Duke vs. Creighton: 5 Keys for Blue Devils to Avoid Upset in Round of 32
At the conclusion of the 32 second-round games in the 2013 NCAA tournament, there are plenty of appealing third-round matchups to anticipate. Near the top of the list, though, comes from the Midwest Region, which features the No. 2 seed Duke Blue Devils facing the No. 7 seed Creighton Bluejays.
It was likely that these two schools would cross paths once the tournament bracket was released on Selection Sunday.
Duke opened the tournament with a 73-61 victory over the Albany Great Danes. While tested, the Blue Devils led for the entirety of the game as seniors Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee combined for 49 points in the win.
Creighton survived in its opening-round game against the Cincinnati Bearcats, as the Bluejays were led by 27 points and 11 rebounds from their sensational junior Doug McDermott in a 67-63 triumph.
Fittingly enough, Creighton has a rare chance to erase the memory from a year, which saw them get knocked out of last year's NCAA tournament in the third-round against a team that Duke is extremely familiar with, arch-rival and fellow ACC member North Carolina.
In order to prevent the Bluejays from pulling off the upset, here are the five most essential keys for Mike Krzyzewski's Duke basketball team to continue its winning ways and advance into the Sweet 16 for the 27th time in school history.
1. Competent Curry
Seth Curry kicked off his final NCAA tournament impressively in a second-round win over Albany by compiling 26 points on 71 percent shooting from the field.
If that is a sign for how his tournament is set to play out, then go ahead and pencil Duke into the Final Four.
Okay, so maybe it's a little late for that.
In his last four games, Curry is averaging 20.3 points while shooting 58 percent from the floor and 46 percent from beyond the arc. That is exactly the type of productivity that establishes Duke as a championship favorite.
While there are other factors that could lead to a possible early exit for the Blue Devils, don't expect a letdown from the senior guard to be one of them.
Curry will make it a tough night for an undependable Creighton defense that allows teams to shoot 40.8 percent.
2. Keep Doug McDermott in Check
In the third-round clash between Duke and Creighton, the Blue Devils will be presented with the challenge of containing the two-time Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, Doug McDermott.
If you have watched McDermott over the course of his three seasons, it's extremely difficult to pick out his main weakness. He's a 6'8" stretch-four power forward, who can stroke it from deep and utilize excellent footwork to score around the rim.
McDermott will enter as one of the leading candidates for Naismith College Player of the Year while averaging 27 points in his last six games. He will also be the best player that Duke will see up to this point in the season.
Stylistically, Ryan Kelly will draw the matchup on Sunday afternoon. Kelly possesses the skill set to frustrate McDermott with his size and length on the defensive end.
For the Blue Devils to advance to the Sweet 16 for the 13th time in the past 17 years, their senior leader will need to keep McDermott's contributions to a minimum.
Not the easiest of tasks.
3. Defense, Defense, Defense
Doug McDermott receives most, if not all of the attention and recognition for Creighton. However, his teammates provide invaluable offense at an efficient rate.
The Bluejays finished the regular season as the No. 1 team in field-goal percentage offense connecting on 50.8 percent of their shot attempts. Three of their five starters—Gregory Echenique, McDermott and Grant Gibbs—all shoot over 50 percent.
In Creighton's second-round victory against the Cincinnati Bearcats, the Bluejays made an athletic and 16th-ranked Cincinnati defense look inferior by shooting 45 percent from the field.
And yes, that will present a serious problem for a suspect Duke defense that allows teams to shoot 41.6 percent from the field.
For the Blue Devils to advance into the Sweet 16, their main weakness this season will need to answer its most challenging assignment to date in containing a superior Creighton offense.
4. Mason Plumlee Outplaying Gregory Echenique
Creighton's bruising center, Gregory Echenique, was once a recruiting target for Duke before eventually committing to Rutgers in 2008 for those that don't know.
After less than two seasons with the Scarlet Knights, the 6'9" Echenique opted to transfer out of the program thus leading to become a part of head coach Greg McDermott's Bluejays.
Deep into his senior season with Creighton and on the verge of playing in his biggest game of his career against Duke, Echenique has a great chance of making the most significant impact that could result in the Bluejays' fourth Sweet 16 appearance in school history.
The physicality that the Venezuelan brings to the floor is hard to match. He's big, strong and can carve out space down low with solid footwork and great strength.
For Duke, Mason Plumlee has had a stellar senior season averaging 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds. However, it could prove to be a difficult outing against the much stronger Echenique.
If Echenique can slow down Plumlee, who scored 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting in an opening-round victory over Albany, Creighton's chances of successfully pulling off the upset increases immensely.
And that's why this will be the key matchup in a pivotal third-round clash between the Blue Devils and Bluejays.
Plumlee will need to use his terrific athleticism and array of post moves—which includes a running sky hook—to negate the inside presence of Echenique.
Do that and Duke's journey to the Final Four will continue, while the college career of one of the most undervalued centers in the country will come to a close.
5. Get Ryan Kelly Going
Ryan Kelly's first game back from a right foot injury against Miami on March 2 was nothing but special. The senior forward poured in a career-high 36 points while shooting 71 percent from the floor and 78 percent from long distance.
He then followed up that performance with an 18-point outing against Virginia Tech and an eight-point game over arch-rival North Carolina to close out the regular season.
However, tournament play has not been kind to Kelly's shooting numbers thus far.
In his last two games, which consists of meetings against Maryland in the ACC tournament and Albany in the NCAA tournament, Kelly is averaging eight points while shooting 31.6 percent from the field and zero percent from three.
Yes, zero percent for the Blue Devils' leader in three-point percentage this season.
The reason that Kelly is such a vital piece to this Duke team is his ability to space the floor. Although, his play becomes utterly useless if his contributions on the offensive end is non-existent.
Nevertheless, the 6'11" stretch-four could become the game's biggest star if he can relocate his deadly shooting stroke.
Getting Kelly involved early is crucial for the Blue Devils...not only in the game against Creighton, but potentially down the road in this NCAA tournament.