Sweet 16 Bracket: Preview of a Potential Classic in Duke-Purdue
There are a lot of similarities between Duke and Purdue.
For one, the Blue Devils have been underestimated all season long, while the Boilermakers are easily one of the most underestimated teams right now.
About a month ago this would have been even more of a premier matchup, with Purdue at full strength with a healthy Robbie Hummel and ranked in the top five.
However, despite Hummel's absence, Duke can expect the Boilermakers to give them all kinds of fits.
I cautioned right after Hummel's injury that it was unfair and disrespectful for any Blue Devil fans to take Purdue lightly.
They still are a very dangerous team with stars E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson, and a gutty Duke-like player in Chris Kramer.
Playing in the Big Ten, the Boilermakers won't shy away from Duke's physical nature of play and have enough athletes to give Duke's defense some problems.
So while the talking heads and the pieces of paper may hand an edge to Duke, there is a lot that makes me believe this will be a tightly contested game from tip to finish.
Here are some questions whose answers will be key to the outcome of what could be a classic tournament showdown.
Who will Chris Kramer guard?
Kramer is easily the best defender on the Boilermaker's squad, and who he guards will be key.
I would expect him to match up with Kyle Singer or Nolan Smith, who have both been playing very well so far in the tournament.
While I don't rule out him taking Jon Scheyer, the Duke guard's recent shooting slump may have him draw someone else, perhaps Moore.
I expect coach Matt Painter will want Kramer on whoever has the hot hand for Duke in an effort to slow down the Blue Devil offense. If he can do that, advantage Boilermakers.
Will Jon Scheyer's stroke return?
The good news for Duke is that they haven't really needed it in the first two games, both double-digit victories.
However, in a close game Scheyer is going to need to be able to knock down some of the open looks he has missed on. If he does that, it could turn the tide in Duke's favor.
Scheyer has been in a slump before, and this one is no different. A benefit of Scheyer being a veteran is that the slump shouldn't bother other aspects of his game.
The bad news is Duke isn't as good if it has to rely on someone else to make up for his lack of scoring.
Can Purdue match up on the inside with Duke?
I never thought I'd say this, but Duke has an advantage on the inside.
While it may not be in pure talent, the Blue Devils have the numbers and height to cause the Boilermakers some problems down low.
Brian Zoubek is playing his best basketball ever, both on the offensive and defensive end.
In the two games so far he has become an offensive threat in the post in addition to his rebounding.
Add in some solid play from Mason and Miles Plumlee and the ever-present defensive intensity of Lance Thomas, and Duke, while it may not have the most skilled frontcourt, has a formidable one.
Can Duke match Purdue's intensity?
The Boilermakers clearly have something to prove, and they would like nothing better than to prove it against the hated Blue Devils.
Purdue finds itself an underdog in a year where it's been one of the elite teams all year.
Games that Duke have lost this season are when it hasn't been able to match the intensity and desire of the other team.
While the Blue Devils aren't likely to come in that way in an NCAA Tournament game, they will have to match what is going to be an intense and determined Boilermaker squad.
If they can't, then Purdue will win this game.
Duke's bread and butter this year has been defense and rebounding. Both set up their offense and keep the opposing team off balance.
If Duke can hold the edge in rebounding, especially on the offensive end, and force Purdue to turn the ball over, it could be a long day for the Boilermakers.
Blue Devil fans, make no mistake: Purdue is for real and is not to be overlooked. They are playing with a chip on their shoulder, as everyone doubted them when Hummel went down.
They've earned their spot in the Sweet 16, and while not every game has been pretty, their will to win is very strong. That simply cannot be underestimated.
There is still a lot of talent on that team, and they can absolutely beat Duke.
I have Duke winning in a close one, 65-63, but it could be a toss-up.
In the end I think the Blue Devils' rebounding and defense will be too much for the Boilermakers.