Next up for Duke is new-look Louisville. Rick Pitino’s high pressure system is out and new coach Chris Mack embraces the Pack Line invented by Tony Bennett’s father Dick.
Like the Princeton offense, the Pack Line has forks and variants and Mack doesn’t do exactly what Bennett does, nor does he do it as well and that’s no criticism of Louisville. Virginia’s the best defensive team in the country. It’s hard to top that.
Louisville has lost two of its last five and two of its last three, losing the rematch to UNC at home and at Florida State in overtime.
In between those was a win over Virginia Tech.
The Cardinals have a nine-man rotation with three core guys getting 30+ minutes.
6-5 junior Dwayne Sutton, 6-8 Jordan Nwora and 6-2 senior Christen Cunningham.
Nwora is leading the team in scoring (17.6) and rebounding (7.6) and Cunningham is the leading assist man (4.7).
Malik Williams is starting at center and averaging 7.9 ppg and 5.3 rpg. Ryan McMahon is getting 8 ppg.
Backup center Steven Enoch is getting almost as much time as Williams and producing 9.2. ppg and 5 rpg.
Darius Perry, VJ King and Khwan Fore are the rest of the rotation.
Louisville is still working through its coaching transition but seems to have taken to Mack’s big changes fairly well.
So what will Louisville do with Duke?
Well first, understand that the Cards are fully aware of Duke’s Saturday tussle with Virginia and they understand that that was a taxing game.
So we expect that Louisville will start off conceding the three and pack the inside to prevent drives and interior passes. Mack will likely gamble that first Duke won’t shoot that well twice in a row and second that Duke may have tired legs after a very intense game with the Cavaliers.
They’ll likely pay particular attention to Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. Those guys were highly effective against Virginia in both games: in the first game, Barrett had 30 and Williamson 27; in the second game, they scored 26 and 18 respectively.
In the first game they shot 11-19 and 10-16; in the second 8-16 and 6-8.
This is against the best defense in the country mind you.
In the first Virginia game, Cam Reddish had nine points and TreJones did not play.
In the second game, Reddish had 17 and Jones 13.
We won’t be surprised if Duke has success from three point range but we will be very surprised if they shoot as well as they did on Saturday.
That leaves the question of how well Duke attacks the Mack Pack Line.
But basketball is played on both ends and Louisville also has to deal with Duke’s defense which has become very, very good.
Duke’s three point shooting got a ton of attention after its offensive outburst but look how disruptive the Blue Devils were on defense. The Cavaliers were harassed constantly and it took a good while for Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy to make an impact on offense.
A lot of the credit for that goes to defensive savant Tre Jones. He’s unbelievable. Watching him bulldog someone is a connoisseur’s delight.
But Barrett is also an outstanding defender as is Williamson, who never relies solely on his prodigious talent. That guy always gets after it. And, increasingly, so do Reddish and Marques Bolden, who has really improved. He can defend around the basket and is a long, difficult guy to shoot over, but he can also switch on much smaller players and guard them effectively. He doesn’t get nearly enough praise from, well, anyone outside the locker room.
When Jack White and Javin DeLaurier come in they arguably improve the defense. White is versatile and focused on defense and rebounding, where DeLaurier is faster and more mobile than Bolden and gives Duke a lot of defensive flexibility.
No matter how you look at it though we can’t see an easy game. First there’s what we might call the Virginia tax. The Cavaliers really wear you down over the course of a game and it takes time to bounce back, particularly your legs.
Secondly, Louisville is a tough team. They always almost always are. This is a basketball school like Duke, UNC or Kentucky. They have big games every year. This isn’t a novelty or a surprise. It’s the kind of game everyone in the stadium expects to see and moreover feels they have a chance to win.
We expect that it’s going to be a gritty game, much like Monday night’s game between Virginia and Carolina.
And like that game, it’ll probably come down to whoever is strongest longest.
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