THE CONTENTS: No. 2 Duke looks to reach its first Sweet 16 in three seasons when it battles No. 7 Texas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. in Greensboro Coliseum. You can see the game on CBS with Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg and hear it on 620 AM.
THE EXPOSITION: The Blue Devils had--get this--a comfortable first-round victory, cruising past Binghamton, 86-62. Jon Scheyer led six Duke players in double figures.
The Longhorns opened up a close game with Minnesota in the final 10 minutes behind the sharpshooting of star guard A.J. Abrams. Abrams went on a personal 12-0 run, swishing four consecutive trifectas, to turn a three-point game into a 15-point cushion. Abrams hit eight threes in all in the contest.
Duke and Texas last met in December 2005, when the top-ranked Blue Devils ran the second-ranked Longhorns out of Continental Airlines Arena in a stunningly easy 97-66 rout. UT head coach Rick Barnes has some experience going up against Mike Krzyzewski, though, dating back to his days at Clemson.
THE PROTAGONISTS: It was an impressively balanced effort Thursday night against Binghamton, with the Blue Devils attacking the basket and exploiting the Bearcats' lack of size on the interior. It even got to the point that shooting threes was unnecessary; Duke could get whatever it wanted on the block.
But that, of course, was against Binghamton, and Texas is another animal. Pittman and wing Damion James will clear the glass a lot better than the Bearcats did, and Duke's going to have make shots to win. I'd like to see that aggressive mentality transfer to this game, though. The Blue Devils can spread the Longhorns out and especially take advantage of Dogus Balbay's defense. He'll be hard-pressed having to guard either Jon Scheyer or Elliot Williams.
Defensively, it's all about Abrams. James is another solid scorer for Texas, but Abrams is the guy who shot them past Minnesota and can do it again tonight. His second-half run started when the Golden Gophers tried to play zone for a brief spell, and that turned into a big mistake. I cannot imagine Duke playing a single possession of 2-3 zone defense in this game. The Blue Devils will have Williams on Abrams with everyone switching on the perimeter, doing their best to make Abrams a driver.
THE ANTAGONISTS: Abrams showed Thursday that he's the type of shooter that Duke has struggled with this year: Jimmy Baron, Jack McClinton and A.D. Vassallo can all attest to that. The Blue Devils need to be worried that Abrams already feels comfortable in Greensboro Coliseum, but they possess enough on the perimeter defensively to turn Abrams into a driver. (You'll notice that both McClinton and Vassallo could also finish inside the arc; Baron and Abrams, less so.)
The second biggest concern for Duke has to be Pittman, who has emerged over the last three weeks as another primary scoring option for the Longhorns. He's a wide body in the lane and can take advantage of Lance Thomas and/or Kyle Singler inside. Consider him a poor man's version of DeJuan Blair.
Duke's plans to neutralize Pittman should include: a) getting him in foul trouble by attacking the basket on offense; b) pushing the pace and tiring Pittman, a guy who used to have weight issues; and c) worst-case scenario: doubling him and making someone else (not Abrams) hit shots.
How the Blue Devils do on the glass will go a long way toward deciding the outcome.
THE CONFLICT: How does Duke handle Pittman inside and Abrams outside?
HOW ARE THESE TEAMS REALLY SIMILAR?: Both teams have had two problem areas all season: point guard and center.
HOW ARE THESE TEAMS REALLY DIFFERENT?: They solved those problems in diametrically opposite ways. The Blue Devils sat down their only pure point guard, Greg Paulus, in favor of swingman Elliot Williams, installing a shooting guard in Jon Scheyer as the one. Texas, meanwhile, replaced wing Justin Mason at the point with its only pure point, sophomore Dogus Balbay, with Mason going back to his natural position.
In the post, whereas Duke now starts Lance Thomas over Brian Zoubek, the Longhorns went with the sturdy Dexter Pittman over the more perimeter-oriented Connor Atchley.
BUT DUKE HAS THAT HOMECOURT ADVANTAGE, RIGHT?: Not exactly.
WHAT THE (OTHER) LOCAL MEDIA ARE SAYING: From Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle:
Texas will have to be almost perfect to win, and that hasn’t happened often this season.
The Longhorns have come apart in so many areas at various times this season that Barnes has had to improvise perhaps more than any other season.
WHAT'S THE ADVANTAGE OF BEING THERE IN PERSON?: Duke's cheerleaders occasionally get unfairly criticized; Texas' cheerleaders, on the other hand, have never been unfairly praised. It is always fair.
THIS IS KIND OF INTERESTING...: I was trying to think if Abrams projects at all to the NBA--he doesn't by the way--when I realized that, despite all its success over the last six years or so, Texas hadn't produced a lot of success in the NBA. T.J. Ford was the first guy that comes to mind, and he's been okay but not great. Daniel Gibson and LaMarcus
Aldridge are good not great. D.J. Augustin has had a respectable rookie season but nothing more.
YOU SEEM TO BE FORGETTING SOMEONE...: And then I remembered Kevin Durant. And I laughed at myself.
SHOULD WE START AN ACC-BIG 12 CHALLENGE?: It seems like it would make more sense, what with each conference having 12 teams and the Big Ten not being very good. But that's just me. The Big 12, by the way, was 6-0 in the first round while the ACC was 3-4.
THE DENOUEMENT: I expect Duke to win; I do not expect to feel comfortable for much of the game. The Blue Devils will work extra hard on Abrams on the perimeter, and while it should pay off there, it might leave them vulnerable on the interior. Duke will compensate for its inside deficiencies by taking advantage of its outside strengths: The Blue Devils will push the tempo and wear out a Texas team without a lot of depth. Offensively in the halfcourt, Duke will maintain its aggressiveness from Thursday night and exploit both Balbay and Abrams defensively. Scheyer and Williams will have at least four inches on the guys guarding them.
The Longhorns will be in the game because of Pittman and Damion James inside (the Henderson-James matchup will be fun to watch). But Duke has too much on the perimeter and will start to pull away in the game's final 10 minutes, earning a trip to Boston and a date with Villanova.
THE VERDICT: Duke 80-68.
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