So now it's on to UConn. Duke and UConn, as you surely
remember, have a bit of history in the NCAA Tournament.
Duke got the first dagger, in the regional finals, when Coach
K changed the play at the last second and called "special!"
Christian Laettner hit the shot, Duke went to the Final Four, and UConn went
The next year, they met again, and while Duke ran away with
the game, our lingering impression was Rod Sellers banging Christian Laettner's
head on the floor. No doubt a lot of people wanted to do that, but
somehow, that gets a lot less attention than Christian Laettner tapping his foot
on Aminu Timberlake's stomach a few games later (Timberlake got up laughing, if
Then, of course, in 1999, behind Khalid "the Lid"
El-Amin, UConn pulled off a gorgeous upset, when they came out much more ready
than did Duke and won.
In the previous three matchups, Duke was favored. This
time, it'll be different. UConn has a lot of weapons to hit you with,
including Omeka Okafor, and he's not only an excellent player, but a first-rate
student as well. Vanderbilt damn near got him and they're no doubt still
They also have first rate threats in Ben Gordon and Rashad Anderson. Gordon
is a kid Duke seriously recruited before deciding on Daniel Ewing. Gordon
is 6-3, and Anderson is 6-5.
They have a bit more size than Duke does, with Josh Boone, a freshman, who is
6-10 and 230, and Luol Deng's high school teammate Charlie Villanueva coming off
the bench at the same size. They also have 6-11 Hilton Armstrong, who went to
the same high school Elton Brand attended.
Denham Brown, at 6-5, gets minutes, and Taliek Brown, at 6-1, mans the point.
The starters are Okafor, Boone, Gordon, Anderson, and Boone.
They were called a rarity in modern basketball, a complete team, by Michael
Wilbon. They are imposing, to say the least, particularly Okafor, and also
Gordon and Anderson.
Villanueva is a kid who came very close to declaring for the draft last
year. He committed to the Illini, but backed out when Bill Self left and
ended up in Storrs.
How to attack these guys? We're not basketball geniuses or anything,
but the traditional way to attack a shotblocker is to go right at him.
We're not sure that's worked real well for everyone else this year, and with him
back there, UConn can overplay the perimeter, which will make life tougher for
the three point shooters. Not that anyone would listen to us, but here are
a couple of ideas we had.
- Duke has mismatches, but so does UConn: who takes Deng? Boone or
Anderson? It almost has to be Boone, because otherwise he ends up
guarding someone like Redick. We don't think he can guard Deng away
from the basket, but he'll have to do something.
- We get the feeling that either Shavlik Randolph, who has really come on of
late, or Nick Horvath, could have a key role in this game. Both guys -
and Shelden Williams, for that matter - can hit shots from the three point
line on in. Nick hasn't been asked to do it much, but we're betting
UConn doesn't know he can do that. Shavlik has some range, too.
If either guy can do it, it would screw up Okafor and force him to come out
(assuming Shelden is out of the game).
- As great as Okafor is, we're not sure he's played against someone who is
basically just as big and strong as he is, and while he gets most of the
pre-game edges and props, we're curious to see how Shelden does against him,
because it's just as true the other way: it's a challenge Shelden has never
- Taliek Brown is a solid point guard, but he can't shoot. Duke could
put Sean Dockery on him for a while, then let Duhon and Daniel Ewing
guard Anderson and Gordon.
- As good a player as Charlie Villaneuva is, we're betting Luol Deng knows
every move the kid has, and then some. We're betting they guard each
other when they're in - actually, UConn may have to use him, because we're
not at all sure Boone can defend Deng.
- Gordon, Anderson, and Denham Brown are good free throw shooters.
After them, UConn tails off - and quick. Okafor? His field goal percentage
(59.5) is higher than his free throw average (51.7). Brown? 54%.
Boone? 40%. Of the other regulars, Villanueva shoots 67.2%.
Obviously, the easy way to beat UConn is to control Okafor, but that's easier
said than done. Failing that, Duke has to do pretty much what they did to
Illinois and Xavier: play hardnosed defense and scrap as much as possible.
But our gut feeling is a lot of this game, strategically, will come down to
the old high school teammates, Deng and Villanueva, because they'll be needed to
deal with mismatches.