Reliant Stadium is the stage as Scott Drew’s No. 3 seed Baylor Bears (28-7) clash with Mike Krzyzewski and his No. 1 seed Duke Blue Devils (32-5).
Big 12 and the Atlantic Coast Conference collide with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Baylor makes its first NCAA quarter-finals appearance since 1950. Duke last reached the Final Four in 2004.
The meeting marks the first between the two schools. Baylor is 6-9 all-time versus the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Bears are making their sixth appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Duke has punched 34 tickets to The Dance.
Seven Bears have earned paychecks in the National Basketball Association. Brian Skinner wears a Clippers uniform. Fifty-one former Blue Devils have made their way to the NBA. Fourteen of those alums currently dot NBA rosters: Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, Elton Brand, Luol Deng, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy, Gerald Henderson, Grant Hill, Dahntay Jones, Corey Maggette, Josh McRoberts, Shavlik Randolph, J.J. Redick, and Shelden Williams.
On paper, the Bears and Devils cast mirror-like images. Both teams score 77 points a game and grab 39 rebounds while keeping opposing rebounders to 32. Baylor’s opponents score 65 to Duke’s nearly 61. The Blue Devils grab 14 offensive rebounds. Baylor gets 12.
If there is slight edge to be found, it could be in opponents’ offensive rebounds. Duke holds teams to 11.5. Baylor gives up nearly 13. Perhaps the effect of an aggressive front line seeking blocks.
Baylor’s front line is arguably the most imposing in college basketball. Anthony Jones (6'10"), Epke Udoh (6'10"), and Josh Lomers (7'0") have put the wood to many opponents this year. The trio averages 277 points and 18 rebounds. Combine that with five blocks per game and opponents get headaches trying to plan for these guys.
Opposing teams can not afford to focus merely on Baylor’s frontcourt.
LaceDarius Dunn is 10th in the nation hitting more than three trifectas per game. The junior hits 42.4 percent from long range and has connected 114 times this year.
With opposing defenses focusing on his teammates, Tweety Carter takes advantage of open spaces scoring 15 points a game.
Quincy Acy adds nine points and five rebounds off the bench.
The Blue Devil frontcourt holds a plus-six rebounding margin. The emergence of Brian Zoubek and freshman Mason Plumlee gives Duke a well-rounded attack. Zoubek grabbed 13 rebounds to go with 14 points in Duke’s victory over California.
Make no mistake though, Baylor must slow down Duke’s big three: Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, and Kyle Singler. The trio combine for 53 points and 13 rebounds per game.
Scheyer scores 18 a game to go with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.9:1. If Duke holds a late lead, Scheyer is deadly from the line—181-206 (87.9 percent).
Singler has scored double figures in Duke’s last 22 games.
Smith averages 17. The junior guard mixes a long-range game (51-133 from behind the arc) with a quick first step that allows him to get into the paint.
Lance Thomas scores slightly below five a game and grabs 4.8 rebounds.
Which force is the strongest?
Baylor might have the best blend of athleticism and talent in the country. Can Dunn succeed against Duke’s pressure on the perimeter?
The Blue Devils limit opposing shooters to 27.8 percent from behind the arc (second in the nation). In the Blue Devil defense, Baylor will find a group that does not back down. Dunn and teammates might have hot stretches today, but Duke will make them prove it for the entire game. Scheyer has struggled of late, but Duke continues to win. Singler will force the Bears to use Acy more than they want thus limiting their size in the paint.
Duke will earn its 15th trip to the Final Four.