The Midwest region of the NCAA Tournament appears destined to see a rematch of the Battle-4-Atlantis Finals.
The No. 1 Louisville Cardinals and No. 2 Duke Blue Devils have both made the Sweet 16 and although they have another game to go before playing, the two teams appear on a collision course for a Thanksgiving weekend rematch.
Duke won the Nov. 24 contest 76-71, in a game that made the Blue Devils look like the strongest team in the country. However, Louisville was without center Gorgui Dieng as he went down with a wrist injury in the Cardinals’ previous game, putting the seven-footer on the shelf for close to six-weeks.
Despite not having Dieng in the line-up, Louisville still out-rebounded the Blue Devils, although Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly combined for 30 points in the contest. It’s unlikely the Duke duo would be able to duplicate that total with Dieng patrolling the paint in the rematch.
Peyton Siva and Russ Smith combined for 37 points in the game, as the first half was mostly dominated by the Cardinals. It wasn’t until a pair of three-pointers late in the half by Seth Curry that put momentum in Duke’s favor. Smith and Curry have proven all-season long they can put up points in a hurry, which is why taking care of the ball and defense will be what decides the rematch.
Siva recorded a season-high six turnovers in the contest, a number he’s guaranteed not to duplicate if he’s given a second chance against the Blue Devils. At the same time, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon combined for seven of Duke’s 14 turnovers in the win. Also a number they’d be unlikely to duplicate as Cook was just settling into the starting point guard role and Sulaimon hadn’t even played a full month of college basketball yet. Therefore, the high-pressure defense Louisville throws as the opposition’s guards won’t be as effective the second time around.
The first match-up proved Duke will have to rely on their starting-five to have success whereas the Cardinals are capable of surviving through multiple combinations on the floor. Dieng’s presence is a significant addition to the game, as his length and size will make life a lot harder for Plumlee and Kelly. Both teams will have guards that can defend, score and likely take care of the basketball better the second time around. However, one thing Duke has shown us, especially in games against the Miami (FL) Hurricanes, is that length and athleticism bothers the Blue Devils.
The Cardinals have plenty of both to throw at Duke, and they nearly knocked them off the first time without their best defender on the floor. Should the two teams meet in a Battle-4-Atlantis rematch, it’s likely the outcome will be much different.