Final Four preview: West Virginia's perimeter defense key vs. Duke

No. 1 Duke (33-5) vs. No. 2 West Virginia (31-6)

Saturday, 8:47 p.m. EDT, Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)

How they got here:

Duke: d. No. 16 Arkansas Pine-Bluff, 73-44; d. No. 9 California, 68-53; d. No. 4 Purdue, 70-57; d. No. 3 Baylor, 78-71

West Virginia: d. No. 15 Morgan State, 77-50; d. No. 10 Missouri, 68-59; d. No. 11 Washington, 69-56; d. No. 1 Kentucky, 73-66

Last Final Four appearances:

Duke: 2004 (lost to Connecticut in national semifinal); 15th overall appearance

West Virginia: 1959 (lost to Cal in national title game); 2nd overall appearance

Match-up to watch: Duke's perimeter shooting vs. West Virginia's man/1-3-1 defense

Bob Huggins' 1-3-1 zone stymied Kentucky on Saturday night, forcing the Wildcats into an 0-for-20 start from the 3-point line. West Virginia can't expect to face another historically-bad shooting night like that, as the Blue Devils are 29th in the country in 3-point percentage. The team shoots at a 39 percent clip from beyond the arc. If the Mountaineers can hold them to, say, 25 percent on Saturday night, it could go a long way toward determining who will be playing on Monday. Of course, Huggins could decide to go with man against Duke, figuring that his team's athleticism could make it difficult for Duke's shooters to create their own shots.

Duke's main issue is that Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas and the Plumlee brothers have improved in the paint, but are by no means consistent scoring threats. If the long-range shots aren't going, the offense will struggle.

The problem for West Virginia is that any one of three Duke players can catch fire from beyond the arc. If Jon Scheyer isn't hitting, Kyle Singler can kill them. And if Singler is cold (like he was in his 0-for-10 performance against Baylor), Nolan Smith (a career-high 29 points in the regional final) can lead the Blue Devils to victory.


Joe Mazzulla was the offensive sparkplug in West Virginia's victory over Kentucky. If the speedy guard can continue his unexpected resurgence and injured Truck Bryant can go on Saturday, Huggins can platoon them in a sort of thunder/lightning motif to keep the Blue Devils' suffocating defense off balance. They'll only get more space if stars Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks can keep up the scoring.

Though Butler is the leading scorer for WVU, his defense will be most important in the Final Four. His speed and length should cause trouble for whomever he guards. He and his teammates will need to be better on the boards than they were against Kentucky though. West Virginia led the nation in offensive rebounding, but grabbed 14 fewer offensive boards than Kentucky. That's why the Wildcats were still in the game late despite going 4-for-32 from 3-point range and missing 13 free throws.

Duke has lost once since January (on a near buzzer beater at Maryland), while the Mountaineers haven't tasted defeat in five weeks. Both won their respective conference tournaments. Yet the only pre-tournament hype Duke received was due to their so-called "easy" bracket, while West Virginia's press came from the fact that they were jobbed out of a No. 1 seed and figured to play sacrificial lamb to John Wall and Kentucky as a result. But here we are.


The haters will look for any reason to downplay Duke's chances: their bracket was easy, the ACC was weak, Zoubek can't hang with athletic post defenders, Nolan Smith can't be this good, etc. And though this game should be close, the Blue Devils look poised to prove the doubters wrong once again. Duke 73, West Virginia 69.

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