Battle 4 Atlantis Final Will Decide Nation’s Top Team
Sorry Indiana Hoosiers fans, but the Battle 4 Atlantis winner is about to knock you off the top of the mountain. By comparison Indiana won’t have come close to matching the wins the Cardinals and Blue Devils have managed to produce early in the season. The only significant team the Hoosiers will have defeated has been the Georgetown Hoyas. Even in that game, the Hoyas took Indiana to overtime in the second night of a back-to-back after they defeated the UCLA Bruins the night before.
Meanwhile if Duke wins the Battle 4 Atlantis they’ll have swept the competition in the state of Kentucky by defeating both the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville. Two teams many predicted at the beginning of the season to return to the Final Four. Combined with the wins in the first two rounds of the tournament, Duke will make an easy case to be the nation’s top team. Not bad for a team that in October was considered to be entering a step back year.
However if Louisville wins, they’ll bump up to the top seed after knocking off two seeded programs in as many days after defeating the #13 Missouri Tigers in the semifinals. The win against Duke will go a long way in showcasing how well of a coaching job Rick Pitino has done with these Cardinals. With all the preseason attention given to the Cardinals, Pitino has done a nice job of keeping his player’s focus on the court and not on the headlines.
The match-up between Duke and Louisville is about as good as it gets for November college basketball. However, trying to decide a winner in this game is about as difficult as it gets.
Fatigue will be a factor for both teams but will more than likely affect Duke more than Louisville. Duke’s starters have played significantly more minutes than the Cardinals starters, led by Mason Plumlee who played 36 minutes in both of the first two games. Meanwhile Seth Curry is banged up and hadn’t been practicing with the Blue Devils leading up to this tournament. It’s uncertain how bothered he’ll be by playing three games in three days. Still, both Plumlee and Curry have tremendous heart and won’t allow excuses to be a factor in this game.
Louisville comes in with a deeper team while its key players are slightly more rested than Duke’s. The Cardinals wing players Russ Smith and Wayne Blackshear will be the key to Louisville’s success. Duke struggled to guard the Wildcats wings Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress in their match-up. Poythress had 20 points and eight rebounds while Goodwin delivered 16 points, six rebounds and four assists. If Duke has looked vulnerable in any area it’s been their defense on the wings.
Plumlee has looked unstoppable to begin the year and that won’t change when he matches up against Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng. If Plumlee can get a double-double against Nerlens Noel, he won’t be intimidated by Dieng.
Unfortunately for Plumlee he can’t do it alone and he’s going to need major contributions from fellow senior Ryan Kelly and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon if Duke is going to win this game.
Otherwise, Louisville’s depth and athleticism will be too much for the Blue Devils to overcome.
Michael covers the ACC and Big East for RantSports, follow him on Twitter @MichaelxRoberts