Setting: Saturday, 2:00 pm at the Izod Center – or the Arena formerly known as Byrne Arena or formerly known as the Meadowlands.
Conflict : Duke vs. Xavier
Plot: Duke (9-1) comes into the game ranked 6th in the AP and Coaches Polls. Xavier (9-0) enters the contest ranked 7th in both polls.
Sub-Plots: The match up marks the fourth such meeting of Top Ten teams this season and second for Duke who beat then #10 Purdue 76-60. UNC beat Notre Dame earlier this year, and Texas topped UCLA in another battle of top tens. Later in the afternoon, #2 UConn will play at #8 Gonzaga.
Already this season Duke has beaten two A10 foes – Rhode Island and Duquesne. Xavier knocked off ACC foe Virginia Tech en route to championship in the Puerto Rico Classic.
The Meadowlands have been a home away from home for Duke over the years as the Blue Devils have gone 17-1 in the New Jersey arena.
Xavier is one of only nine schools to have made multiple appearances during the last five years in the Elite Eight. The other eight? UNC, UCLA, Memphis, Kansas, Texas, Florida, UConn, and Louisville.
Tone: Tomorrow’s game is important for a team looking to validate its existence in the Top 10. Wins by the Musketeers over Missouri, Memphis, Va. Tech, Auburn, and Cincinnati are nice – beating Duke would be serve as a defining moment for the program.
Flashback: This is the fourth game between the Muskies and Blue Devils with Duke coming away victorious in the previous three contests. Twice the combatants have met in the NCAA tourney with Duke downing Xavier 66-63 in the 2004 Atlanta Regional final. In ’87 Duke won a second round match up, 65-60.
Characters: Xavier will start with Dante Jackson and BJ Raymond in the back court. Derrick Brown and CJ Anderson – both coming off double-double performances against Cincinnati will start in the front court with Jason Love at center.
Duke flipped their lineup against UNC-Asheville the other night resulting in a school record for points off the bench. Coach K was probably trying to get the attention of his troops who looked less than stellar in their loss to Michigan. Tomorrow the lineup will need to return to Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer handling the ball with Gerald Henderson, Kyle Singler and Brian Zoubek in the front court.
Lance Thomas and David McClure should both see plenty of time. Zoubek is foul prone, and Love will exploit this deficiency all day.
Xavier has out-rebounded their opponents 40-32 this season while Duke has a 41-30 advantage in this category. Something has to give here and the X-Men should gain an advantage. Brown and Anderson are more athletic than anyone Duke has played against this year (sorry Wolverine fans).
Duke will show full-court pressure and get up in the passing lanes. Xavier will struggle with this pressure; they have turned over the ball 16 times per game. The Muskies will need to get organized against the full-court stuff. Jackson and Smith should be a great match up. Smith should gain an advantage late because the Blue Devil will spell him with Greg Paulus. If the game is close and comes down to point guard play, look for Thomas to take over.
In the half-court Xavier will need to offset Duke’s tenacity. Look for the Muskies to either use screens on the ball to create a two-man game OR it should be a day of back door cuts.
Duke will have to find an answer for Raymond. At 6’6” the Musketeer guard presents a dilemma for the Blue Devils. He can hit from the outside as evidenced by his seven trifectas against Miami of Ohio. If Duke puts Scheyer on Raymond, the Musketeer senior might spend considerable time with his back to the basket in the post.
Brown matching up with Henderson will make for great drama - two of the best slashers in the country.
Singler against Anderson should be more intensity. Singler will force Anderson away from the basket as he sets up behind the arc. Anderson will have the advantage in the paint.
Xavier’s Kenny Frease will provide plenty of punch from the bench. The freshman adds depth that the Muskies will need late in the game.
Theme: Preparation – conference play is not far away.
Foreshadowing: Both of these should advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
1st Team All-Casey
PG Stephen Curry – Davidson
SG Kyle McAlarney –ND
SF Dionte Christmas – Temple
PF Blake Griffin – Oklahoma
C Arinze Onuaku – SU