The Pac-10 entered the tournament with four teams (counting USC's "First Four" game), but after the first weekend of play only one remains. Arizona continues its tournament run with a Sweet 16 match-up against Duke.
(5) Arizona v. (1) Duke -- West Region
On its road to the Sweet 16 Arizona narrowly defeated Memphis and Texas, the latter being a game that many thought the Wildcats would lose. Kind of like many people are thinking Sean Miller's team will lose to the Devils. The Wildcats certainly face an uphill battle against Duke, but this tournament has hardly been immune to upsets to this point. Anyway that's probably what Mike Krzyzewski is telling his team right now.
Don't expect Arizona's game plan to change in this game. Derrick Williams will be arguably the best player on the court, and the Cats will look to take full advantage of his dominance. What makes Williams special is his diverse skill set, one that allows him to score from almost anywhere on the floor. Along with being a formittable force inside, Williams has shot 58 percent from beyond the arc, showed a great ability to score from 17 feet, and has averaged shooting just under nine free throws per game. As always, Arizona will look to get Williams the ball early and often to try and establish his presence inside and control the tempo of the game.
Duke has likely focused much of its energy this week on stopping (or just slowing down) the Pac-10 POY. I expect Duke to deploy a defense by committee approach against Williams, anchored by the Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly. Since Williams is virtually impossible for one man to guard, don't be surprised to see Duke swarm when he catches the ball. When Duke doubles or sends extra help, Arizona needs to take advantage. The Cats will need their perimeter players to step up big by knocking down open threes, and making plays away from the ball. To stay with Duke offensively, Miller's team will need points from someone other than Williams. Just who that will be, though, it hard to say. Williams is the only Arizona player with a season scoring average in double figures.
I also expect Coach K to deploy a heavy pressure defense on top limit the touches of Williams. Duke is one of the best teams in the country at pressuring the ball and denying a possession's initial entry pass. Historically the Blue Devils have frustrated many offenses by causing them to rush, thereby disrupting their normal tempo and bringing about many bad shots.
Offensively, Duke is a very perimeter-heavy team, scoring almost 30 percent of its points from behind the arc. That is not to say the Blue Devils don't score inside, but with only 17 pts per game coming from their bigs (Plumlees and Kelly), expect Duke's guards to handle most of the offensive load. Not only will Arizona have to limit the Blue Devils' three-point efficiency, they need to work hard to keep Duke out of the lane. Coach K's guards, especially Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving, are very good at penetrating the lane and opening up opportunities for others. If Arizona doesn't stop the dribble penetration, they're in for a long night.
Smith and Kyle Singler score 47 percent of Duke's points, but in this match-up I think the play of Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins will be just as important. On the season, both players are only averaging a combined 17 pts per game, but both shoot better than 42 percent from the outside. As John Gasaway mentioned in his West preview, Arizona's perimeter defense in the postseason has been average at best. If the Ctas don't get out on both Curry and Dawkins, there could be a ton of Blue Devil points scored very quickly. Both have been relatively quiet in the tournament thus far, but they can get hot quickly.
This game will be played in Anaheim, 2500 miles and three time zones away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. It will be just the second time this season Duke has traveled to the West Coast. Their only other game was against Oregon at the Rose Garden in Portland, where the Blue Devils dismantled the Ducks 98-71. By contrast Arizona is used to this trip by now, as it will be just like traveling to play the L.A. schools.
Even so, I find Duke's team too deep and too talented to be upset by Arizona and Derrick Williams. Especially with the addition of Irving, the Blue Devils are a very dangerous team. I like their chances to survive the West bracket and make it to Houston.
Sam Rayburn was a member of the Cal basketball team from 2004 to 2008.