Duke: Five Keys to the Final Four


With Kentucky out, your Duke Blue Devils are the sole number one seed left in the tournament. Stunning, isn’t it?

Actually, I’m not surprised that West Virginia beat Kentucky. In fact, I had the Mountaineers going to the Final Four. Of course I also had Kansas and Syracuse in Indianapolis, so there’s that. We’ll just ignore that half of the bracket.

Now if you remember, I also had Baylor going to, beating Duke in the Elite Eight. Well, here we are and I’m starting to feel like that was a mistake. Duke can win this thing. They can win the whole damn thing. Of course they need to beat Baylor. How are they going to do that? Here are my five keys to the game.

So far, Duke has been able to survive missing three-point shots…lots of them. The Baylor Bears will play a 2-3 zone, with man-to-man principles. This means Baylor attacks the ball, as oppose to just covering an area. The key on the perimeter will be Duke’s ability to swing the ball from side to side.

While you’ll hear a lot of talk regarding Baylor’s ability to defend the three, if you look at their loses this season, the one common thread is that some teams have (although not many) found success hitting threes. In fact, in their last two loses, the opponents hit 22-44 from behind the three-line.

Duke’s advantage is that it has three guys all capable of launching (four if you count Dawkins). The trick though is to not always take the very first “sort-of” open look. Baylor’s guards, Dunn and Carter will get above the three-line, hoping to force you to take shots in spots where you don’t usually launch it from.

Duke will need to utilize the extra pass. With Baylor swarming towards the ball, I can guarantee you that either Scheyer, Singler or Smith will have an open look if they make that final pass.

Also, because of the length of Baylor’s front court, it’s nearly impossible to shot threes from the corners. However, when you look at the shot charts of games that Baylor has lost, they tend to give up threes from the top of the key and the elbows. The elbows in particular are spots where Duke’s shooters like to shoot.

The Blue Devils need to hit these shots. A cold night will send Baylor to the Final Four.

The Baylor Bears front court stands 6’10, 6’11 and 7’0. They are the only front court that can make Duke’s look small. They are long and they love to block shots. In fact, Udoh broke the Big-12 single season record for blocks.

Duke cannot let this turn into a block party. They’ve run into problems this year, especially Scheyer late in the season, driving deep into the trees and getting a ton of shots swatted away. The key to Duke’s success will be getting to the middle of the zone, either by driving the basketball or cutting into the paint to receive a pass. This is where the Devils will need to hit mid-range jumpers.

For the obvious reason, they want to shoot over Baylor’s long arms. But secondly, it will bring Udoh out from under the basket and allow more space for rebounding.

I know, I know, Lance Thomas is not going to go on a scoring outburst. I’m not sure he could score 20 points if Baylor spotted him 10, but he may be the X-factor in all of this.

One of the tricks to beating the zone is the use of the baseline. Lance Thomas’ job on offense will be to set screens and go for offensive rebounds. He’ll cut to the middle for a pass just enough times to keep Baylor honest, but let’s face it, he’s not the same passer as Zoubek. However, he’s a sneaky little bastard and teams can often forget about him.

If he can live along the baseline, just a few feet from the basket, then he could put some easy lay ups in. The fact is, if and when Singler, Scheyer and Smith drive into the middle of the zone, the hope is to draw Baylor’s big men out, allowing Thomas to sneak in underneath.

In fact, I believe both Plumlee brothers are better at this. Look for both of them to try to live behind the zone when they come in. The beauty of the brothers is that they’re are smoother than Thomas and both no how to finish at the rim, whereas Thomas can look like scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.

Confused? Let me explain. Baylor’s Tweety Carter is a lightning quick guard. Baylor’s other guard and leading scorer, LaceDarius Dunn, is also a speedster. The Bears like to run, especially after a miss. Baylor’s been great all season long at grabbing rebounds, quickly throwing outlet passes out to the guards and pushing the ball to the basket before the defense even knows what hit them.

While most will argue that the key to stopping this is to just get back. Tell your guards to forget the rebounding and get back. But this is wrong. Do that and you’ll have Smith and Scheyer standing in the paint as the Bears’ guards run and jump around them.

The key to stopping the run-n-gun is to prevent the outlet pass from getting to the guards. If I was the coach, I would tell both Nolan and Jon, the second the ball leaves our shooter’s hands, find Carter and Dunn and guard them before the ball reaches the basket. No standing there, with your hand up, watching to see if your shot goes in. They need to guard Baylor’s ball handlers before they even get the ball, so when Baylor’s big men grab the ball, there’s nowhere to go with it.

This will force them to hold it and it will force Baylor’s guards to come get the ball. This allows the Blue Devils to get back. This slows everything down. You slow Baylor down, they get frustrated and when they get frustrated, they turn the ball over. In fact, they are only 107th in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. They’ve only dished out 15 more assists than turnovers all season long.

Duke’s been doing it all season long. Baylor, who likes to play “80-70” ball, hasn’t. Turn this game into a Ron Jeremy film….bump, grind, hit, bounce, let them now you’re there.

Baylor has failed to score 70 or more only once in their last 22 games. Let’s see how they feel when neither team has 20 points with five to play in the first half. This should be especially hard for the Bears when you consider how easy it was for them to beat St. Mary’s.

The Blue Devils are not St. Mary’s. In fact, when was the last time Baylor actually faced a really good team? Look at their road to the Elite Eight. They beat (14-seed) Sam Houston State, (11-seed) Old Dominion and (10-seed) St. Mary’s.

Hell, for the season, Baylor is 8-4 against the top-50 (according to Ken Pom’s rankings). Sounds impressive until you dig a bit deeper. Three of those wins came against Texas, all during their slump at the end of the season. Secondly, take away the Texas wins and none came away from home.

But Balls, this game is in Houston, won’t it feel like a home game for Baylor? Yeah, maybe. But was anyone impressed with the Baylor “home crowd” Friday night.

Think about it, Baylor wins the early game. Next up is Duke and Purdue. If you’re a Bears fan, you HAVE to root for Purdue…hard. Yet, half of Baylor’s fans went home early and you could hear a pin drop in that place.

I’m not saying the place will pro-Duke, I just don’t think it’s going to feel like a true road game. Think about it, just imagine if we were facing the Texas Longhorns in Houston. That place would be rocking Orange.

Those are my five keys. Now how about a prediction?

WORTHLESS PREDICTION: 76-68. Duke does it their way.