Midwest Regional Final Game Analysis: #1 Louisville vs #2 DukePosted by BHayes on March 31st, 2013
#1 Louisville vs. #2 Duke Midwest Regional Final (at Indianapolis, IN) – 5:05 PM ET on CBS
Dream materialized into reality on Friday night as Duke and Louisville wins created a must-see Midwest Regional final match-up. In a wacky NCAA Tournament where five of the top eight seeds have already fallen by the wayside, the Midwest region largely held to form. #1 vs. #2 in the regional final feels all to0 appropriate. Louisville will enter Sunday as the favorite, with a 13-game winning streak and Lucas Oil Stadium full of Cardinal Red in tow. They have shown few weaknesses in reaching this moment, but the Duke team standing between them and Atlanta is elite in their own right, and will undoubtedly offer the sternest test yet for the Cards. The Blue Devils were five points better than Louisville back on November 24, but will the presence of Gorgui Dieng (absent from that Battle 4 Atlantis loss) and a constantly growing Cardinal swagger be enough to script a different ending today?
Even without Dieng, Louisville posted a +6 advantage on the glass in the November game between these two teams. Where his absence was felt was on the defensive end, where a bigger Duke front line was able to attack the rim at will. The Cards managed just one block (Dieng averages 2.5 a game) and Duke went to the line 27 times, where 23 makes helped the Devils overcome a poor shooting night from beyond the arc (5-20 as a team on threes). Having Dieng around now will shore up the interior defense, but Louisville must maintain emphasis on guarding the three-point line, because no team spaces the floor and shoots the three as well as Duke. Louisville may be the best defensive team in the country and grades well in almost every defensive metric, but their defense of the three point line is the weakest of those areas. The manic defensive aggression is a staple of the Cardinal defensive plan, but risks need be well calculated against a perimeter attack as lethal as Duke’s.
The biggest difference between November Louisville and March Louisville (outside of the return of Dieng) is on the offensive end. The current version has now scored at least 1.1 points a possession in each of the last six games – a sharp departure from the Cards first two months of the year, where an inconsistent offense too often let down that stifling defense. The current streak of offensive proficiency will be put to the test against the Blue Devils. Duke has made a habit of stopping opponents in this Tournament, a trend that continued Friday against Michigan State, as the Spartans managed just 33% shooting from the field. Russ Smith has always been a nice barometer for the Cardinal offense, and his production (or lack thereof) will be a telling indicator in this one. We haven’t found an opponent in this Tournament who was able to slow him down – could Duke be the first?
With all due respect to Ohio State, Michigan, and Florida, this game features the two best teams left in the field. Whomever emerges will almost certainly be favored to cut down the nets in Atlanta, and may well have discarded the most significant obstacle to their championship dreams. As for Sunday, Louisville is a slight favorite in the eyes of most, but I can’t help but believe that Duke is still a little undervalued. The ultimate difference for me in this one is the moxie and shot-making of Seth Curry and the rest of the Devils. This one has all the makings of a March classic, and lord knows March classics demand big late shots – who better than Curry to come up with the pivotal late play to propel Duke to another Final Four?
The RTC Certified Pick: Duke