Circle of March: Vol. XXVI

Posted by rtmsf on April 6th, 2015

And then there were two. With Saturday’s eliminations of Kentucky and Michigan State, the Circle of March is down to its final permutation before we crown this season’s National Champion.

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Eliminations (04.04.15)

  • Michigan State
  • Kentucky
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.05.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 5th, 2015

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Duke

Coach K and Duke Will Compete For Their Fifth Title Monday Night (USA Today Images)

Coach K and Duke Will Compete For Their Fifth Title Monday Night (USA Today Images)

  • Duke has been criticized this season for not being as defensively sharp as some of the past Blue Devils teams. After last night’s dominant Final Four victory over Michigan State, however, the doubters are starting to come around. “A lot of people said we couldn’t play defense,” Duke guard Matt Jones said. “For the most part in the NCAA Tournament, we’ve been a very good defensive team. Now we just have to do it one more time on Monday.”
  • Taunting or not, there’s no doubt that Grayson Allen‘s monster dunk sent a message to Michigan State.
  • On Monday night, Duke will play for a National Championship in the same place where it won its last one: Indianapolis.
  • Jahlil Okafor‘s father believes that his son should have been named National Player of the Year over Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. Okafor will have the chance to prove it on Monday, as the Blue Devils will go up against Kaminsky’s team.
  • Justise Winslow is a name you might want to remember for the future… Take it from Charles Barkley. During the pregame show last night, Barkley referred to Winslow as “Winstons Justice.” Ouch.

Wisconsin

  • Sam Dekker wasn’t as dominant as he had been in the past two games, but he was just as clutch. Tied 60-60, Dekker hit a step-back three to give Wisconsin the lead, then drew a charge on Kentucky’s very next possession.
  • Perhaps Frank Kaminsky‘s 2011 Tweet of “I hate Kentucky” foreshadowed last night’s victory over the previously undefeated Wildcats.
  • Wisconsin did it. Against all odds, the Badgers gave Kentucky its first loss of the season in a matchup they’ve wanted since last March. “This is something we’ve been talking about since day one this season,” Sam Dekker said. “Look where we are now.”
  • Somehow, Trey Lyle’s slap on Josh Gasser wasn’t called a flagrant one foul, but it didn’t matter for Wisconsin.
  • Wisconsin lost to Duke earlier this season but the Badgers are far from scared. “They were a tough team,” [point guard Bronson] Koenig said. “They have a great backcourt and they’ve got Jahlil [Okafor]. So it’s going to be a tough game.”

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 81, #7 Michigan State 61

Posted by Naveen Reddy on April 4th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Talk about a bounce back performance - Jahlil Okafor was outstanding against the Spartans. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

Talk about a bounce back performance – Jahlil Okafor was outstanding against the Spartans. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

  1. Michigan State was simply overmatched. We don’t want to take away anything from the Spartans’ remarkable run. They went from a team that at times this season made us wonder if they would make the NCAA Tournament to one that made the Final Four. The truth is they were not anywhere near the level of the other three teams here. The fact that they got here is a testament to just how good of a coach Tom Izzo is and how tough this team was, but they just didn’t have the talent to compete. Their early hot start (going 5-of-7 from the field including 4-of-4 from three) made things interesting when they jumped out to a 14-6 lead, but then they regressed the mean and reality set in. They proceeded to hit just 3 of their next 20 shots and go 0-of-5 from three to end the half to fall behind 36-25. Denzel Valentine (19 points and 9 rebounds), Branden Dawson (12 points and 7 rebounds), and Travis Trice (16 points and 5 assists) all had solid performances, but it wasn’t enough. While an 11-point lead at halftime is far from insurmountable, when you are this overmatched it essentially is. Once Michigan State cooled off, you knew this one was over.
  2. Duke just took care of business. Nobody on Duke played out of their mind, but everybody chipped in from Jahlil Okafor (18 points and 6 rebounds) to Grayson Allen (9 points including an emphatic dunk in the second half that served as an exclamation mark even if it was early in the second half). It was a total team effort from Duke in a victory that was never in doubt. Coming into tonight we didn’t really see a way that Michigan State could win, but a lot of people have lost a lot of money over the years betting against Tom Izzo in such situations. Justice Winslow was simply dominant and while we is too good and consistent to be considered an X-factor when he is truly “on” he takes them to another level. While Duke is far from a one-man team, he will need to be at his best on Monday night if they are going to win especially against Kentucky.
  3. Monday night is going to be crazy. We normally save this for the last section of these posts, but honestly we can barely contain ourselves right now. We know that Duke-Kentucky is the game that every CBS executive wants (ok, it’s not just them), but Duke-Wisconsin wold be fascinating in its own right with Okafor facing Frank Kaminsky in what essentially will be a head-to-head workout that every NBA executive with a top-5 pick will be keeping track of. On the perimeter, you could potentially have Winslow and Sam Dekker (potentially two of the top perimeter picks in this year’s NBA Draft if they decided to leave) going against each other. If it ends up being Duke-Kentucky, you would have lottery picks all over the court (and for Kentucky some coming off the bench) in a game that might be the most highly anticipated game in college basketball history (we aren’t exaggerating).

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Final Four Previews: Duke/Michigan State Will Win If…

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on April 4th, 2015

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The time has finally come for all the hand-wringing, all the expectations, all the anticipation, and all the office pools between Jim from accounting and Bonnie the receptionist to be decided. In what undoubtedly has evolved into one of the more intriguing Final Fours in recent memory, the story lines bleeding out of Indianapolis this week has been plentiful. Will Coach Cal and the ‘Cats finish off The Perfect Season? Will Wisconsin play spoiler? Will the traditional power in blue once again reign supreme? Will the boys from East Lansing show that a team can win a ‘ship without a boatload of McDonald All-Americans? We’ll all find out soon. In the meantime…

Duke Will Win If…

Tom Izzo’s team has done things this March that Tom Izzo’s teams seem to do every March. One Michigan State postseason streak, however, has yet to continue. In each of the last 14 seasons, Tom Izzo’s Spartans have lost an NCAA Tournament game.

Duke's Leading Trio Of Freshmen (Pictured With Matt Jones, #13) Are The Reason Duke Will Advance To Championship Monday. (The Charlotte Observer)

Duke’s Leading Trio Of Freshmen (Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor) Are The Reason Duke Will Advance To Championship Monday. (The Charlotte Observer)

Expect that streak to continue Saturday. In a battle of teams with elite coaches and similarly thin benches, Duke’s star power and defense will prove to be difference-makers. By most accounts, Jahlil Okafor has been the second-best player in America this season. He was neither the best nor the second-best player in Houston last weekend, but Okafor is poised for a rebound (or 15) against an undersized Michigan State squad, which has only two regulars taller than 6’6” (Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling). The consensus two best players in that South regional – fellow Blue Devil freshmen Justise Winslow and South Region MOP Tyus Jones – will also feature prominently this weekend. Winslow’s profile has risen as much as any player’s this NCAA Tournament, and with mostly good reason. The enigmatic forward has saved his best basketball of the season for March, averaging 14 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game in the Tournament. Throw in Jones, the steady hand guiding the leash on this explosive Duke offense, and the case could easily be made that Duke will have the three best players on the floor in this game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Final Four Storylines: Duke Edition

Posted by Henry Bushnell on April 3rd, 2015

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The Final Four is set. This week we’ll continue our NCAA Tournament Storylines series focused on each of the remaining four teams. We kicked things off with Kentucky on Tuesday, and followed with Wisconsin yesterday. Today, it’s Duke‘s turn.

Coach K's 12th Final Four (USA Today Images)

Coach K’s 12th Final Four Ties Him With the Legendary John Wooden For Most All-Time (USA Today Images)

Coach K in the record books. It’s been a pretty special year for Mike Krzyzewski, highlighted by his 1,000th win and an NCAA Tournament run resulting in his 12th Final Four appearance, tying former UCLA legend John Wooden for the most of all-time. And Coach K might not be done. He has a chance to improve his impressive 8-3 record in National Semifinal games this weekend in Indianapolis, the best such record of any coach. And with two more wins, he is poised to move into sole possession of second place in all-time national championships with five (his current mark of four is tied with Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp). Coach K’s long career means that he’s also experienced his fair share of postseason disappointments, but those exits more than anything speak to just how tough it is to win in March. The consistency with which Krzyzewski’s teams have gone deep into the second and third weekends of the Big Dance is astounding.

Duke is here because of its defense. Much has been made of Duke’s struggles on the defensive end of the court this season. The Blue Devils had an especially rough stretch in January and February during which they gave up more than a point per possession in eight of 10 games. Conventional wisdom suggests that it was Duke’s offense that carried it to a sterling 28-3 regular season record. But since the onset of the NCAA Tournament, Duke’s defense has been the driver behind its Final Four run. The Blue Devils have held all four of their opponents to fewer than 0.90 points per possession and, as a result, have now cracked the top 20 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency. Their performance in crunch time of the Elite Eight win over Gonzaga exemplified that improvement. Duke held the Zags to a single Byron Wesley free throw over the final 5:43 of the game. There hasn’t been a discernible difference in Krzyzewski’s philosophy — he’s always stressed the importance of team defense — but perhaps Duke’s young players have developed a better understanding of his defensive principles and it is translating now more than ever, a dangerous proposition for the rest of the Final Four.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 3rd, 2015

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After a week of hype surrounding the most highly-anticipated Final Four in years, let’s do a reset on each of the four teams still standing. Today’s victims: Duke (published this morning) and Kentucky. Wisconsin and Michigan State were published yesterday.

How Kentucky Got Here

Kentucky Stayed Perfect To Reach Indianapolis (Getty Images)

Kentucky Survived Notre Dame To Stay Perfect. Next Stop: Indianapolis. (Getty Images)

Midwest Region Champions. Kentucky opened the NCAA Tournament with a closer-than-expected 23-point victory over #16 seed Hampton, then followed it up with a third-round defeat of plucky #8 seed Cincinnati. The Wildcats had to prove at least one prognosticator wrong to reach the Elite Eight, but did so convincingly against #5 seed West Virginia, improving to 37-0 in a 39-point demolition. Their last hurdle before the Final Four proved to be the toughest. #3 seed Notre Dame did everything it could to end Kentucky’s perfect season, but in an all-time classic quarterfinal matchup, the Wildcats did just enough to squeak by the Irish and into another Final Four.

The Coach

John Calipari. There’s little more to say about Calipari at this point. He’s led a 38-0 team into the Final Four (his fourth appearance in five years), has won multiple National Coach of the Year honors (including our own), and is undeniably atop the profession as his team enters a Final Four that includes three other coaches with a combined 1,866 wins. Coach Cal is dominating college basketball.

Style

Let’s face it: No matter what happens in Indianapolis this weekend, the Wildcats have already put together an historic season. And when you think back on this Kentucky team, the first thing that you will remember will be its defense. The Wildcats rank first in adjusted defensive efficiency (and before Saturday, they were the most efficient defense of the 13-year KenPom era), first in three-point percentage defense, second in two-point percentage defense and second in block percentage. With shot-blockers Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns (among others) protecting the rim, Calipari’s guards have been able to extend their man-to-man defense well beyond the three-point line. You could say that the defensive scheme has worked out pretty well. The Kentucky efficiency bonanza has not been limited to the defensive end, however, as the Wildcats also rank fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Their aggressive attacking of the offensive glass and frequent trips to the free throw line have paid dividends all season long, while the developing post games of Towns and Cauley-Stein have led to a greater focus on interior touches as the season has progressed. Notre Dame can attest that Towns has developed into a go-to player for the ‘Cats.

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On Duke’s Timely Defensive Turnaround

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 3rd, 2015

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What was once thought to be Duke’s weakness has suddenly become its strength in NCAA Tournament play. In fact, the Blue Devils have been so defensively stifling that none of its four opponents in the South Region were able to crack 60 points against them. So what’s behind Duke’s big turnaround on that end of the floor? Let’s take a look at some key defensive numbers from the last two weeks and compare those with its previous 21 games — beginning with when conference play tipped off on January 3. Duke DefenseIn its four NCAA Tournament games so far, Duke has reduced its opponents’ scoring by a whopping 15.0 points per game and 16 percent fewer points per possession. Duke’s sudden surge of defensive stinginess is related to two improvements: 1) better success in forcing opponents to miss shots (from both two- and three-point range); and 2) keeping teams from getting to the free throw line. At first glance it would appear that a markedly slower tempo (four fewer possessions per game) might be helping the Blue Devils’ defense, but that assumption could be somewhat deceiving. NCAA Tournament opponents are attempting only one fewer field goal per contest and turnovers and offensive rebounds have remained about the same as they were before. That means that the slowdown is almost entirely caused by the Blue Devils move from rarely fouling to almost never fouling. Opposing teams are averaging fewer than 10 free throw attempts per outing in the NCAA Tournament.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Duke Blue Devils

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 3rd, 2015

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After a week of hype surrounding the most highly-anticipated Final Four in years, let’s do a reset on each of the four teams still standing. Today’s victims: We’ll start with Duke and finish the day with Kentucky. Wisconsin and Michigan State were published yesterday.

How Duke Got Here

South Region Champions. During the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend in Charlotte, the Blue Devils used friendly surroundings to coast by #16 seed Robert Morris and #8 seed San Diego State; Coach K’s team led the Colonials and Aztecs by double-figures in all 40 second-half minutes of those two games. Advancement was tougher at the South Regional in Houston, but Duke managed to break open close games against #5 seed Utah in the Sweet Sixteen and #2 seed Gonzaga in the Elite Eight, landing the Blue Devils a trip to Indianapolis this weekend.

Coach K And Duke Cut Down The Nets In Houston; Is The Indianapolis Twine Next? (USA Today Sports)

Coach K And Duke Cut Down The Nets In Houston; Is The Indianapolis Twine Next? (USA Today Sports)

The Coach

Mike Krzyewski. Like the other three coaches in this year’s Final Four, you already know Mike Krzyzewski. Unlike the other three coaches in the Final Four, there is no college basketball coach you know better than Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K’s list of accomplishments — 1,016 career wins, 12 Final Fours, four National Championships – leave him with little to prove. Can the longtime Duke head coach, in the twilight of his career, outmaneuver two of college basketball’s best (Izzo and either Calipari or Ryan) this Saturday and Monday nights?

Style

For the seventh season in a row, Duke has an offense that ranks among the top 10 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. However, unlike most of those other attacks, this year’s version works from the inside out. Krzyzewski-coached teams have classically thrived from beyond the arc and this group certainly doesn’t struggle there either (39 percent), but Jahlil Okafor has transformed the Duke interior. The freshman All-American is the major reason why the Blue Devils made 56 percent of their two-point field-goal attempts this year (fourth-best nationally) and remains the clear focus of the offense. Defensively, Duke remains a man-to-man team. Midseason struggles in stopping penetration prompted a brief flirtation with a zone (which wasn’t necessarily unsuccessful), but Quinn Cook has spearheaded a significantly improved man-to-man approach during the latter half of the season.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Michigan State Spartans

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 2nd, 2015

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Midway through a week before the most highly-anticipated Final Four in years, let’s do a reset on each of the four teams still standing. Today’s victims: Michigan State and Wisconsin (later this afternoon).

How Sparty Got Here

East Region Champions. Michigan State beat #10 seed Georgia in its NCAA Tournament opener before using superb defense and key coaching adjustments to stun #2 seed Virginia in the Round of 32. From there, it was off to Syracuse where the Spartans edged #3 seed Oklahoma in the Sweet Sixteen and overcame an eight-point halftime deficit by beating Louisville in overtime to punch a surprising but well-earned ticket to Indianapolis.

For the second-straight season, a #7-seed won the East Region. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

For the second straight season, a #7 seed won the East Region. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Coach

Tom Izzo. Izzo’s remarkable run of March success has been well-documented. He’s now tied with Rick Pitino and Roy Williams for fourth all-time with seven Final Four appearances – three of which came as a #5 seed or worse. His .742 NCAA Tournament winning percentage and 46 total victories rank fifth among active coaches. By defeating Louisville last Sunday, Izzo notched his 13th win over a higher seed in the Big Dance – the most such victories all-time – while improving to 20-4 in the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend, also one of the finest marks ever. Simply put, Michigan State’s 20th-year leader is masterful in the third month of the year.

Style

At 17.8 seconds per possession, Michigan State is among the more uptempo offensive teams in the country and ranks second behind only Kentucky among Final Four units. The Spartans are more than willing to get out in transition, finish near the rim or locate open shooters – like transfer Bryn Forbes (43.5% 3FG) – on the wing. In the half-court, Izzo’s club moves the ball very well (seventh-highest assist rate in college basketball), takes a healthy number of perimeter jumpers and likes to run ball-screen and pick-and-roll action as the shot clock wanes. Defensively, Michigan State applies some man-to-man ball pressure and tries to limit both easy looks in the paint and second-chance opportunities (72.9% DReb). Only three teams in college basketball forced its opponents into longer offensive possessions this season (20.1 seconds per trip).

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.31.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 31st, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Kentucky

38-0 and Still Standing. (USA Today Images)

38-0 and Still Standing. (USA Today Images)

  • Duke handled Michigan State in November’s Champions Classic, but a “true” champions classic would see the Blue Devils face undefeated Kentucky for the National Championship game on Monday night. Luckily for college basketball fans, that potential matchup is just one spectacular round away.
  • Big Blue Nation is notorious for traveling to games, but John Calipari isn’t so sure that the Wildcats will have a boost from the crowd in Indianapolis. “My hope is our [fans] have figured out how to get the tickets more than the other people, but you just don’t know,” he said.
  • Despite having a historic level of amateur talent, Kentucky has benefited from keeping that talent grounded off the court. Sports psychologist Bob Rotella visits Lexington every so often to keep the Wildcats loose and motivated. “The challenge, ultimately, is to get really talented people to go after it that intensely, with that much energy,” he said.
  • Kentucky walk-ons Sam Malone and Brian Long may not be heading to the NBA, but after this season, they’ll have played with possibly 21 future and current NBA players.
  • When it comes to getting his players to the professional ranks, John Calipari goes above and beyond the call of duty. Not only does he showcase each of his 10 (nine after junior Alex Poythress’ midseason injury) rotation players, but he even set up a pseudo Pro Day for his players before the season.

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Final Four Storylines: Kentucky Edition

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 31st, 2015

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The Final Four is set. This week we’ll continue our NCAA Tournament Storylines series focused on each of the remaining four teams. Today: Kentucky.

Two to Go. (USA Today Images)

Two to Go. (USA Today Images)

Pursuit of Perfection. Where else to start but with those three inescapable words. The Wildcats are two wins away from becoming the first team since 1976 Indiana to get through an entire Division I men’s basketball season undefeated. And if they get those two wins in Indianapolis — especially if they do so convincingly — it would be awfully tough to refute Kentucky’s case as one of the greatest college basketball teams of all-time. It’s difficult to compare teams across eras and there’s a tendency to describe current teams in great hyperbole without a sense of historical context. But should John Calipari’s crew finish the job, it would be really tough to find any faults with what Kentucky has done. The record of 40-0 alone would be unmatched historically.

It’s better that Kentucky is here. It would have been a truly amazing story if Notre Dame had slain the giant last Saturday night. It would’ve been even more incredible if the Irish had done so via Jerian Grant’s corner shot at the buzzer. Many fans may still be agonizing over that final minute and still wondering what could have been had a bounce or two gone the other way. But whether you were rooting for Kentucky or not — and the overwhelming majority of fans nationally were not — having the Wildcats in Indy this weekend is for the best. Sure, people hate the Kentucky aura; they hate the fans’ sense of entitlement; they hate that Kentucky is so darn good. But that’s exactly why the Final Four will be so much more gripping with Kentucky participating. The Wildcats are polarizing. They’re also historic. The combination of the two will keep everybody engrossed for as long as the Wildcats are still standing. Every great story needs a villain — and Kentucky is the baddest on the block.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 66, #2 Gonzaga 52

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is in Houston this week for the South Regional semifinals and final.

Three Key Takeaways.

Both Jones' -- Tyus And Matt -- Were Instrumental In Duke's Elite Eight Victory Over Gonzaga (Photo: Duke Chronicle)

Both Jones’ — Tyus And Matt — Were Instrumental In Duke’s Elite Eight Victory Over Gonzaga (Photo: Duke Chronicle)

  1. Offenses Fail To Get Going, Again. In Friday night’s regional semifinals, four teams that began the night among the 65 most accurate three-point shooting teams in the country combined to shoot 23 percent from long-range. Much was made of the clumsy dome setup inducing the offensive malaise, but the forecast for Sunday was still for efficient offense by the bucket-load, given the firepower Duke and Gonzaga brought to the table. The two teams got off to a fast start – 22 points in the first five minutes – but things settled down significantly from there on out. Gonzaga and Duke combined to shoot 41 percent from the floor, including just 38 percent for the victorious Blue Devils. Duke did do two things extremely well offensively: shoot the ball accurately from three-point range (8-19) and maximize possessions (an amazing three total turnovers for the game). Gonzaga was less proficient in each category, making only two of 10 three-point attempts and turning the ball over 13 times. There were glimpses of the offensive brilliance we witnessed from both these teams all season, but this regional final never escalated into the explosive matchup many expected.
  2. Matt Jones, Who? Matt Jones. The Duke sophomore supplied the game of his life in this Regional Final. Jones, who entered Sunday averaging just 5.9 points per game, finished with 16 points (one shy of his season and career highs) and converted four of Duke’s eight made three-point field goals. With Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones again struggling to find the range from deep (combined 2-8 on three-point attempts), Jones’ unexpected scoring was crucial in getting the Blue Devils into the final minutes with a lead. Mark Few said afterwards that concerns about guarding Justise Winslow had led to Gonzaga to do a significant amount of cross-matching with Kyle Wiltjer defending Jones, a reasonable coaching decision that devolved into a disastrous result for the Zags. Jones, Duke’s fifth starter and a Texas native (like Friday night hero Justise Winslow) playing in his home state, was as important as any of his more acclaimed teammates Sunday afternoon.
  3. Wiltjer-Winslow Matchup. This was the matchup many fixated on in advance of Sunday afternoon, and with good reason: Winslow was coming off a scintillating Friday night performance, while Wiltjer has been arguably the Zags best player all season. Mixing and matching by both coaches saw both players spend a good deal of time defending elsewhere, but Wiltjer kept Gonzaga close in the first half, scoring 13 points on 5-7 field-goal shooting. Meanwhile, Winslow forced the action early and managed just five points in the opening frame, missing five of his six field-goal attempts. Things changed dramatically after intermission, however. Wiltjer struggled to get touches and was a virtual non-factor in the second half, while Duke’s freshman swingman found his Friday night form, pumping in 11 second-half points. Among the 11 was the biggest shot of the night, a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down and less than three minutes to go that put Duke up nine. Both players finished with 16 points, but Winslow’s big second-half was a key differentiator for Mike Krzyewski’s team.

Star of the Game. Tyus Jones, Duke. None of Duke’s big four – Jones, Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Quinn Cook – played anything close to a perfect game today. Heck, they combined to shoot 15-45 from the field. Still, it was Jones that catalyzed Duke’s quick start, scoring seven points as the Blue Devils jumped out to a 17-10 lead. The South Region’s Most Outstanding Player finished the day with 15 points, six assists and no turnovers, helping Duke to that minuscule turnover total of three. Matt Jones’ unexpected scoring was a huge boost Sunday afternoon, but it was the more familiar Jones on the Duke roster who dictated this game’s flow from the outset. His ball-handling and all-around savvy will now be put to use in Indianapolis.

Quotable. “It’s meant everything. Best team I have ever been on talent-wise and the best group of guys. We can look back and be pretty happy with what we have been able to do.” –Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga senior point guard, on what this Gonzaga season has meant to him.

“It’s a shot he makes. It’s a shot he makes 499 times out of 500.” –Mark Few, on Kyle Wiltjer’s missed layup with 4:51 to go that would have tied game. Duke went on a 13-1 run to close the game after the miss.

“Our defense the last 16 minutes was spectacular — not (just) good. I love these guys and they came through.” –Mike Krzyewski, Duke head coach

“This team is eight guys. There is not someone hiding in the locker room that is going to come out and appear.” -Krzyewski.

Sights & Sounds. Whether it was the Sunday afternoon time slot, a Final Four bid on the line, or just the anticipation of the region’s top two seeds meeting, there was an urgency in NRG Stadium that never existed Friday night. The Duke faithful significantly outnumbered Gonzaga supporters (rough estimate — 5:1 ratio of Duke to Gonzaga fans), but enough folks from the Pacific Northwest made the journey South to create a back-and-forth feel to the cheering. In the end, however, the final image of NRG Stadium was all too familiar: Thousands of contented Duke fans standing in acknowledgment of a Blue Devil team advancing to face their next challenge.

What’s Next?  Duke advances to the program’s 16th Final Four, where it will take on Tom Izzo and Michigan State in Indianapolis. The fourth overall meeting between Mike Krzyewski and Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament will double as the second time they have met in a National Semifinal. Duke has won two of those three prior matchups, which includes a Sweet 16 game two seasons ago. On the other side, the loss to Duke ends what will likely go down as the greatest season in Gonzaga history. The Zags, now 0-2 all-time in the Elite Eight, will finish the year at 35-3. Mark Few loses Byron Wesley, Gary Bell and WCC Player of the Year Kevin Pangos to graduation after an undeniably special year in Spokane.

 

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