Sweet 16: Starting perimeter matchup Arizona Wildcats vs. Duke Blue Devilsby Javier Morales on Mar. 23, 2011, under Sports
FOLLOW JAVIER MORALES ON TWITTER: @JavierJMorales
A look at what to expect from the starting perimeter players Thursday at approximately 6:45 p.m., Tucson time, at Anaheim between No. 5-seed Arizona (29-7) and No. 1 seed Duke (32-4) in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament:
What’s going right: Senior playmaker Nolan Smith, the ACC Player of the Year, is one of two players in the NCAA (Norris Cole, Cleveland State) averaging more than 20.0 points and 5.0 assists per game. He is attempting to join Dick Groat (1951-52) as the only players in Duke history to average over 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game for a season. Smith is also attempting to become the third Blue Devil under Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to lead the team in scoring, assists and steals. Jon Scheyer (2010) and Grant Hill (1994) also accomplished that feat. Sophomore shooting guard Seth Curry leads the Blue Devils in three-point field goals (64) and three-point percentage (.438). Curry has made two or more three-pointers in 18 games this season.
What’s going wrong: Smith’s assist-to-turnover ratio is not impressive with 187 assists compared to 112 turnovers this season. He has produced as many turnovers as assists in 11 of Duke’s 36 games this season. Curry’s NCAA Tournament shooting selection is predictable with all eight of his field-goal attempts coming from three-point range. He went 3-of-5 in the first round game against Hampton and was 0-for-3 against Michigan.
Smith said Sunday: “I think the switch that I flipped (in Sunday’s win over Michigan) was I don’t want to take this Duke jersey off. It’s as simple as that. … Now going West, I hope we have a lot of fans out there on the West Coast. I don’t know. We always have great fan support wherever we go. We’re excited to get out there.”
What’s going right: In five postseason games (including the Pac-10 tournament) sophomore Lamont “MoMo” Jones has gone to the free-throw line second-most behind Derrick Williams (32-of-45) with 18 attempts and he’s made 15 for 83.3 percent. That means Jones is playing aggressively and putting Arizona in a position to win with key free throws in the second half. Junior guard Kyle Fogg, despite playing the off-guard position, leads the Wildcats with 96 assists (compared to Jones’ 85). He made the pick-and-roll pass to Williams that resulted in a three-point winning play for Arizona against Texas on Sunday. Arizona Republic reporter Doug Haller wrote Monday that Fogg leads the Wildcats with 37 assists to Williams.
What’s going wrong: Similar to Smith, Jones’ assist-to-turnover ratio is lacking (more so than his Duke counterpart with only 85 assists and 70 turnovers). Jones has also struggled with his shot in the postseason, making only 27.9 percent of his field-goal attempts (12 of 43). He went scoreless against Texas, shooting 0 for 6 from the field. Since injuring his left quadriceps entering the Pac-10 tournament, Fogg has averaged only 3.6 points a game.
Jones said Tuesday: “We’re in the Sweet Sixteen as a team, and we practice as a team. We win as a team, we lose as a team, we fight as a team. We know a lot of people are going to key onto Derrick, and some nights a lot of guys will key on to me, or Solomon (Hill), or to Kevin (Parrom). A lot of people try to key on the key players of this team, but there’s not just one key player on this team.”
Who has the edge? Duke, and it’s not close given Smith’s accolades and Curry’s potential. Smith is a Naismith men’s college basketball player of the year award finalist because he can beat you in so many ways. The other finalists are Jimmer Fredette of BYU, Jared Sullinger of Ohio State and Kemba Walker of Connecticut. Curry is not only a dangerous perimeter shooter but he is also solid defensively with a team-high 51 steals. One thing in Arizona’s favor: Jones and Fogg battle when pushed to the brink. They won’t give in easily. Jones especially embodies the nastiness Miller desires from his team in the postseason.
NEXT BLOG: A matchup preview of the starting frontcourt players of each team