You've probably seen countless previews of West Virginia's upcoming National Semifinal match-up against Duke. Unfortunately, you've probably also seen countless terribly shitty, poorly researched previews. From my perspective, it seems that the national media watched WVU's game against Kentucky, took that 40 minutes as the end-all of WVU's plan of attack, and then wrote up stories that lacked knowledge of all other games the Mountaineers have played this season.
Luckily, your main man Charley West has had the pleasure of watching nearly every minute of Mountaineer basketball this season, along with quite a few of Duke's games. Based on that knowledge, WVU seems to be well positioned for a victory against the Blue Devils on Saturday night. Why? Glad you asked...
- We can play man defense. This is my #1 gripe with the national media's drive-by previews: they assume we're going to play zone. They see Kentucky's eye-popping 34 attempts from three, many of them open looks, and think that Duke's Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, and Kyle Singler will exploit that freedom. Au contraire, my friend. Duke lacks an imposing offensive presence on the inside, which was one reason for the zone against DeMarcus Cousins and UK. They also lack a penetrating guard like John Wall, which was another reason. Yes, guys like Smith can get into the lane, but it's not at Wall-like lightning speeds. Ebanks, Mazzulla, and Butler can stay in front of these guys. And Wellington Smith, Kevin Jones, and John Flowers are athletic enough to defend Brian Zoubek and the fighting Plumlee brothers (note: Plumlee brothers are proven only to be brothers, not fighting). I'm sure the 1-3-1 will make an appearance -- it almost always does -- but I bet we go man for most of the game.
- Duke allows a lot of two-point field goals. In fact, 60% of points against Duke come from inside the arc. That bodes extremely well for a team that plays better when they're shooting from close range. Sure, we made all eight of our first half field goals against Kentucky from beyond their arc, but it was the second half where we demoralized them with drives, mid-range jumpers, and points in the paint. Triples are great, but when guys like Jones and Ebanks are hitting from 12 feet and in, that's when we start to close out ball games. Expect that to happen on Saturday.
- Duke goes three deep. Smith, Singler, and Scheyer are three very good scoring threats. Of course, they're Duke's only scoring threats. Shut down those three, or at least limit their production, and you have an excellent chance of winning the game. Luckily, WVU has enough excellent defenders to try to do that. Ebanks goes without saying, but guys like Mazzulla and Flowers can play tough, physical defense, getting their opponents out of their game. Hell, we've already seen Mazzulla do it in the NCAA Tournament against Duke before -- I don't think there's any question whether he can do it again.
Just look at the vast amount of offensive space taken up by Smith, Singler, and Scheyer.
- It's Duke. We all saw what happened when WVU hit Duke in the mouth in Washington, DC two years ago. They fell down. Over and over again. Tough, scrappy players like Joe Mazzulla can have a field day against Duke. They're designed to stop more finesse teams from the ACC, not bruising, resourceful teams like West Virginia. We can match them athletically and defensively. And while they may have more size on the inside, it's not the type of size that generally bothers the Mountaineers. Personally, I see the game playing out very similarly to the UK game, in which we frustrate the Blue Devils to the point of no return. West Virginia 74, Duke 63.
What do you guys think are the keys to the game? Are you confident we're going to come away with a victory? Have you already started tailgating. Let us know in the comments.