'll know almost everything. For updates, read the comment section of yesterday's post.
Alright, let's talk about these Arizona Wildcats, shall we? They squeaked by Texas in the second round, overcoming one of the country's best defenses to win by one. Let's take a look at the four factors from that game:
As you might imagine, a very tight game in every area. Arizona shot the ball just slightly better (51.9%), and that was enough to make the difference. I've heard a lot of debate in the past few days about whether Arizona's win was a good thing. Would we rather be playing Texas, despite their ability to play great defense? Or did we want to get the fading team and avoid Arizona?
The common wisdom is that Duke won't have an answer for Derrick Williams. The 6'8" sophomore is averaging 19.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He's 8th in the country at getting to the line (and 6th in drawing fouls, for what it's worth), and his aggressive style should give us fits underneath. He's also mastered the simple head fake, ensuring that he'll draw at least three stupid fouls on each Plumlee. He also shoots 58% from three, so there's no way we can have anyone but Singler on him throughout the game. Unfortunately, he's way quicker than Singler. So yeah, that could be a big problem.
The other common wisdom is that their guards won't match up well with ours. The problem is, they have a lot of guys who can shoot. Kyle Fogg, Kevin Parrom, Jamelle Horne, Solomon Hill, Brendon Lavender, and Jordin Mayes all shoot above 35%, and they've all attempted at least 40 threes on the year. Lamont Jones, a starting guard, is close at 32% on 78 attempts. For a team, that is ungodly. THEY HAVE 8 FUCKING GUYS WHO CAN SHOOT THREES!
Worrisome. It should come as no surprise that KenPom has them 9th in 3-point field goal percentage in Division 1. And they shoot it quite a bit; they're in the top half of the country both in 3-pointers attempted, and 3-pointers as a percentage of total shots. Not surprisingly, they're also very good at defending the three; third in the country, in fact.
So while they may not have any guards as good as Nolan or Kyrie, they can certainly throw waves and waves of them on the court, and every single one can shoot. The only guy I mentioned of the eight above who got less than 10 minutes of playing time against Texas was Brendon Lavender. His final stat line? 2-2, both 3-pointers. That's what this team can do to you.
On the other hand, they're pretty small. That's good and bad. They have a 6'11" Russian dude who gets about 15 minutes per game, but other than their tallest player is Williams at 6'8". We should get offensive boards. They're not great at defending the inside shot (281st in the country), and they never force blocks or steals.
Honestly, though, this game scares me. If you've read everything above and can't shake the memory of the Michigan game, you're not alone. We'll be seeing a lot of guards on the floor at one time, just like last round, and Coach K will have to make a hard decision about how to play. Will he panic like last time and match them guard for guard? Will we try to shoot them off the floor? Will we force it inside to the Plumlees and try to exploit the size advantage?
The last move seems logical, but the horrible truth is that at any given time, we're at risk of seeing a clumsy, awful game from Mason and Miles. Those extra inches are nice, but what if they start off with a bad offensive foul, or three straight traveling calls, or missed layups, or forced passes? What if we run up against the hard reality that our big men can't score regardless of the defense?
That's the lesson of the season. Despite their recent improvement, you can't count on the Plumlees.
Arizona has won 6 of their last 7, with the lone overtime loss coming in the Pac-10 championship to a good Washington team. Before that, they lost at UCLA 71-49 after shooting 4-19 from 3. In a loss to USC the game before, they only hit 6-19. But in the win over Texas, they went 8-14. Just like Duke, they're capable of lights-out shooting and dismal cold spells.
I can say this with almost complete certainty: this is coming down to the threes. The team that makes more, at a better percentage, will win the game. We'll do some damage on the drive, particularly from Nolan, and we'll get a few offensive boards. Derrick Williams will be awesome in stretches. But those are the minor issues, and they'll probably cancel each other out. Three-pointers. That's what this game boils down to.
I hate the match-up. I really, really do. I'd rather play a big team or a plodding team or a team with a superstar or anything else. Arizona's profile is so much like Michigan's that I'm feeling serious flashes of deja-vu. Derrick Williams is pure quality, but Coach K does an amazing job of limiting the other team's best scorer. We never get beat by one guy, and that's not going to change tonight. But if they hit threes, we're in serious trouble.
One last weakness I saw in Zona's profile is turnovers. They're only 102nd in Division-1 at protecting the ball. A commenter in the post after the Michigan win hit the nail on the head when he said that our defensive intensity, particularly on the perimeter, started out very strong and lagged as the game went along. Did it use up too much energy? Did the strategy change? In any case, Arizona could be vulnerable to aggressive man-to-man outside the arc. If we can keep it up for an entire game, it'll pay dividends. But the Michigan game seemed to indicate that maybe we can't keep it up for 40 minutes, especially against a guard-heavy lineup. It'll be a fascinating element to watch.
That's about all I've got. I think Duke wins this game. I think we're properly chastened by the Michigan scare, and I think in some ways it's the best thing that could have happened to the team. Coach K has a blueprint now. It's like in golf, when you have a long putt and someone has to go just before you from the same spot. You get to see all the breaks in the green, and by the time you stand over the shot, you know how the ball's going to behave. Arizona is Michigan Part 2, and we're about to see if Duke learned from its mistakes.
Here's my Sweet 16. If it happens anywhere close to my predictions, it'll be the craziest draw possible.
Tonight's prediction: Duke 74, Arizona 66 in a game that stays close until about the 5-minute mark. My stomach knows only butterflies and knots. Come on, Duke. It won't end like this. LET'S GO!