Louisville vs. Duke: 5 Keys for Cardinals to Win Elite Eight Showdown
After all the dust was settled in Indianapolis on Friday night, the bracket stayed to chalk as No. 1 Louisville, and No. 2 Duke advanced to the Midwest Regional Final.
Sunday's Elite Eight clash at Lucas Oil Stadium will be a rematch of one of the best early season nonconference games.
Back in November, a Gorgui Dieng-less Louisville fell to the Blue Devils in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament final, 76-71.
If the Cardinals want to avoid a second loss to Duke this season and make their way into the Final Four, they will have to follow these five keys to victory.
Contain Quinn Cook
Quinn Cook may not have been Duke's best player this season, but he did tear up the Louisville defense in the second half of the Battle 4 Atlantis Final.
Cook was able break the Louisville press and scored 11 of his 15 points in the final eight minutes of the game to lead Duke to the tournament crown.
With the focus in the Duke backcourt on players like Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon, Cook could easily step out of the shadows again and torch the Cardinals defense.
The best way to prevent Cook from sinking the Cardinals' Final Four hopes is to get in his head early and force him into turnovers by relentlessly pressing him on defense.
Force Mason Plumlee into Foul Trouble
Duke senior forward Mason Plumlee has walked a fine line during the NCAA tournament in regards to his foul trouble.
Plumlee fouled out against Creighton in the round of 32, and he picked up his fourth personal foul against Michigan State early in the second half on Friday.
In those two games, Plumlee went up against strong big men like Doug McDermott, Gregory Echenique, Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne.
Louisville may present Plumlee with his biggest matchup challenge of the season in Gorgui Dieng, who missed the first game against Duke due to injury.
Dieng should be able to take advantage of Plumlee's susceptibility to get into foul trouble by playing physical with him in the paint and forcing him out on the perimeter to challenge shots from the top of the key.
Dieng's movement on the offensive end should force Plumlee to make mistakes and earn fouls to take him out of the game.
Let Russ Continue to Be Russ
If the NCAA tournament ended today, not many people could make the case against Russ Smith for the title of Most Outstanding Player.
Smith has continuously stepped up for the Cardinals on the biggest stage in college basketball by scoring 23, 27 and 31 in his first three tournament games.
Not only has Smith been able to get hot from the field, but he has been able to make most of his free throws as well.
Smith is 23-of-28 from the free-throw line, 26-of-48 from the field and 6-of-15 from three-point range during the NCAA tournament.
In the first game against Duke, Smith only shot 7-of-19 from the field and scored just 17 points.
The senior guard would love nothing more than to advance to the Final Four while erasing one of his poorer performances of the season from his memory against the Blue Devils on Sunday.
Find a Second Scorer in the Backcourt
While Smith was busy lighting up Oregon for 31 points on Friday, the rest of the Cardinals backcourt struggled to get going.
Smith's partner-in-crime in the backcourt, Peyton Siva, failed to find a rhythm after running into foul trouble in the first half.
Off of the bench, Kevin Ware and Luke Hancock combined for just 18 points while Tim Henderson was forced into a few significant minutes toward the end of the first half.
Out of the trio of Siva, Ware and Hancock, one or possibly even two of them have to step up to give the Cardinals a second viable scoring option to partner with Smith in order to advance to Atlanta.
Keep with the Press, Even If It Does Not Work in the Beginning
The success of Louisville's defensive pressure has been well documented throughout the tournament as they have forced a total of 56 turnovers in three games.
However, none of those three teams are as talented and well-prepared for the press as the Duke Blue Devils.
The Blue Devils have plenty of experienced guards on their roster that will be able to handle the press from the start of the game.
If the press fails to work at the beginning of the game, the Cardinals should not abandon their game plan.
If Rick Pitino's team continues to put the pressure on Duke, it will eventually get to them, and the turnovers will begin to appear.
The press has been one of the most valuable weapons in the Louisville arsenal that has gotten them this far, and regardless of what Duke does to nullify it, the Cardinals should not switch to any regular half-court defensive set.
What do you think Louisville has to do to beat Duke?
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