Duke Basketball: 5 Things We Learned in the Loss to Louisville

David Aldridge@davidmaldridgeFeatured ColumnistApril 1, 2013

Duke Basketball: 5 Things We Learned in the Loss to Louisville

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    The Duke Blue Devils were eliminated from the 2013 NCAA tournament on Sunday with a 85-63 loss to the Louisville Cardinals.

    Louisville advances to the Final Four in Atlanta, Ga., and remains the heavy favorite to win the national championship while Duke finishes the season with a 30-6 record.

    It was the final game in the decorated college careers of Duke seniors Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, but all three have a great chance to play professionally at some level, whether it's in the NBA or elsewhere.

    Duke fans will look forward to what should be a very exciting team in the 2013-14 season, but let's first take a look at five things that we learned in the loss to Louisville.

1. Duke Could Not Contain the Louisville Guards

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    Rick Pitino has arguably the best backcourt in college basketball in Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, and these two played like it against Duke.

    Siva was able to break down Quinn Cook off the dribble and create havoc against Duke's interior defense while Smith was nearly unstoppable in transition for the Cardinals. Smith used his experience and skill on a number of occasions to take advantage of Rasheed Sulaimon, a freshman who was not used to guarding a player of Smith's caliber.

    Whether it was driving to the basket, converting fast breaks or hitting outside shots, Siva and Smith were the catalysts in leading Louisville to the victory over Duke.

    Cook and Sulaimon showed their inexperience in this game, but now they have an entire offseason to build from this loss and get better for next season.

2. Gorgui Dieng Makes Louisville a Different Team

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    When Duke and Louisville played in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on November 28, Gorgui Dieng missed the game because of a broken wrist.

    With Dieng out of the game, Mason Plumlee was able to dominate the post, and Quinn Cook had no trouble making plays at the rim.

    In Sunday's game, Dieng completely changed the complexion of this Louisville team.

    The junior from Senegal finished the game with 14 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and two steals, and Duke really had no answer for him. Dieng was able to finish at the rim as well as hit some mid-range jump shots, and he also took away Cook's ability to make plays at the rim.

    With Dieng playing at such a high level, it's hard to see any other team keeping Louisville from cutting down the nets in Atlanta.

3. Duke's Guards Could Not Handle Louisville's Pressure

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    One of the basic components of any team coached by Rick Pitino is to play with intense defensive pressure.

    The pressure played by the Cardinals on Sunday forced Duke into 11 turnovers, and Quinn Cook, Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon seemed uncomfortable throughout the entire game.

    The trio of Cook, Curry and Sulaimon were a combined 6-of-30 shooting for only 27 points, which is two points less than the 29 points that Curry scored by himself against Michigan State.

    Duke's guards attempted to get to the basket when the outside shots weren't falling, but Louisville's interior defense was just as strong. It was a miserable all-around game for the Blue Devils guards.

4. Duke Was Unable to Create Easy Shots

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    When Duke's offense is playing at its best, Mason Plumlee draws attention in the post and is able to pass the ball out for open looks from the perimeter. Another important aspect of Duke's offense is Quinn Cook's ability to drive to the basket and find open shooters.

    Neither of these things happened against Louisville.

    Plumlee had a strong game with 17 points and 12 rebounds, but his production did not create any good opportunities for his teammates.

    Louisville did not let Seth Curry get many open looks and instead left Rasheed Sulaimon open on the perimeter. The move worked well, as Sulaimon is a streaky outside shooter and finished the game 1-of-10 shooting.

    Duke's offense had not been strong through the entire NCAA tournament, but it had been good enough to win. Against a team as talented as the Cardinals, another poor performance meant the end of the season for the Blue Devils.

5. Duke's Championship Defense Could Not Stop Louisville

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    Following the win over Michigan State this past Friday, I said that Duke was playing championship-level defense.

    That defense disappeared against Louisville on Sunday.

    As well as Duke's defense had played, it had yet to face a team with guards as talented as Louisville's. To be fair, there's not another team in college basketball that has guards better than the Cardinals have.

    While Duke had played excellent interior defense through the first three games of the NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils had still struggled against teams with explosive guards who could make plays off the dribble.

    This was a recipe for disaster when trying to stop Peyton Siva and Russ Smith.

    Quinn Cook could not keep Siva in front of him, and Duke had a horrible time trying to stop the pick-and-roll.

    The Cardinals shot over 52 percent from the field and were able to get any look that they wanted on offense.

    It was an impressive defensive display in Duke's first three games of the NCAA tournament, but the lack of defense against Louisville is a big reason why the Blue Devils are headed home.