Sweet 16: Coaching matchup, prediction Arizona Wildcats vs. Duke Blue Devilsby Javier Morales on Mar. 24, 2011, under Sports
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A look at what to expect from the coaches and a predicted outcome of Thursday’s game (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:
Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski vs. Arizona’s Sean Miller
Sean Miller‘s unsuccessful first opportunity to coach against Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski as a head coach was two seasons ago. His next chance tonight has similar circumstances. Heading into a made-for-TV showdown against the Blue Devils at the Meadowlands on Dec. 20, 2008, Miller’s Xavier team was making a claim to be considered a national power. The Musketeers, who advanced to the Elite Eight the previous year, were trying to match their best start in school history (the 1996-97 team opened 10-0). Their No. 7 ranking matched the highest in the program’s history. Xavier came out of the gate as if it did not hear the gun. The sixth-ranked Blue Devils charged to an 18-1 lead and it was light’s out from there en route to an 82-64 win. “At the first timeout, I tried to remain positive, but I told the kids that at this pace, they could score 190 and I really thought it was a possibility,” Miller told the media afterward. The loss was the second-worst during Miller’s five years as Xavier head coach (ASU beat the Musketeers 77-55 in 2007).
Only two seasons later, Miller has Arizona on solid ground, it appears, as the Wildcats return to the Sweet 16 for the 14th time after failing to make the NCAA tournament field last year for the first time since 1985. Arizona guard Lamont “MoMo” Jones said this week that the Wildcats’ program is “iconic” similar to the Duke masterpiece Krzyzewski has built and maintained. Miller again is leading a program trying to prove itself on a national stage. Every national media talking head is taking Duke, which is a decisive 9-point favorite in Las Vegas. Will Arizona fail to hear the gun like Xavier did 28 months ago against Duke and Krzyzewski? Will Arizona get a reality check like Xavier enured or will the Wildcats answer the bell and come out nasty like Miller desires?
Comparing the two coaches is unfair to Miller, because he is only 42 and barely in his seventh season as head coach with an overall record of 165-69. His biggest accomplishment is the Elite Eight appearance in 2008. Krzyzewski, 64, is two victories shy of Bobby Knight‘s career-record of 902. He has four national titles at Duke. He will likely win his second gold medal as the Team USA Olympic coach in 2012.
Krzyzewski offers a stamp of approval for Miller, which should carry significance for those who follow the Wildcats.
“I consider (UConn’s Jim) Calhoun, (Maryland’s Gary) Williams, myself, the old guys who got in it for the right reasons and love the game a certain way,” Krzyzewski said Wednesday. “I think Sean is more of an ‘old soul.’ He got in the game for the right reasons. His team is sound. They’re just good.
“I mean as good of a player as (Derrick) Williams is, and I think he’s got to be a first-team, might be the best — first-team All-American, may be as good as anybody. His coaches used him well, and a lot of coaches don’t use their best players as well as Sean has used him. They’re sound defensively, and I think a lot of him, and I’ve developed a good friendship with him, and I think Arizona is lucky to have him.”
So many factors point toward Arizona’s NCAA tournament run coming to a close tonight. Allow me to count the ways:
>> Miller is Arizona’s fourth coach in five years, following Lute Olson (his last full season in 2006-07) and interim coaches Kevin O’Neill (2007-08) and Russ Pennell (2008-09). Duke has Krzyzewski, a stalwart who has coached in Durham since 1980.
>> The Blue Devils are a No. 1 seed with the the projected No. 1 draft pick — freshman guard Kyrie Irving — in April’s NBA draft. The Wildcats answer with a potential top five pick in Williams, but they are seeded No. 5.
>> Arizona is a team laden with sophomores and freshman, who score most of the points and produce most of the rebounds and assists, etc. The Wildcats finished 16-15 last year while the young team was teething. Duke is the defending national champion which feature two seniors — guard Nolan Smith and wing Kyle Singler — who are All-American types.
In Arizona’s favor:
>> The likelihood of a home crowd exists in Anaheim, a close distance from Tucson. And let’s face it, fans from San Diego State or UConn will cheer against the Blue Devils because they either hate Duke or think the Wildcats are a more favorable matchup.
>> At least the No. 1 draft pick is a guard and not a dominating center. The Wildcats struggle most against teams with bigs who can score. Duke lacks that kind of player.
>> Finally, Miller is two years wiser after the debacle against Duke two years ago. He knows what to expect from Duke as the head coach after preparing for the Blue Devils as an assistant with Xavier and North Carolina State. The way Xavier played against Duke from the start in 2008, it did not look like he talked about being nasty. Just a hunch.
My projected final score is Duke 75, Arizona 71, which considering all the circumstances of where the programs currently stand, is not disappointing for the overachieving Wildcats. This game will not be an easy game for Duke, as ESPN’s Skip Bayless suggests. Far from it.
Bayless said on the “ESPN: First Take” show Thursday morning that “Duke will cause problems for Derrick Williams. I’ve seen Williams play a lot this season, His game comes and it goes. It will mostly go tonight.”
Comes and goes? Is he talking about a different Williams? Arizona’s Williams has scored in double figures all but once this season and he has 12 double-doubles.
Chances are Bayless will have to retract that statement Friday morning. And it’s likely that Krzyzewski will not compare the Honda Center to “going to the best restaurant”, as he did about the Meadowlands after Duke dismantled Xavier two seasons ago.