Know thy NCAA Tournament Opponent Round 3: Duke Blue Devils

Didn't we all feel like it would come back to Duke? When the full 2008-09 schedule was announced everyone was excited that we would be facing the Blue Devils at home. We felt we were ready with our stars as sophomores and a preseason top 10 ranking. Duke came to Mackey Arena, in one of the most frenzied atmospheres I have ever seen, and whipped our ass.

I don't even think it was the margin that was so disturbing. Duke made the win look effortless. It was like they found our intimidating environment cute and toyed with us for two hours. It was a humbling experience. They knew they were the better team and we weren't ready to rise to their level.

So we're back facing the Blue Devils a little more than 50 games later. A lot of players on the rosters are the same, but there are some differences as well. We don't have Robbie Hummel and they have the Plumlee brothers. They no longer have Gerald Henderson and Greg Paulus, while we have... D.J. Byrd and Ryne Smith? While there are a lot of difference between the two rosters, many of the same key parts are still there for each side. The same question stands though: Are we ready?

2009-10 Record: 31-5, 13-3 (ACC Regular season and Tournament champions)

2008-09 Record: 30-7, 11-5 ACC (lost to Villanova 77-54 in NCAA Sweet 16)

Blog Representation: Just Duke, Duke Basketball Report

Common Opponents:  at Wisconsin (L 69-73), Wake Forest (W 90-70)

Series With Purdue: Purdue leads 4-2

Last Purdue win: 11/30/2003 78-68 at the Great Alaska Shootout

Last Duke win: 12/2/2008 76-60 at Purdue

Purdue and Duke have only played six times, but the two Blue Devil wins have been two of the most hard to take defeats in Purdue history. The last win was especially humbling, but the only other victory in 1994 was especially tough to swallow. The Blue Devils defeated Purdue 69-60 in Knoxville, Tennessee to eliminate the Big Dog Glenn Robinson's final Purdue team and deny Gene Keady possibly his best shot at a Final Four. It is entirely possible that Purdue wins the 1994 National Championship if it doesn't lose to Duke in that game. Purdue has only come as close to the Final Four once since in the fluke 2000 tournament. As a side note, Purdue did defeat Duke 68-60 to go to the 1980 Final Four in Indianapolis.

On paper, Duke is very similar to us statistically. John Scheyer (18.1 ppg, 4.9 apg), Kyle Singler (17.7ppg, 7 rpg), and Nolan Smith (17.2 ppg) are their JJ, Robbie, and E'Twaun. Smith is the E'Twaun in that he is an athletic scorer that can create his own shot while occasionally getting hot from long range. Singler is pretty much like Robbie in that he is a scorer and good rebounder. He can step out and hit the three. Scheyer is also a lot like Robbie, but distributes the ball better than he is a rebounder. All three are dangerous 3-point shooters that are better than 38% from long range.

While those three guys do the bulk of the scoring, Duke has plenty of front line talent that can make a huge difference in this game. Their supporting cast statistically contributes about the same as ours, but it is much bigger. Brian Zoubek , a 7'1" senior center allows Singler and Scheyer to take advantage of size advantages on the perimeter. Zoubek also went for 14 and 13 in their last game against California, so he can score. He's not quite the monster that Hasheem Thabeet was last year, but he is still quite menacing and he outweighs JJ easily.

Miles Plumlee and Mason Plumlee are a pair of brothers that have been very effective of late. Combined they average less than 10 points per game, but it is their size and athleticism that concerns me. If either one of them is in double figures as they are capable we are in trouble. They can also combine to eliminate JJ as a post presence with Zoubek if Duke wants to go big. This is before we even talk about 6'8" forward Lance Thomas. Thomas is only a five and five guy, but he is yet another big body that can bang down low and get JJ in foul trouble.

Duke plays more on the perimeter with Sheyer, Singler, and Smith, but Coach K has to recognize he has the personnel to go big and punish us on the glass with the Plumlees, Thomas, and Zoubek. Getting position on the glass will be critical just as it was in the Texas A&M game. Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly are guys that will probably play a few minutes for Duke. Dawkins is a decent 3-point shooting guard off the bench while Kelly is another 6'10 forward they can throw at us.

So how do we win this game? How do we attack five post players with only two on our end? This game will be won by Purdue if we can provide constant general disruption on defense to their offensive flow. We have to challenge every pass and every shot. We have to drag them down into our style of basketball. Duke can be beaten. They have some bad losses and a few too close for comfort wins against teams they should dominate.

North Carolina State, one of the worst teams in the ACC, beat Duke 88-74 by playing team basketball (18 assists) and shooting 58% from the field. Hassling them into sub 40% shooting from the field helped a lot too. Georgetown in their 89-77 win had a similar gameplan. Gerogia Tech got them by shutting down everyone but Scheyer. Finally, there was Wisconsin. The Badgers pretty much beat them up while playing an even game statistically. Dawkins had a 12 point game in Madison on four 3-pointers, but Wisconsin survived it.

We do not win this game without playing Purdue style basketball. We absolutely must share the basketball, take smart shots when they are there, and we have to shoot better overall than we have been shooting lately. We can't be afraid to attack the basket and get to the free throw line, either. Zoubek and Thomas are prone to foul trouble, so let's give that to them. I think we need to push tempo in transition to get some transition baskets. Creating offense from defense will be critical.

Finally, we have to wear them down. Scheyer, Singler, and Smith are the only players that play better than 30 minutes per night. They have a deep bench, but we have to wear them down anyway with our defense. They have played a few physical teams like Wisconsin and Florida State, but they haven't seen us since last year.

That's really what it comes down to. During the entire second half on Sunday I sat on my couch and I was practically sending vibes into my TV toward the guys with my mantra.

Just Keep Fighting.

That's what we have to do. We have to fight, scratch, and claw like mad bastards. We did it against Texas A&M and it paid off. They have more talent than us, but I think we are ready. It seemed like one huge defensive play spreads like a virus throughout our team. You have Kramer Moments for sure, but then you have other things. You have Ryne Smith tying up a guy who has 80 pounds on him. You have Lewis Jackson forcing the same guy to dribble out of the paint with scrapping defense. You have Keaton Grant flying in for a wild blocked shot, then later getting a steal and score in transition. You have JJ swatting key shots away at the biggest moments. You have D.J. Byrd flying in for an offensive tip in much to the dismay of a bigger, strong player who had position for what he thought was an easy rebound. We all need to be saying this, over and over all week.

Just Keep Fighting.

Just Keep Fighting.

JUST KEEP FIGHTING!!

Keys to the game for Purdue:

  • Lock down the perimeter and don't give up open looks
  • Don't be afraid to attack the basket
  • Defend like mad bastards
  • Feed off of Kramer Moments
  • Shoot the basketball with confidence
  • Get threes from Keaton Grant, Ryne Smith, and D.J. Byrd
  • Just Keep Fighting.
  • Just Keep Fighting.
  • JUST KEEP FIGHTING!!

Prediction: Purdue 65, Duke 64 (Side note: I hope you guys enjoy the Open Thread Champs banner)

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