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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Four keys to Saturday night’s showdown between Duke and Louisville

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Louisville's Russ Smith (US Presswire)

The last time Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski coached against one-another, Christian Laettner broke the hearts of Kentucky fans with his famous game-winning turnaround jump shot in the 1992 East Regional finals.

Twenty years later, Pitino and Krzyzewski will battle again in the title game of the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

Saturday night's matchup between No. 2 Louisville and No. 5 Duke may not have as high stakes as the Laettner game 20 years ago, but it's as intriguing a game as college basketball can produce in November. Here are four keys that should help determine the winner:

1. Will Louisville knock down outside shots?

Between its size, depth, defensive prowess and ability to create off the dribble, Louisville has nearly all the attributes of an elite college team. About the only one the Cardinals are missing is an ability to consistently shoot from the perimeter. A Louisville team that shot only 32 percent from behind the arc last season lost its top perimeter shooter, Kyle Kuric, to graduation. The Cardinals had only made 31 percent of their 3-pointers this season before an encouraging 9 of 21 performance against Missouri Friday night fueled by George Mason transfer Luke Hancock sinking five attempts from behind the arc. If Louisville duplicates that shooting effort against Duke, it will be hard for the Blue Devils to win.

2. How will Duke handle Louisville's defensive pressure?

Duke's reward for doing an excellent job against VCU's "Havoc" defensive pressure is facing maybe the only team in the nation who does a better job than the Rams forcing turnovers. Louisville notched 12 steals against Missouri in the semifinals and harassed the Tigers into 23 turnovers, eight by preseason SEC player of the year Phil Pressey. What enabled Duke to only turn the ball over eight times against VCU on Friday was the steady play of Quinn Cook and the ability of big men Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly to help bring the ball up the floor. Cook had nine assists and only three turnovers, while Kelly and Plumlee showed unusual poise and ball handling skill for big men.

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Mason Plumlee (Getty Images)

3. Can Louisville's interior defense slow down Mason Plumlee?

If the race for the Wooden Award ended after Friday night's slate of games, Mason Plumlee would have a pretty strong case. Plumlee has finally tapped into the potential he flashed throughout his Duke career, averaging 20.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 68.6 percent shooting. He even made four key free throws down the stretch against VCU, something he never would have been able to do a year ago. One advantage Louisville will have over previous Duke opponents is the presence of standout interior defender Gorgui Dieng. The 6-foot-11 junior is known more his ability as a shot blocker and rim protector, but he will have a chance to show off his mobility and his post defense since he'll likely draw the assignment on Plumlee.

4. Will fatigue hinder Duke?

Three games in three days takes a toll on players no matter what, but these 72 hours will be an especially big test for Duke. Not only did the Blue Devils' starters all play at least 31 minutes against VCU on Friday, this will be their second straight game against a team that tires its opponents by playing full-court pressure defense. Seth Curry, in particular, probably needs a rest as a result of a chronic leg injury that often makes it difficult for him to play two days in a row, let alone three. Normally Mike Krzyzewski might go to his bench more in a game like this, but he cannot be confident in the reserves right now. They've collectively contributed a mere five points in two games, not exactly a sign they're ready for more playing time. Louisville, by contrast, is one of the deepest teams in the nation, though Peyton Siva and Russ Smith both have played heavy minutes this week.

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