April 2, 2010

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By Anthony Oliva III

INDIANAPOLIS - This one isn't going to be pretty.

West Virginia, led by hardnosed coach Bob Huggins, is a rugged team. The Mountaineers rebound with ferocity and play a tough brand of basketball. On the other hand, this isn't your average Duke team. The Blue Devils are tall. They're physical. And their 7-foot-1 center Brian Zoubek has a beard that coach Krzyzewski says "keeps him in character." Overall, both of these teams don't mind a little contact. And, both teams defend with the best. West Virginia's opponents are shooting only 34 percent from the field in the tournament. Duke isn't far behind, yielding only a 39-percent success rate.

In West Virginia's win over Duke in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, Nolan Smith said the Blue Devils were "out-toughed." That shouldn't be the case in this game.

Where Duke has the advantage:
Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith offer Duke the explosiveness that West Virginia's backcourt lacks. Scheyer and Smith combine for over 35 points a game. Scheyer is lethal from the outside and Smith is proficient at driving and creating his own shot. West Virginia, playing without starting point guard Darryl Bryant, does not have that same versatility in its backcourt.

"I think they're terrific," Huggins said of Scheyer and Smith. "I think they do a great job with ball security. They seemingly make every open shot that they get. They really play within themselves, which I think in today's world is easier said than done."

Kentucky had an equally talented backcourt, but West Virginia did a good job containing those stars in the Elite Eight. In that game, Joe Mazzulla had a career-high 17 points filling in for Bryant.

"It meant a lot to pay (Coach Huggins) back and to pay my teammates back, as well as the university and the state," Mazzulla said of his play against Kentucky. "If there was one thing to do to say thank you to them, it was go out and play as hard as I can."

Where West Virginia has the advantage:
West Virginia has so much length that it can match up with nearly any offense, even one with as many weapons as Duke. Da'Sean Butler, Wellington Smith, John Flowers, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones are all over 6-foot-7. Therefore, the Mountaineers have the ability to frustrate anyone. Krzyzewski said it's West Virginia's "length and athleticism" in the 1-3-1 zone that could give the Blue Devils trouble.

"It's a defense that fits well for their personnel," Coach K said. "You know, we've worked on it. We feel comfortable attacking it in practice, but we can't simulate that length."

The Mountaineers are yielding less than 58 points per game in the tournament. For the season, that average was just over 63 points.

What To Watch For:

Rebounding Battle
This is strength versus strength in this one. Duke has outrebounded its opponents by over 11 a game in the tournament. The Blue Devils were 12th in the nation in that category over the year. On the flip side, West Virginia was 10th in rebounding margin and has three players that average over six rebounds a game. Duke and West Virginia both rely on offensive rebounds for points, so whatever team can win this battle has a big advantage.

"The boards will be a huge part of this game," Coach K said. "I don't think there is any question about that."

Duke may have more height than West Virginia, but the Mountaineers will make up for that in strength and athleticism.

Attacking West Virginia's 1-3-1 zone
West Virginia utilized a 1-3-1 zone to perfection in its win against Kentucky. The Wildcats were held to 34 percent shooting, including a woeful 4-for-32 performance from 3-point range, against the Mountaineers. Duke has not seen a 1-3-1 zone quite like this all year, but it did see a similar zone against Baylor.

"I think we're going to attack it a lot more," Zoubek said of this zone as compared to Baylor's. "I mean, we obviously have to be a lot more aggressive than we were at Baylor. We got stood up. We kind of just stood around passing it on the perimeter. We're going to have to get it inside as much as possible and really crash the boards."

If Duke is able to score both inside and outside on this suffocating defense like Zoubek suggests, the Blue Devils will likely be playing for a national championship.