Kyrie Irving is back for Duke. UConn keeps rolling. San Diego State earns their chance to prove they belong with the big boys. These are some of the headlines heading into the Sweet 16 of the West Regional. There is a lot of NBA talent playing in Anaheim but can anyone knock off the defending champion Blue Devils? Here is my breakdown.
By: David Kay
#1 Duke vs. #5 Arizona
How the Blue Devils Win:
Coach K. has already said that Kyrie Irving will see significant minutes in this game so it will be interesting to see how Duke handles integrating Irving back into the line-up. If any coach is perfectly suited to handle that challenge, it is Coach K. The Blue Devils also hold a major experience advantage with Arizona still being a very young team. Duke will not be shaken by anything that happens during the course of the forty minutes.
How the Wildcats Win:
Mo Mo Jones will have to come up big on the defensive end whether it is guarding Irving or Nolan Smith when he is running the point. I think the Cats are actually at an advantage when Duke decides to go small with a three-guard line-up and Singler at the four because Arizona has a lot of length on the wing with guys like Kevin Parrom, Solomon Hill, and Jamelle Horne.
Derrick Williams will have to do his thing for Zona but then comes the question mark of who will be the next guy to step up? Sean Miller goes ten deep on his bench and it seems to be a different guy every night playing the role of second or third banana. Against Memphis it was Jones. Hill, Jordin Mayes, and Brandon Lavender did it versus Texas. Who will step to the forefront against Duke to take some of the pressure off the Pac-10 Player of the Year?
Prediction: Duke 81, Arizona 71
#3 UConn vs. #2 San Diego State
How the Huskies Win:
Outside of the Butler/Wisconsin game, this is probably the most evenly matched Sweet 16 game. The Huskies need to just keep doing what they have been doing. Since dropping four of their final five regular season games, UConn has turned it up a notch and winning their last seven games since hitting tourney time. Questions about dead legs from playing five games in five days in the Big East Tournament should not be a concern at this point of the tournament. Alex Oriakhi can be a major x-factor on the glass as his physicality might be hard to match by a SDSU team that does not have a lot muscle inside.
How the Aztecs Win:
San Diego State can usually use their athleticism and length to create turnovers and turn defense into easy transition buckets. That will not be that easy against an equally quick UConn team. The Aztecs will have to execute in the half court which they are also more than capable of doing. Keeping Kemba at bay and making the other young Huskies beat them will also help their chances of moving on in the dance.
Prediction: UConn 68, San Diego State 62
#1 Duke vs. #3 UConn
How the Blue Devils Win:
A Kyle Singler sighting will be needed for Duke to advance to the Final Four. He is averaging just 12 points per game in his last four games partially due to a cold stretch of shooting in which he is three of his last sixteen from downtown. Nolan Smith has clearly been the MVP of this team and having Irving back only helps their venture to repeat as National Champs, but Singler will have to hit some clutch shuts at some point while also playing a little bigger at the four position since the Blue Devils figure to show more of a three-guard line-up with the return of Irving.
How the Hukies Win:
Duke has been susceptible against longer, more athletic teams that also have some physical players inside. That pretty much sums up UConn. Still, Kemba will have to put together an epic performance like he has done all season long or else a lot will rest on the shoulders of a very young team. Guys like Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, and Jamaal Coombs-McDaniel have answered the bell but can they do with a trip to the Final Four on the line?
Prediction: Duke 82, UConn 66
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a fomer contributor at The Washington Times Communities. You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.
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