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Next Up - Villanova

Standing between Duke and the Elite Eight is a very tough Villanova team, as they demonstrated with their thorough dismantling of UCLA.  Against the Bruins, and with Darren Collison no less, Villanova forced 20 turnovers.  They also outrebounded UCLA, 39-26 and 15-7 offensively.  And it's like UCLA was awful defensively, either.

They held Scottie Reynolds to 11 points, and while Dante Cunningham shook loose for 18, Villanova was held to 46.3% from the floor. You might have expected better shooting in an 89-69 win.

With a bunch of guys who can handle the ball, from Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, Gerald Henderson, Greg Paulus and Elliot Williams to Dave McClure and Kyle Singler, Duke should be better equipped to handle the pressure.  Scheyer has been superb since being moved to the point, and has really taken care of the ball, but he'll be against some really good defenders, and Duke will have to have second options, so don't be surprised to see a lot of Nolan Smith with Scheyer if the pressure is effective.

And don't be surprised to see Gerald Henderson take off in this game.  Villanova was his second choice - his sister went there - and he obviously likes the school quite a bit. And it is from home.

But all that aside, in a game where no one is going to be much over 6-8, Henderson looms as a huge potential factor. And just as obviously, Villanova will have a scheme in place to deal with the talented junior.

If they double-team, him, though, they risk losing track of Scheyer or Williams or Smith, who, lately, has really come on offensively. Singler can't be left alone, and Lance Thomas and Dave McClure are opportunistic around the paint.  And while Greg Paulus hasn't played as much lately, he's a deadly three point shooter.

If Duke is shooting well from outside and hanging on to the ball, they're going to be a very tough out.

Mike DeCourcy thinks Duke isn't defending as well as you might think, and to an extent he has a point, because "opponents in the last 11 games have shot 47.9 percent from the field, with both tourney opponents topping 50 percent. Those are not NCAA championship numbers."

Okay, that's factual.  But look a bit closer.  In the closing seconds of close games, Duke is playing really well.

Consider the last 1:23 in the second regular season game against FSU:  Toney Douglas missed a two, then a three.  Derwin Kitchen missed a three.  Douglas made two foul shots, then missed a layup.  Deividas Dulkys missed a trey. Toney Douglas made a three with one seconf left, but he was unguarded and the game was already resolved.

Consider B.C.: in the last 52 seconds, they missed a layup, missed a jumper, turned the ball over, and missed a three.

Consider Texas:  in the last 1:11, they missed a jumper, missed a three, missed two more two point shots, and missed a three.

Ask yourself: is this all coincidence?  Was it coincidence that A.J. Abrams was held to 5-13 and only two three pointers? Despite the questions about Duke's inside game, Texas' massive Dexter Pittman was held to eight points.  Florida State's Solomon Alabi, a very talented and physically mature big man, was completely taken out of the game by Brian Zoubek.

We like stats, but sometimes they obscure a lot of things, too. In Duke's case, they obscure a toughness that's hard to quantify, and an ability to defend big men they theoretically shouldn't be able to defend. Or so the analysts would tell you, anyway.

It's realy hard to quantify the game of Dave McClure, for instance.  What is he?  Aside from a couple of big rebounding games, he rarely makes a statistical impression.  How do you measure making the right switches or anticipating how the ball will bounce off the rim?

There was an article the other day about Maryland's Dave Neal, which discussed the term "YMCA player," which has been applied to him by a lot of people, including us.  The writer said (this is almost eerily Krzyzewskian) that if you spend enough time playing pickup, you'll come across guys who are slow, chunky, and who just don't look like basketball players, and all they do is kick your ass.  Their teams never lose.

And they end up getting a lot of respect, because no matter what you do, you can't stop them.  You might think it's a trick, or luck, or whatever, but after getting your butt kicked five or six times, it'll finally dawn on you that this guy has earned his respect.

McClure is not that player exactly, but you can lose track of things he does, like that tipped rebound against Texas.  He didn't just tip it, he tipped it to a teammate.  He does things like that a lot, like stepping out at just the right time to force someone to either pull up for an uncomfortably long shot or to start the sequence over.

Bill Russell said that defense is really a matter of inches, that if you can force someone just a few inches past where they want to be, then you can lower their effectiveness dramatically.

It's also all but impossible to measure how well a team communicates, and that's something we think has improved a great deal towards the end of the season, and a lot of credit, we suspect, goes to Smith and Paulus.

Both lost their starting spots, and you know they want to be out there. They've reacted to this superbly. Not just well; superbly.  This could have derailed a lot of teams, but in Duke's case, it helped immensely.  With Smith and Paulus pulling for each other, and for Williams when he came in, well - what an example.  So when Brian Zoubek left the starting lineup, he reacted similarly.  He's deployed tactically now, he understands how he can help his team, and he's been vastly more effective in a much more limited role.

And while McClure was not starting this year, you can put him in the same basic camp.  he's been a remarkable force off the bench.

And really, for Duke fans, this is important to understand.  Winning 30 games is wonderful.  If they win one or two games this weekend, that's beautiful. We all want that, and the guys who are sweating and aching want it the most.

If Duke loses, a lot of people are going to say, well, see, it's not Duke anymore.  But what you should say back is that how you lose is really key, and we're all proud as hell of the fact that our guys can subordinate their egos to something that's bigger than themselves.  This is a real problem in modern basketball, that purest of team games, and Duke is a throwback.  If you lose the right way, you lose, but you never get beaten.

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