Duke Basketball: Breaking Down How Blue Devils Can Advance to Final 4

Ryan DavenportContributor IMarch 30, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 29:  Seth Curry #30 of the Duke Blue Devils looks on in the first half against the Michigan State Spartans during the Midwest Region Semifinal round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 29, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Three games into the 2013 NCAA tournament, not only are the Duke Blue Devils playing as well as anyone could've expected, but they've established themselves as legitimate title contenders by taking down a pair of quality opponents in Creighton and Michigan State. 

But now, the real fun begins. 

That's because, in Sunday's Elite Eight clash between Coach K's Blue Devils and No. 1 Louisville, Duke will be pushed to the limit by Rick Pitino's Cardinals, who have been among the nation's best teams all year long.

Before the tournament began, most would've told you that Louisville should be considered the favorite by a decidedly wide margin. But after a string of dominant performances by the Blue Devils, both of these storied programs have a very real chance at emerging as the region's representative at the Final Four in Atlanta. 

Heading into this much-anticipated Elite Eight showdown, here's a look at the keys to victory for Duke. 


Limit Russ Smith's Opportunities 

On Sunday, the Blue Devils will face one of the tournament's most dominant offensive players thus far in Russ Smith, who is coming off a career-high 31 points against Oregon. 

Now, for Duke, part of the challenge of facing Smith is simply making sure that he doesn't get many shots early, allowing him to establish some kind of rhythm, because as we saw during the Cardinals' game against the Ducks, when he does, he's virtually unstoppable. 

In fact, in each of Smith's three tournament games, he's shot at least 50 percent from the field, including a strong 9-of-16 performance against Oregon. But what's even more important to note is that nine of Smith's 31 points came during the first 10 minutes of the game, which is indicative of how deadly the junior can be once he gets on a roll. 

For Duke to win this basketball game, Ryan Kelly and the rest of the Blue Devils have to be all over Smith in the first half, forcing him to either pass up shots or take contested looks from the outside, and prevent him from gaining confidence early. 


More Production out of Ryan Kelly

Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee have both been outstanding for the Blue Devils so far, leading the way offensively, while fellow star Ryan Kelly continues to struggle to put points on the board. 

Kelly, who hasn't put up 20 points or more since he threw down a monster 36-point game against Miami in early March, has been atrocious offensively thus far and has yet to register double-digit points during March Madness. 

He's 0-of-8 from behind the arc and just 7-of-24 from the field. So if the Blue Devils are hoping to climb back from last year's early tournament exit all the way to the Final Four, Kelly simply has to be better. 

Kelly's a senior, and as a critical offensive cog for Coach K's squad, he needs to leave a lasting impression with a signature performance in the Elite Eight against Louisville. 


Continued Excellence From Seth Curry 

Four rounds into the tournament, Seth Curry has been arguably the most dominant offensive force thus far, as the senior guard has, at times, single-handedly willed the Blue Devils to three victories. But he'll face his toughest offensive test yet in the Cardinals on Sunday. 

Earlier this season, when Duke topped the Cardinals 76-71 in the Bahamas, the Blue Devils were fortunate to escape with a victory despite an awful offensive outing from Curry, who went 2-of-9 from behind the arc en route to a 14-point performance. 

This time around, the Blue Devils won't advance without a much bigger day out of Curry, because at least since the Big Dance began, it's been abundantly clear that the Blue Devils will go as far as Curry can take them.