Setting: It’s a Big East-Atlantic Coast Conference clash of the titans when Jay Wright and his No. 3 seed Villanova Wildcats (28-7) throw down with Mike Krzyzewski and the No. 2 seed Duke Blue Devils (30-6). Put on a pot of coffee this is the late game (9:57) at the Bank North Garden in the heart of Bean Town.
Plot: This is Duke’s 33rd tournament appearance. The school’s 88 wins rank fourth all-time in tournament history. Duke topped Binghamton (86-62) and Texas (74-69) to get here.
Coach K and staff made a lineup change a month ago, and inserted freshman Elliot Williams into the starting five. The result: Duke has won their last five and 10 of 11.
The last time Krzyzewski made a change like this Chris Duhon replaced senior Nate James. Duke went on to win the 2001 national championship. Suddenly, Duke looks revitalized with Williams leading the defensive charge.
28 wins is a school record for the Wildcats. Villanova’s second round victory over UCLA (89-69) was its sixth this season over a ranked opponent. The 20-point margin of victory was the largest of any of those contests. Villanova survived a scare in the first round to beat American 80-67.
Villanova is making its 30th appearance in the Dance. The Wildcats have advanced to the Elite Eight 11 times. Twice Villanova has made it to the finals. They lost in ‘71 and won it all in ‘85.
Flashback: Duke holds an all-time record of 7-3 versus the Wildcats including a 2-1 advantage in the NCAA tournament. Duke and Villanova last squared off in November of 2000 with the Blue Devils winning 98-95. The two schools last met in the Dance in 1978 with Duke getting the better of its opponent.
Conflict: Williams versus Scottie Reynolds—the freshman against the junior. The fledgling and the wily veteran. Reynolds is a master at creating contact and using it to his advantage. He made Darren Collison look very average last weekend.
But Collison and his three Final Four appearances created a feeling of entitlement. The 6′4″ Williams, with a wing span that seems at least that much, plays like he has something to prove—because he does!
Can Williams slow down Reynolds?
What will Villanova do with Jon Scheyer? Since taking over the point, Scheyer has scored double digits in every game and the denizens of Cameron Indoor have only fallen once. Scheyer creates a dilemma.
By 21st century standards he is an anti-point guard. He barely seems capable of of beating opposing defenders off the dribble. But opposing defenders seem incapable of rattling the junior. With his vision of the Scheyer is having a calming effect that elicits an efficient Duke offense.
Texas’s Damion James (6′7″ -222lbs.) and Dexter Pittman(6′10″ -298lbs.) created problems for Duke in the previous round. Can Villanova’s front line of Dante Cunningham (6′8″), Shane Clark (6′7″), and Dwayne Anderson (6′6″) have a similar effect?
Villanova’s size, or lack of it, will limit the usefulness Brian Zoubek (7′1″) who might find it difficult keeping up with the smaller and quicker front line of the Wildcats.
Irony: Despite their relatively smaller stature Villanova holds a rebounding margin of five while Duke outrebounds its opponents by three.
Something has gotta give: Both teams average over eight steals per game. Both have a field goal percentage around 45 percent. And both hit over 35 percent from behind the arc.
Characters: Who will defend Gerald Henderson? The junior has come into his own this season after dealing with nagging injuries in the past. Henderson averages16 points and just under five rebounds per game.
Henderson’s emergence has taken pressure off Kyle Singler. Can Cunningham stick with Singler when the sophomore forward steps out to the perimeter?
If Villanova’s guards get hot from the outside, will Duke be able to stop them off the dribble when the floor is spread?
Climax: Williams will frustrate Reynolds, and Scheyer will lead the Duke offense.
Resolution: Duke will continue to hold an advantage over Villanova in the tournament.