Duke vs. West Virginia, Ready to Meet Your Match


Normally when I look at match ups, I like to put each player up against another player on the opposite side and just figure it out, one-on-one (PG vs PG., SF vs. SF, C vs. C, you get the picture). The problem is, you can’t do that with West Virginia, not with that tricky 1-3-1 zone. There is no point in talking about how Joe Mazzulla will do defending Nolan Smith because he won’t be defending Nolan Smith for much of the game.

So tomorrow I’ll talk about how Duke matches up against the 1-3-1 zone. Today I’m going to analyze the match ups of Duke defending the West Virginia offense.

Two years ago, freshman Joe Mazzulla went ‘Red Dawn’ on the Blue Devils, nearly knocking out a triple-double (13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists). Of course, he was being guarded by Greg Paulus. No more. While Mazzulla will be running the point, Nolan Smith will be locked on Mazzolla all night.

Look for Smith to go “white on rice” against Mazzolla before and around mid-court, but once the Mountaineers get settled into their half-court, I suspect Smith might back off. In fact, Smith is the perfect guy to use a double-down in the post.

The simple fact is, Mazzola doesn’t like to shoot the three. Sure he hit one against Kentucky, but that was his first three of the entire freaking season. He’s taken only 15 three-point shots over the last two years thanks to an injured shoulder. Let’s just be honest, if Duke loses because of Mazzolla’s outside shooting, then more power to them.

The other key is, Mazzolla is only effective going to his left. That’s it. Smith can ignore his right hand. Pretend likes it is not there. Stop him going to his left, especially late in the shot clock and you got Joe stopped.

I wouldn’t be shocked to see Singler stuck on Butler, but that would then force Scheyer down low with Ebanks, who stands four inches above Jon. Butler is West Virginia’s most dangerous scorer and certainly the most clutch shooter in all of college basketball. Yet, you don’t ever hear his name come up during dinner time when the conversation turns to the NBA draft. Everyone talks NBA draft during dinner, right?

The fact is, Butler is a jump shooter. Sure his ability to drive has improved his senior year, but 40% of his shots are still three-point shots. The kid likes to put the ball up deep and so far 35% of them find their way into the peach basket. Not great, but not bad.

While Scheyer won’t make anyone’s All-defensive team (although he did make it on my All-Jewish defensive team), he does a fine job of moving his feet and keeping non-point guards in front of him. He’s still vulnerable to a quick dribble-drive guard, but that’s why you move Jon away from Mazzolla and onto Butler. Ta-da!

While Butler will sometimes go inside with his back to the basket against smaller shooting guards, Jon isn’t small, so look for Da’Sean to do a lot of catch and shoot. If the catch and shoot is coming off a screen, then the defender coming off the screener needs to stay in front of Butler. If not, Scheyer needs to be sure to get his hand in Butler’s face. He’s not going to shut him down, but if he can force him to take 17 shots to get his 17 points instead of 11 or 12, then L’Chaim!

When Ebanks was a freshman, I thought he was going to be a star. He was a 6’9 freak of nature that just needed to work on the fundamentals of basketball (shooting, dribbling, etc.). The problem is, he hasn’t really improved much after two full seasons of West Virginia basketball.

What we do know is, a smart defender, even a less-talented one, can shut down Ebanks. He has no outside shot to speak of, shooting an awful 3-30 fr0m three (8-70 for his career). Like Derrick Zoolander, he can’t go to his left, so all a defender has to do is back off, dare him to launch deep and stick to his right hand, offering a free ride to the portside (yeah, I just dropped some nautical on ya).

The simple fact is, he won’t do it. He’ll give the ball up. He’ll typically get his points in the fast break and on the offensive boards. As a team, the Devils need to stop the Mountaineers from running. Although West Virginia doesn’t like to run, they can and they have the length to get up and down the court after a missed shot.

However, for Singler, his No 1 goal is to keep Ebanks off the offensive glass. He’s a bit smaller than Ebanks, but he’s wider and stronger. Block him out and you minimize Ebanks ability to get involved in the game. If he doesn’t get involved, he’ll get frustrated and get aloaf.

This is where things get tricky for the Blue Devils. Both of West Virginia’s big men are on the smaller side (6’7 Smith, 6’8 Jones), but both are heavy (Smith is at 245, Jones is 250). Either way, Thomas will be giving up 20+ pounds to either.

If I was running the show, I’d put Thomas on Kevin Jones. As the Mountaineers second leading scorer, Jones can score both inside and outside. In fact, a quarter of the big man’s shots are threes and he nails 40% of those, a team best. He also is an energy spark plug for this team and that’s just another reason to drop Thomas on him. Throw some energy at the energy and see what happens.

The trick to shutting down Jones is, he’s not that athletic, which may seem odd considering his size and his ability to score in the low post. The fact is, he’s just not that great of a dribbler and he’s not going to create his own shot. If he’s outside, he’s going to shoot an outside shot. Thomas doesn’t have to worry about him blowing by him to the basket.

Overall, despite Thomas’ defensive abilities, I suspect Coach Huggins will try to take advantage of the bulk difference and work Jones inside on the post. Thomas has struggled when forced to defend bulky forwards and can get into foul trouble.

If there is one guy on the floor for the Mountaineers who won’t take the shot, it’s Smith. The hefty 6-7 forward has taken only five shots per game and despite his size, he doesn’t dominate on the board (grabbing only four rebounds per game). If Smith doesn’t get into the flow of the offense, it will just allow Zoubek to spend more time positioning himself for the rebounds.

One potential problem Zoubek might have is, I could see Huggins move Smith out of the paint. Like Kevin Jones, Smith isn’t afraid to shoot a three. He’s hit about 35%, the same as Butler. More importantly, if you get Zoubek out of the paint, it opens room up for the penetrators. It also forces Big Brian to move about, which tends to get him in foul trouble.


When you look at West Virginia’s roster, you see a four-man rotation of long, 6-7, 6-8 players. When Duke is on the offensive end, this scares me. Length and size can do a ton of damage to a team’s offensive game plan. However, when West Virginia is on offensive, they don’t send me trembling.

To beat Duke, you just need atheletes, but West Virginia isn’t stocked with them. The fact is, there is a reason why Coach Huggins doesn’t run with a run-n-gun offense. Outside of Ebanks, you have guys who like to take jump shots and get offensive rebounds.

Last week, West Virginia only made three-point shots in the first half, but forget those 20 minutes. This team is not a dominating three-point team. The trick for the Blue Devils is to let them throw the deep ones up. If West Virginia wants to shoot 20-25 three-point shots, along with another 15 or so shots outside of the paint, they’ll lose.