In a tournament with little semblance of order, there remains a scrap of the expected.
This Saturday, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, the No. 1 seed Duke Blue Devils out of the South Region will square off with the West Virginia Mountaineers of the East Region.
The matchup of Big East champions WVU and ACC champs Duke looks to be a defensive battle.
West Virginia features one of the most tenacious and successful defenses in the country. Running the 1-3-1 zone, they are able to use their length to deny entry passes and keep their opponents from getting the ball to the low post.
Duke, on the other hand, plays a solid man with strong help defense to shut down their opponents.
Offensively, Duke relies on their big three of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, and Kyle Singler to provide much of their scoring. All three averaged over 17 points per game this season. Singler's great size, standing at 6'8", and ability to handle the basketball, shoot from the perimeter, drive, and score in the paint make him a matchup nightmare for any team.
On the other side, West Virginia features three talented offensive threats as well. Da'Sean Butler, one of the premier players in college basketball, can do it all. He shot 36 percent from behind the arc this season while scoring 17.4 points per game. Alongside Butler are Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones, both contributing over 12 points per game as well.
WVU Keys to the Game
The Devils have shown all year their proficiency at hitting long-range shots. Scheyer moved into 10th place in ACC all-time three-point baskets made in Duke's win over Baylor. He is always a threat to shoot from outside, as are teammates Smith and Singler.
Contain Duke's "big three"
With 29 points in Duke's regional final matchup with Baylor, Nolan Smith continued to prove his proficiency at netting the basketball. With a smooth shot and the body control and smarts to hit pull-up jumpers over shot blockers, Smith is nearly impossible to shut down.
The word "contain" is key here. No team will be able to make the big three a non-factor offensively. Instead, it is paramount to minimize the damage they do and make Duke resort to putting up points with their bigs to win the game—something they have not shown a great aptitude for.
Get major point contributions from players other than Da'Sean Butler
A key to WVU's win over Kentucky in the Elite Eight was the 17 points put up by Joe Mazzulla. Mazzulla, who scored only 2.2 points per game this year, was able to take pressure away from Butler, Ebanks, and Jones.
To beat Duke, WVU needs to score at least 65 points. To do this they will need significant contributions from players like Mazzulla, John Flowers, and Wellington Smith.
Duke Keys to the Game
Take advantage of the zone
In WVU's win over Kentucky, the Wildcats went 4-of-32 from three-point land. They were unable to take advantage of weaknesses in the zone defense of West Virginia. Duke needs to hit open three-pointers when they get the opportunity because points will be hard to come by against a well-coached Mountaineer defense.
Also, they need to utilize baseline cuts behind the middle of the 1-3-1 zone where Singler, coming off the wing, will have a major size advantage over the 6'2" Mazzulla (who normally plays the back of the zone).
Crash the offensive glass
Duke has emerged this year with a different look than teams of recent years. They are the tallest Blue Devil team in years and one of the premier offensive rebounding teams in the country. Against Baylor, Duke gathered 23 offensive boards, leading to 23 second-chance points.
Brian Zoubek has emerged over the second half of his senior season to become a major threat on the offensive glass. If Zoubek, Lance Thomas, and the Plumlee brothers can sustain their dominance of the offensive glass, they will be difficult to beat.
With Da'Sean Butler being the most consistent scorer on a Mountaineers team that occasionally struggles with scoring, his performance will be a turning point in the game. If Duke is able to keep Butler from taking open shots, they will lessen his scoring impact.
Also, Butler is a very emotional player. If Duke comes out of the gates strong on defense, they might be able to throw Da'Sean off his game.