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Next Up - Arizona

There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to Duke and Arizona this time around, but one thing seems clear: Duke has an advantage in experience.

Arizona has one senior, five juniors, six sophomores and three freshmen.

Sophomores Derrick Williams, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom  and MoMo Jones are four of the top six in terms of minutes played.

They obviously haven't had immense tournament experience, something perhaps belied by comments Jones has made prior to the game:

  • "This last month-and-a-half, two months, I've talked a lot of junk. I've backed it up. To be honest with you, I don't think anyone wants to look me in the eye."
  • “I’m pretty sure there are going to be heated moments. People are going to be in each other’s face. People are going to be pushing each other for rebounds. People fighting. Elbows thrown. I mean, it’s the Sweet 16. You’re fighting to win a national championship. You’re fighting to get to the Elite Eight. You’re fighting to live another day.
  • “At this point, you play as physical, as nasty, as hard, and with all the dedication, that you have. That’s what we do, and that’s what we’ve done all season. So it’s not going to be anything different for us.”
  • “A lot of people think that (physical play) is not going to work because we are playing Duke.  Duke is just another basketball team. Duke is a great program, just like we’re a great program. There really isn’t a difference between Duke and Arizona. Whether we’re playing Duke or Georgetown or Washington in the Pac-10 championship, it’s all the same.”

If it turns out that way, obviously he is right. A more experienced player however would probably be more circumspect in his comments.  Last thing you want to do, particularly if you're going to be responsible for guarding Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving, is to get them fired up ahead of time.

Williams has a few things to say as well, including this:

"I feel real comfortable [playing in Anaheim]. They had to come way over here. Time difference."

Not to say that he's necessarily wrong, but someone should point out to him that Duke's done this before.

A more sober assessment comes from assistant James Whitford:

“They’re the best man-to-man defensive pressure team in basketball. They’re like Washington on steroids. They’re going to make every catch hard, they’re going to speed you up and block shots. They extend in the halfcourt. Sometimes they switch screens and sometimes they flat out deny but they’re going to deny everything. They want to rattle you. It requires athletes and a high level of thinking. They make everything hard, make everything difficult. That’s probably the biggest factor in the game.”

“They run a lot of ball screen stuff for Nolan Smith, a lot of ball screen stuff for Kyrie Irving. To me, they have sets that take advantage of every position -- wherever they feel they have a matchup advantage. (The challenge) is dealing with their guards and their ball screens. If those guys are continually at the rim, it’s going to be a long night. You have to be able to contain them, and defend the three.”

And while Arizona is in fact a very young team, they do have an advantage playing in Anaheim: nine of Arizona's players hail from either California or Phoenix. So it's certainly not a stretch for them to see Anaheim as a home court advantage.

DUKE
GP PPG RPG APG SPG BPG TPG FG% FT% 3P%
36 81 38 14 7 4 12 .472 .751 .374
ARIZONA
GP PPG RPG APG SPG BPG TPG FG% FT% 3P%
36 76 34 14 5 3 13 .470 .747 .399

As a matter of fact, Arizona practiced at Williams' old high school.

Needless to say, Williams is Arizona's best player.  He has emerged as a really superb athlete and a guy who has a keen sense in the clutch.  No matter what happens, he's going to be a load.

But Arizona also has some pretty good athletes besides Williams and there's a chance they could give Duke the same sort of trouble that Florida State and St. John's did.

Still, there's no question they're lucky to be here (After Michigan, so is Duke for that matter): their NCAA wins have come by a grand total of three points, and the Texas win was controversial to say the least.  Williams' block against Memphis was magnificent though, and it really showed what a ferocious competitor he is.

Statistically, as you can see from the table to your right, they aren't that far apart.  Duke rebounds a little better, gets a few more steals and blocks, and shoot better from the foul line overall, while Arizona has an advantage from three-point range.

But as usual in the tournament, most of that stuff isn't relevant for any particular game, just as being favored is.  Winning in March requires a toughness of mind and purpose and an ability to handle game pressure, which could be heavy.  Whichever team does a better job will advance, and if it's Arizona, then bully for them.  But beating Duke in March isn't as easy as it looks or sounds.