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Next Up: The Elite Eight And Arkansas

A tough matchup for a spot in the Final Four

Texas Tech v Duke
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 24: Mark Williams #15, Paolo Banchero #5, Wendell Moore Jr. #0, and AJ Griffin #21 of the Duke Blue Devils move across the court during the second half against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the Sweet Sixteen round game of the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Chase Center on March 24, 2022 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Next up for Duke is Arkansas for a trip to New Orleans and the 2022 Final Four. And Arkansas will be a challenge to say the least.

We said we thought the Razorbacks would beat Gonzaga and we thought that because Gonzaga runs into issues when they have to play highly athletic teams.

And certainly Arkansas was more athletic than the Zags. Gonzaga tied the game 36-36 with 16:54 left in the second half and never threatened again.

Not really anyway.

Drew Timme did score 25 points but only shot 9-19. Wunderkind Chet Holmgren fouled out with 11 points and 14 rebounds and just two blocks. The Zags shot just 37.5 percent and had 15 turnovers.

People now rag on Gonzaga as they used to rag on Duke saying they can’t win the big one. They will someday, but keep in mind that the Zags are doing what they do with less athleticism than most elite teams. It’s actually a tribute to them that they do as well as they do in spite of usually having less talent.

And certainly Arkansas won and deserved to, but they made quite a few mistakes down the stretch that Gonzaga was unable to fully exploit and most of them were made by one player:

  • 5:13: Au’Diese Toney missed Layup. 59-54
  • 4:16: JD Notae missed Three Point Jumper. 62-56
  • 3:29 JD Notae missed Free Throw. 62-56
  • 1:31 JD Notae Turnover. 66-60
  • 0:53 JD Notae missed Jumper. 66-62
  • 0:46 Jaylin Williams missed Free Throw. 66-62
  • 0:03 Foul on JD Notae. 72-65

We also listed missed shots which isn’t entirely fair, and didn’t get into stuff like lost rebounds.

That list is plenty to work with and you’ll notice that one name is prominent: JD Notae. We may misremember, but we think that the three pointer he took. We don’t remember if it was him or someone else but someone took a ridiculous late shot that must have made Mark Few grind his teeth.

After that from there he missed a free throw that would have made it a three possession game, turned it over with the lead down to four. The jumper we thought was so ridiculous may have been the second one. We’d have to go back and look.

That last one was a foul on a three pointer up five with 0:3 left. Julian Strawther hit all three. Certainly it would have been difficult but you can get a three off in :03 seconds. It’s not like Arkansas could lose at that point but come on. It’s just not a smart thing to do.

With one or two tips of the scale to Gonzaga, this would have been a very different sort of a game.

You might also take note of this: he took 40 percent of Arkansas’s shots against Gonzaga with 29 of 72. He did make nine of those 27.

Against New Mexico State he shot 5-18 and took 16 against Vermont, making five. He took 18 of Arkansas’s 51 attempts.

Against Vermont he took 16 of 56 and hit five of Arkansas’s 24.

So far he’s been 5-16, 5-18 and 9-27 in the tournament. He’s also the leading assist man. He just seems like a logical place to start with this team.

We were all pretty impressed with Jaylin Williams. Like Duke’s Mark Williams, their Williams is a sophomore. He’s very agile and could be a real pain.

We’ll see old ACC rivals Au’Diese Toney (Pitt) and Chris Lykes (Miami). The 6-6 Toney fits right into Eric Mussleman’s aggressive approach and has proved a real key for the Razorbacks late-season surge.

Lykes, small at 5-7, has been coming off the bench and has lost none of his athleticism.

Among other things, Arkansas forced Gonzaga to play the game as they defended it and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski says it might be more than you think: “I think the kids at Arkansas benefit from the fact of Eric’s experience in the pros, and you can see a lot of the pro influence, especially in some of the things they do offensively and some of the unique things they do defensively. I think it bears out number-wise in the last five, six weeks they’ve been probably the best defensive team in the country.”

If they’re better than Texas Tech, look out.

To an extent, Musselman’s roster looks a lot what we thought Jeff Capel was aiming for at Pitt: a deep group of athletic players from about 6-4 to 6-8 that can just wear you out.

Musselman can also turn to 6-6 Trey Wade, 6-6 Stanley Umude, 6-3 Davonte Davis, among others.

All those guys are really good athletes. And they’re deeper than Duke is right now. If it were us, we’d test the Blue Devils to see if they could play a physical, fast game after playing Texas Tech.

And that’s a real concern. Texas Tech, like Virginia, can really run you on defense. We’re not saying Duke will be tired but any team could. That was a rugged game Thursday night.

Not that it matters.

At this time of year everyone is tough and everyone has played a lot. There aren’t going to be any easy games or opponents. Everyone who is left is a powerful group that knows how to work together to overcome.

We really, really like the growth this team has shown. It’s fairly spectacular.

We don’t know how things will turn out in this one but DraftKings has Duke at -4.