Duke and Illinois travel to Greensboro on Tuesday evening to reprise their game from last year in the ACC / Big 10 Challenge. The players on the court will look largely the same with one notable exception. The Blue Devils will be without departed senior Chris Carrawell who played an exceptional last year. Illinois lost reserve forward / guard Cleotis Brown from last year's team but with a squad as deep as the Illini his 7 points a game have hardly been noticed. Newcomer Chris Duhon has helped Duke compensate for CarrawellÂs loss, but it is still difficult to remember last year's game without thinking of the way he stepped up and carried the Duke team in the second half. Carrawell ended up with 21 points, 12 of which came from the charity stripe as the senior leader repeatedly drove the ball into the heart of the Illini defense to draw fouls.
While the Illini return nearly every player from last year they still have a major change in the team. For some reason Lon Kruger decided to leave Champaign and head for the bowels of the NBA Central Division. It may have had something to do with the $10 million the Hawks threw at him. For all that money Kruger now gets to skip over the sports page stories about his 2-12 Hawks to read the accolades directed towards new Illini coach Bill Self. Self came to Illinois from Tulsa where former Tar Heel Buzz Peterson replaced him. ACC fans will remember his Tulsa teams that were eliminated from the NCAA tournament by UNC and Duke in the last two years. During his time at Tulsa (and prior to that Oral Roberts), Self built such a strong reputation that he was on everybody's coaching hot list for the last few years.
It's easy to see why Self took the Illinois offer. In addition inheriting a job at a school which has long enjoyed recruiting success in one of the nation's hotbeds of prep hoops, Self is also taking the reins to a team that is absolutely loaded with talent. This year's Illinois team features 11 players returning from last year including all 5 starters. Those numbers probably looked pretty appealing to Self, a guy who liked to play an uptempo pace at Tulsa. He has taken that style to Illinois and replaced the structured, deliberate offense that Kruger favored. The change has been beneficial to most players on the team and the rewards have been great so far this season.
Illinois opened the season with a pounding of Maine. The 29 point win takes on a little more legitimacy in light of the Black Bears road win over a Providence team featuring former Florida State center Karim Shabazz. After the home opener the Illini packed their bags for the Maui Invitational where their play solidified their preseason ranking. In their opening round win over UNLV, Illinois fought back from an early 14 point deficit to pull out a 5 point win. The semi-final win against Maryland has been their most impressive performance to date. The Terps, coming off a whipping of Louisville, went to the locker room at the half with a 2 point advantage. The second half performance by the interior players for the Illini was as dominating an exhibition as you'll see in a matchup of two top 10 teams. Thanks to an unbelievable 18 offensive boards in the second half, Illinois was able to out rebound the Terps by 16. 9 of those 18 offensive rebounds were converted into scores and for the game they finished with 28 second chance points.
In the tournament final the Illini staged a furious comeback against Arizona but fell short by 3 points. Down by 15 with 3:30 to play the Illini drilled 5 three point shots to fuel the comeback. A last second three point shot attempt to tie the game was blocked by Arizona's Luke Walton. An expected Illinois victory over Texas Southern was not completed by the time this article was written.
It would be tempting to discredit those final two games in Maui in the wake of Maryland's loss to Dayton and the Purdue upset of Arizona. However, Arizona was playing their fourth game in six days and were clearly jet lagged from their Maui travel. In the case of Maryland it appears that the loss to Illinois was very detrimental to a team that many observers consider being emotionally fragile. The Terp faithful were talking National Championships after their first game. They were talking about making adjustments after the second game. They were talking about helping Gary Williams pack his office after the last game. The reality is that both Arizona and Maryland are among the top teams in the nation and the Illinois performance in those games shows they belong there also.
Illinois will be facing a Duke team that claimed the title in the preseason NIT which featured a field that was considerably less robust than the Maui Invitational. Duke's run to the title started with an 87-50 stomping of Princeton followed by a 13 point win over Villanova to advance the Blue Devils to the final four in Madison Square Garden. After dispatching the Texas Longhorns with a 95-69 pasting the Devils faced Temple and John ChaneyÂs vaunted matchup zone in the finals. Duke was able to rally back from a late 6 point deficit on the strength of dribble penetration and stifling defense. Duke returned from New York and took on Army less than 24 hours after receiving the championship trophy. The 43 point victory mirrored other Duke-Army games over the last few years and allowed the Blue Devils an opportunity to use many of their reserves.
VCR ALERT Â Tape this one, even if you're not a Duke or Illinois fan. When the two teams take the court you will have the chance to see two of the best point guards in the country square off against one another. For Illinois, that means Frank (don't call me Frankie) Williams who has been nothing short of sensational this season. Williams has benefited from the new uptempo style Self brought to Illinois more than any player on the team. Last year, after sitting out the previous year as a partial qualifier, Williams was often erratic and prone to making poor decisions. In the Duke game Williams took 10 shots from beyond the three point line, many of which were highly questionable. Over the course of the year the friction between Williams and Kruger was clear to most observers of the team as the point guard struggled under KrugerÂs offense. For the year Williams ended up averaging 11.4 points and 4.1 assists per game but he shot 38% from the field and 31% from the three point line and carried a 1.45 assist to turnover ratio.
This year Williams is averaging 19.3 points and 3.8 assists per game and his assist to turnover ratio is up to 2.5. So what's the difference? In the new offensive scheme Williams is freed up to be more creative with the ball. Asking Williams to run the highly structured offense favored by Lon Kruger is akin to trying to make a trotter out of a thoroughbred. That took Williams away from what he can do best which is take his man off the dribble. Rather than take long shots out of a set offense, Williams is creating for himself and his teammates. Last year, 40% of WilliamsÂ shots came from behind the line. That figure is down to 30% this year and even more telling is the amount of fouls he is drawing. The team's leading free throw shooter (in terms of attempts) is getting to the line over 7 times a game. That's more than 2.5 times the rate from last year and reflects the pressure he is putting on the defense. Williams is breaking down defenders and drawing fouls because there are few point guards in the country who can stay in front of him. Most of those who can are playing in the NBA.
Duke is hoping that one of the few guys in college who can effectively check Frank Williams is Jason Williams. Duke's Williams has been impressive in his own this season. Like his counterpart from Illinois, Jason Williams has picked up his play this year and is looking to penetrate more than last year. When Duke faces a man defense Williams is central to the offense. In the Temple game Williams was responsible for keying the Duke comeback against the matchup zone. He continually broke down the defense and got into the paint to set up baskets by Duke center Carlos Boozer. Overall, Williams is dishing out 7.6 assists per game and sports a 2.9 assist to turnover ratio.
Despite the vast improvement in his floor game, Jason Williams has had some shaky nights shooting the basketball. Against Temple he was 3-10 overall and 2-7 from the three point line. In the Texas game he was 6-15 overall and 3-7 from the three point line. And in the Villanova game he was 4-11, including a 0-7 effort from the three point line. Those numbers are particularly disappointing because his performances in Duke's other games were solid enough to allow him to shoot 43.4% from the field and 35.5% from the three point line overall this season.
When the two point guards are matched against each other it should be a memorable battle. Both players are going to want to limit the penetration of the other. When facing Temple point guard Lynn Greer, Jason Williams was able to force him into a season high 5 turnovers (coming into the game Greer had only committed 2 turnovers). For the game Greer finished with a respectable 5-12 from the field but he was limited to only 1 assist to go with those 5 turnovers. Duke would be satisfied with a similar stat line out of Frank Williams but it will be much tougher to accomplish because of the pace at which SelfÂs team likes to play.
Frank Williams has had some incredible moments so far in this young season. During the furious comeback against Arizona Williams scored 8 points in the final minute and finishing with 27 for the game. Against UNLV he was a solid 7-15 from the field and ended up 22 points. Illinois is a deep team with a balanced scoring attack. However, when the game is close you can count on Frank Williams to lead the team in scoring and minutes played.
When Duke has the ball Frank Williams faces an equally daunting task. Jason Williams has been able to break down every opposing defense he's faced this year- including the 2000 Dream Team during the pre-Olympics scrimmages. Frank Williams is a good defender although some players have given him trouble. Maryland's Juan Dixon was effective against him, drawing 3 fouls in the first half and forcing Self to change his defense. For Jason Williams, he must avoid getting caught up in an emotional game of one-on-one. Last year Jason Williams succumbed to an individual game against Steve Blake and paid the price. With another year of maturity Williams has avoided getting caught up in those situations with one or two brief lapses. However, Frank Williams is easily the best point guard he's faced this year and could be the best he will face all year. How Jason Williams handles him will be a good indication of just how far he has progressed, both emotionally and physically. Jason Williams will need to be careful with the ball as Frank Williams was second in the Big 10 last year in steals.
If Frank Williams is the player who has improved the most under SelfÂs new style of play then shooting guard Cory Bradford is the guy who has struggled the most. Coming into the season Bradford was everybody's pick to lead the Illini. And why not? Bradford was the preseason Big 10 Player of the Year. He was a member of the USA Men's Select Team that prepped the Olympic team. In both his freshman and sophomore years he set Illinois team records for 3 point shots made and is currently closing in on the NCAA streak for consecutive games making a 3 point shot. But somewhere along the line things have slipped off track for Bradford. He's gone from a 15.3 points per game scorer to an 8 point per game scorer. His 3 point percentage has dropped off 6 points and his overall shooting percentage is hovering around 28%.
There's lots of speculation as to why Bradford is struggling so much. Part of it may be due to knee surgery performed prior to the season. Part of it may be due to the change away from KrugerÂs offense that maximized BradfordÂs skills by getting him lots of open looks from the outside off from screens and set plays. Bradford will remind some of former Duke player Trajan Langdon (although he is not nearly as accurate a shooter as Langdon). He has a quick release on his jumper and uses his long range accuracy to set up the rest of his offense. For whatever reason Bradford is not hitting that long shot and consequently the rest of his offense is hindered. Without the threat of the deep shot to keep defenders off balance Bradford finds it tough to drive the ball as he lacks exceptional quickness.
Duke's Nate James has been solid as ever at the two guard spot. After playing exceptionally in the Texas game James had a poor shooting night against Temple. Despite that game, James has quietly been Duke's 3rd leading scorer and is tied for the lead on the offensive glass. His 0-4 performance from the 3 point line against Temple has hurt his shooting percentage this year but that game aside he is showing the form that made him a McDonaldÂs All-American 3 Point Contest winner and allowed him to shoot 38% last season. He is particularly dangerous from the deep corner.
When Duke has the ball James is likely to do whatever the team needs to win. His offense is not exceptional in any facet other than its versatility. Because of his size and strength combined with solid shooting he is able to create a mismatch on most defenders. If the two players match up against each other Bradford will have a hard time handling James near the basket. At 6-6 and with extremely long arms, the physical James would enjoy a huge size advantage over the 6-3 Bradford. For his part, Bradford may be the weakest defender on the Illinois team but that doesn't mean you should take him lightly.
In fact, the biggest danger with Bradford is to not respect his game at this point. Despite the problems from the field and on the defensive end, Bradford is still a big time player. If Duke concentrates too much on his teammates Bradford could make them pay.
Although most of Illinois depth is in the frontcourt there are still a few quality reserves at the guard spot. 6-3 sophomore Sean Harrington has seen the most minutes of the backcourt reserves. Harrington is the son of a coach and is the steady player that is usually associated with that lineage. Harrington is a good outside shooter and tries to compensate for his lack of quickness on defense with sound positioning. After playing in 28 games last year without attempting a three point shot, Harrington has been less reluctant to shoot this year. Against Arizona he scored 15 points all on 5-9 shooting from the outside.
The Illini can also turn to Brett Melton or Jerrace Howard to play the guard spot. Melton is a 6-5 freshman who came to Illinois with a reputation as a good outside shooter. So far this year he is adapting to the pace of college ball and can hit the outside shot but needs some time to get it off. Howard is a 6-1 redshirt freshman who will spell Williams at the point. He is a good distributor with the ball but does not present much of an offensive threat on the outside. Defensively Howard has enough quickness to help the Illini pressure the ball. If the game is tight Howard and Melton are unlikely to see extended minutes.
When Duke turns to its bench it usually means Chris Duhon. Duhon is the third member of the Blue Devils team to have won the McDonaldÂs All American 3 Point Contest (along with the aforementioned James and Shane Battier). Like many freshman he has been struggling to find his shot at this level. For a guy like Duhon struggling means he's only hitting 39% of his threes. His form and reputation tell you this guy is going to end up with a shooting percentage much greater by the time he is finished at Duke. If DuhonÂs shooting has taken some time to round into form that would be the only part of his game that. He is an extremely unselfish player with the ball and has a flair for finding the open man in transition. On defense Duhon is well ahead of the average freshman and has the makings of a superior defensive stopper. With his quickness and shooting ability Duhon can play both guard positions giving Duke additional flexibility in their substitution patterns. When he and Williams are together in Duke's backcourt they represent the Devil's quickest team and can really disrupt the passing lanes.
If Duke's Duhon has the makings of a defensive stopper then IllinoisÂ Sergio McClain is the finished product. McClain is a 6-4, 230 lb. forward who will guard anyone on the court. Although he's not an extremely quick defender he is clearly the best on his team and could be the best in the Big 10. When Juan Dixon was causing problems for Frank Williams the Illini switched McClain onto him and DixonÂs game was last seen on the back of a milk carton. McClain used his strength and size to hound Dixon into 2 turnovers and 1-5 shooting in the second half.
On the offensive end of the court McClain is a powerful player inside despite his height. He is able to get inside and hit the boards as evidenced by his 10 point, 10 rebound game against Maryland. He does struggle with the outside jumper and can be turnover prone (second most on the team). Like all the Illinois inside players he is an aggressive offensive rebounder pulling in just over 3 per contest.
At the other forward spot the Illini start sophomore Brian Cook. The 6-10, 240 lb. player was the Co-Freshman of the Year last year in the Big 10, sharing the award with Michigan's LaVell Blanchard. He was also a teammate of Jason Williams on the USA Basketball Championship for Young Men team this summer and is one of three McDonaldÂs All-Americans on the Illinois team (joining Marcus Griffin and Williams)
Cook started the last 17 games of the season last year for the Illini after starting center Marcus Griffin was injured. This year Cook is the team's leading rebounder at just under 9 per game and is also the team's third leading scorer at 9.5 points per game. And in what is to become a tired and somewhat scary refrain for Duke fans- he is an aggressive offensive rebounder at 2.5 per game. Despite his size Cook is more of a finesse player than a banger. He's not afraid to step outside for the 3 point shot although with his 28% accuracy from out there Self would probably prefer to see him closer to the basket. Defensively he is not comfortable guarding away from the basket but he did a fine job on Terrance Morris from Maryland. On the inside he is the best shot blocker on the team with just under 2 a game.
Cook and McClain will have their hands full with Duke's versatile forwards. Sophomore Mike Dunleavy is a 6-9 player with the ball handling and passing skills of a guard. At the same time he is also Duke's second leading rebounder at 5.6 boards a game. Offensively Dunleavy likes to slash from the perimeter or shoot the three ball where he is hitting 42%. He is probably at his best when he can get out in transition and utilize his finishing skills and passing ability.
On defense Dunleavy usually enjoys a considerable height advantage over other small forwards. He can be muscled around on the low blocks but he is able to compensate for that with his height. On the perimeter Dunleavy is surprisingly quick for his size and does a good job of guarding smaller, quicker players.
At the other forward spot is National Player of the Year candidate Shane Battier who has impressed most observers with his all around balanced game. Battier came to Duke and immediately assumed the role of the team's best front line defender. Since that time he has evolved to a great defender and a great three point threat. Then he became a great defender, a great three point threat, and a great leader. Now, he's a great defender, a great three point threat, a great leader, and a great all-around player.
Battier may has given some Duke fans cause for concern with his three point shooting in the last few games. After setting a school record with a 9-12 performance in the win over Princeton, Battier has not been as sharp from the line as he has in the past. Excluding the Princeton game, Battier is shooting 33% from the 3 point line. Even more concerning is that Battier has become increasingly reliant upon the three in those same games, taking 55% of his shots from behind the arc. In the Temple game he took 7 of 9 shots from behind the arc although the Temple defense pushes teams to the outside.
If there are concerns about BattierÂs offense as of late there are no questions about his defense. Battier is tied for the team lead in blocked shots and is second on the team in steals. But more importantly are the other things he does. Against Temple he played a slumping defense against center Ron Rollerson that allowed him to switch off and help on the other Temple players. Against Texas he teamed with Carlos Boozer to completely shutdown the Longhorns duo of Chris Owens and James Thomas.
Against the Illini it isn't clear exactly who Battier will match up with. Most likely he'll start out on Cook, but if Griffin gets hot Krzyzewski may switch BattierÂs defensive assignment. Dunleavy will probably get the initial assignment on McClain who is not a threat from deep as he only took 13 three point shots last year. DunleavyÂs focus needs to be on preventing McClainÂs forays to the hoop and keeping him off the boards. He will also need to try and take advantage of McClainÂs weak ball handling to create turnovers.
The biggest challenge for Bill Self will be finding someone to defend Battier. The obvious choice would be Cook although he may have difficulty hanging with Battier. The other options would be McClain who has the quickness to keep Battier in check outside but would be giving up 4 inches. If Illinois has to use McClain on Battier it would create all sorts of other mismatches for the Illini who would still have to look to Cook to cover Dunleavy.
When Self goes to the bench he has plenty of options in the frontcourt. At the top of the list is 6-8, 230 lb., banger Lucas Johnson. Johnson has a reputation as being a guy who does the garbage work for the Illini. He's also tough as nails. As a high school senior he took an elbow from Corey Maggette that required 13 stitches. He still came back and finished the game as his team ended MaggetteÂs high school career. As a collegian, the junior has also shown an ability to square up and hit the outside shot.
If they need extra muscle the Illini can go to the MASH unit and call up Damir Krupalija a 6-9, 230 pound junior originally from Bosnia. Krupalija plays with a passion for rebounding not often found in European big men. In a career that has been plagued by injuries he has always been strong on the boards, averaging nearly 5 a game despite seeing limited minutes. Like most European big guys he also likes to step out and take the three where he is moderately successful.
Duke's options for frontcourt depth are a bit more limited. 6-10 forward Nick Horvath is Duke's most polished substitute in the frontcourt. For Duke that means a guy who is averaging 12 minutes a game and posts 4 points and 3 rebounds a game. Horvath came to Duke and rumored to be destined for a redshirt but early departures and transfers took that option away. After an up and down freshman season that included two double figure scoring performances while Mike Dunleavy was out with mono, Horvath spent the summer adding strength for the upcoming season. Horvath missed Duke's first two games with a foot injury he has returned to the team and seen action in each of the last three games. He has a nice outside shot and a some low post moves.
On the other end of the spectrum is Duke's reserve Casey Sanders. Sanders is 6-11 run-jump athlete who is still learning the game. While Horvath is a guy who tries to be effective using his skills to complement his modest athletic ability, Sanders is a guy who is tries to use his great athletic potential to offset his still developing skills. When he's in the game Duke isn't looking for him to score, just rebound and block shots. His status for the Illinois game is uncertain because of a strained hamstring.
After missing the last 17 games of the season with a knee injury, center Marcus Griffin returns to the team this year. At 6-9, 235 pounds he is a high energy big man who has been sensational on the offensive glass (I told you that you would get tired of hearing that) where he gets the majority of his rebounds. He is the team's second leading scorer behind Williams and leads the squad in field goal percentage. Defensively he uses his size and quickness to defend interior players rather than relying on blocked shots. On the negative side for the Illini he also leads the team in turnovers which is unusual for a center.
For Duke, Carlos Boozer has emerged as the team's leading scorer after a summer wake-up call at the USA Young Men's basketball tryouts. After getting cut from the team Boozer spent the rest of the summer training and attended Pete Newell's Big Man Camp. Amid growing discussion that this could be his last season in Durham, Boozer has stepped up to lead Duke with a 19 point average. Those points have primarily come from two areas. First, Boozer has been adept at positioning himself to receive passes from Jason Williams when the guard penetrates. Secondly, Boozer has been able to get out in the open court and score in transition. At 6-9, 270 pounds, Boozer is still able to run in transition and often beat the opposing big man down court.
For Illinois to limit Boozer's offensive production they must stop Jason WilliamsÂ penetration. Boozer's field goal percentage drops off dramatically when he is not operating off a WilliamsÂ pass in the lane. To his credit, Boozer is a patient big man down low when operating with his back to the basket. If he doesn't have a clear advantage he will relocate the ball to one of several perimeter shooters.
Griffin presents a challenge to Duke similar to that of TexasÂ James Thomas. Both players are extremely active and thrive off the offensive rebound. The difference between Thomas and Griffin is that one is a freshman and the other is a senior. That additional experience has allowed Griffin to develop some offensive moves in the low post although he is still not a traditional center. He can be very explosive though. During the IlliniÂs second half destruction of Maryland, Griffin contributed 17 points.
For additional size inside the Illini can bring in 6-11, 250 lb., junior Robert Archibald. Archibald is another in the long line of accomplished big men out of Scotland. Okay, he's the first. But Archibald does offer another powerful inside player who can give the team some depth. In his first two years at Illinois, Archibald was inconsistent inside. This year he is finishing better around the basket due to some added strength put on over the summer. Archibald is also a turnover waiting to happen. Despite playing relatively few minutes he has managed to place himself amongst the team leaders in turnovers and ends up throwing it away once every 5 minutes.
Duke's other inside option is 6-10, 247 pound junior Matt Christensen. In this type of game Christensen can come in and bang on some of the Illinois inside players. He matches up particularly well with Archibald and when Self brings in the big Scot, Krzyzewski may counter with Christensen. This would allow Boozer some rest in what is likely to be a very draining game.
When Duke looks at Illinois they see a team that looks very much like the Blue Devils in some regards. Illinois is a very athletic team that will like to get out and run and capitalize on the tremendous skill of their point guard. Duke will also look with a somewhat envious eye at IllinoisÂ rebounding ability and their depth. Last year, despite their depth and size, the Illini only out rebounded their opponents by just over 1 board per contest. This year they have stretched that figure out to just under 7 rebounds per game. 6 out of those 7 rebounds are coming on the offensive end of the floor.
Closing out their defense by hitting the glass is a key for the Devils. Not only will it take away one of the IlliniÂs offensive weapons it will also allow Duke to get into their own transition game.
Duke must also contain Frank Williams. Like Duke, much of the Illinois offense is set up by their point guard. Frank Williams is a good long range shooter but his driving ability is probably more concerning for Duke. Look for Coach K to run both Jason Williams and Chris Duhon at him to try and keep up the pressure. Jason Williams has shown his ability as a great on the ball defender, much of which is due to having a solid backup that allows him to play more aggressively. Still, Williams has to stay in this game and must avoid picking up fouls. He must also avoid turning this game into a personal battle of point guards and instead concentrate on his own game.
If Duke can limit Frank Williams' penetration and close out the defense by getting the rebounds then they matchup well with the remaining offensive weapons for the Illini. Cory Bradford is mired in an enormous slump on the offensive end of the court and Nate James is not likely to give him any opportunity to come up for air. As with any great shooter, there is always the chance that he will find his stroke and explode so the Duke defense must still respect that potential.
Duke may find it difficult to implement the full court press that has been one of its best defensive sets. Typically Duke will use Battier to funnel the inbounds pass to a guard in the baseline corner and then rotate over to trap that man. That press is especially effective when Battier has a size advantage on the opposing player. Maryland employs a similar press and in their game the Illini were able to consistently break the press for easy baskets on the other end. Self used the 6-11 Cook to receive the inbounds pass. Cook's size made it easier for him to see over the trap and find the open man.
Illinois is also a team that is very deceptive when you look at their turnovers. On the surface you would think a team averaging over 17 turnovers a game would be an ideal candidate for the press. However, the Illinois guards are not the culprits- it's their big men. The four most turnover prone Illini all play in the frontcourt.
In Duke's last tight game (Temple) their offense down the stretch was almost exclusively Jason Williams penetrating and dishing it off to Boozer. It may be difficult to replicate that against Illinois. If Frank Williams can limit Jason WilliamsÂ penetration then the Illini will have succeeded in defending both Williams and Boozer. Those two players are still going to score points but it will be far more difficult for them to carry the offense as they did against Temple. Duke's other players must step up and contribute on the offensive end.
One area Duke could potentially exploit is beyond the three point line. In Maui, the Illini defense allowed their opponents to shoot 47% from the three including 50% efforts from both UNLV and Arizona. Ordinarily that would seem like a good thing for a team that is shooting 37.5% from beyond the arc like Duke. However, since the Princeton game, the team is shooting closer to 33% from the three point line and much of those difficulties are due to shooting the three too quickly. If Duke can avoid the quick three against Illinois they should find more open looks later in the shot clock.
Duke should be able to create some tough matchups for the Illini thanks to the size of their wings and their backcourt. Sergio McClain is a true defensive stopper in the mold of Billy King or Chris Carrawell but the question for Self is where to use him. If Frank Williams can contain Jason Williams and Cook can check Battier then Self can go with the straight matchup of McClain on Dunleavy. Still, that leaves Bradford guarding the much bigger James who should be able to exploit that matchup. If McClain is forced to guard either Williams or Battier then the matchups get much tougher for the Illini. Because of his size and ball handling ability, Dunleavy will be a tough matchup for anyone one the Illinois team other than McClain.
These two teams are very evenly matched. The outcome of the point guard matchup will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game. Duke must get back to the balanced scoring attack that we saw against Texas and Villanova to win this game. They are also going to need an exceptional effort out of their top 6 players. With Horvath still rounding into form after missing some games and Sanders nursing the injury they may not be much of a factor. Christensen could see some minutes but the frantic pace of the game may not be suited for his abilities. As a result the Duke team, and in particular Boozer, must avoid foul trouble. The Illini won't have that worry. 8 guys on their team are averaging over 10 minutes a game and two more are averaging over 8 minutes a game. This is a deep team that is not afraid to use their bench.
Illinois has shown strong character in their opening games coming form 14 down to win in one game, crushing a top 10 team in the second half in another, and nearly rallying back from a 15 point deficit against another top 10 team. Duke has also shown character in their win over Temple. The game should come down to the final minutes with a point guard carrying his team to victory. I'm just not sure which Williams that will be.