Elite 8 Preview
The Midwest continues to live up to its title as the toughest region of the Tournament. It was the only region that had its top three seeds make the Sweet 16 and is now the only one left with its top two seeds facing off. Basically, it’s the only region that everyone correctly picked in their bracket (straight chalk most of the way). Louisville continues its tear and comes into this Game ranging as a three to Four-point favorite. While Duke is a solid team, Louisville deserves to be the favorite, not just because they are the No. 1 seed.
The Cardinals bring a complete team to the table and that shows in their 13-Game winning streak dating back to early February. At the head of that is Russ Smith who has put together one of the best three-Game stretches of any player in NCAA Tournament history. Whether he’s pulling up for a shot or driving to the hoop, he’s trouble for the opposition. In those three Games he has 81 points, eight assists and 11 steals. He should be matched up with Seth Curry of Duke, but the coaches may not decide to have them guard each other. Curry hasn’t been a slouch either, going for 72 points in his three Games. Most notably was his last performance against Michigan State when he went 6-for-7 from behind the arc. No matter who the Spartans had on him, he was popping out and hitting the jay or even working the defender a bit.
There are plenty more great matchups to watch in this Game as well. The lengthy Gorgui Dieng will get to face off with Mason Plumlee. Keep in mind when these teams played back in November when Duke came away with a five-point win, Dieng did not play. Because of that and the fact that it was five months ago, means you can’t put too much thought into their previous matchup. Dieng will give Plumlee a lot more trouble than he had the first time around in the post. Plumlee has gotten into foul trouble the last couple Games and will need to play smarter because he is a very important part to this offense.
At the other guard spot, Peyton Siva will take on Quinn Cook. Both players have the ability to shoot and score off the dribble, but neither has looked all that great in the Tourney so far. Cook only played 21 minutes against Michigan State because he was so ineffective. The same can be said about Siva as he looked like a mess with Four turnovers and three fouls in 19 minutes against Oregon. Siva gets the advantage due to his seniority, but not by much.
For the Blue Devils, Ryan Kelly is a definite matchup problem at the forward position, but it’s not his offense that has been his main suit lately. Kelly has not made a three-pointer in five straight Games which seems to be getting to his head. However, his Game has been better defensively, getting Four blocks in their Sweet 16 Game along with 38 minutes of action. Chane Behanan will start off guarding Kelly, but there will be a lot of switching involved with Stephan Van Treese and Montrezl Harrell off the bench. Those two could also help against Plumlee.
At the last starting spot, Rasheed Sulaimon will go head-to-head with Wayne Blackshear. This is the least popular of all of the matchups in this Game, but Sulaimon is a player that can get hot and has a better offensive Game than Blackshear. You can go back and forth at all five starting positions for these teams, but the bench will be owned by Louisville. Kevin Ware matches up well with all of Duke’s guards and he can help out defensively while Harrell provides another big body for them and LUke Hancock is a sizeable shooter.
The Cardinals have a better rated defense, but if the Blue Devils play like they did last Game, it’s not going to be easy for Louisville to get buckets. This will be the most popular of all Elite Eight Games and is Sunday night for a reason. Louisville is playing the best basketball in the country at the moment and it’s going to take some sharpshooting from Duke’s guards and maybe even Kelly if they want to win. The coaching battle is also pretty even between Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski, but a stat that jumps out is that Coach K is 11-1 in the Elite Eight. That’s a really, really good record.