What college basketball fan doesn’t remember “The Shot” by Christian Laettner that sent the Duke Blue Devils to the 1992 Final Four? Apparently, Willie Cauley-Stein doesn’t. The 7 foot freshman had never seen Laettner’s shot — he was born in 1993 a year after the shot sent Duke to back-to-back national titles.
Cauley-Stein may not know about the Duke/UK rivalry but fan bases on both sides certainly do. That’s why the 2012 match up was prime time during college basketball’s 24 hours tip-off marathon .
This year’s match up was one of great contrast in style.
Duke brought it’s most “Duke” team in recent memory. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski trotted out three seniors, a junior and a top recruit freshman as his starting lineup. The lineup was one that will play inside-out throughout the year, or in basketball terms “four-out-one-in.”
The idea is that senior center Mason Plumlee will stay around the rim, roaming block to to block and fighting for a one on one match up against his defender. The rest of the squad (senior forward Ryan Kelly, senior guard Seth Curry, junior Tyler Thornton and freshmen Rasheed Sulaimon) will space out around the perimeter. If Kentucky decides to double team Plumlee down low then the senior will kick it out to a three point shooter around the perimeter. If Kentucky lets one of their freshmen guard Plumlee one on one then Plumlee will go to work on the block.
The plan worked in Duke’s favor as they won the game 75-68 and shot a 44.4% clip from downtown — hitting eight threes.
UK’s strategy was much, much different. It was the epitome of a John Calipari coached team.
Kentucky started three true freshman, one senior transfer in his first year with the school and a sophomore. The offense was the exact same that Calipari has famously patented over the past four years with the Wildcats. It’s called the “dribble-drive” and has been proven to work with whatever lineup Calipari throws on the floor.
There are many variations that coach Cal can throw against an opponent but he was particularly fond of a certain set against Duke. The center starts off around the baseline, two players stay in both of the corners and the power forward (sophomore Kyle Wiltjer) will stay on a wing. The point guard (freshman Archie Goodwin) would bring the ball across half court. As soon as he did that, freshman center Nerlens Noel would sprint from the baseline to an elbow around the free throw line. Noel would catch the ball with his back to the basket. Goodwin then has a choice to either cut through the lane and allow one of the guys in the corner to fill or he could go set a screen to either corner. Noel then looks to either hand off to a guy cutting or find a player moving up from the corner. Once the ball gets out of Noel’s hands, Kentucky just plays ball. They weave in and out and try to penetrate the lane to create spacing issues for the defense.
It was a match up of hardened experience versus young talent. And in this case the experience Duke brought prevailed.
So what did we learn?
- Freshmen guard Rasheed Sulaimon is going to translate well into the Duke system. He put up 10 points, grabbed six boards and dished out 5 assists. He’s a silky smooth shooter and fits much better as a freshman than Austin Rivers did last year.
- Seth Curry must become the main ball handler. Duke was at it’s best when Curry wasn’t just relying on his outside shot but when he was getting inside the paint.
- Sophomore Quinn Cook is going to play big minutes. He came off the bench, often replacing junior Tyler Thornton, and played 30 minutes.
- Sophomore sharpshooter Kyle Wiltjer is going to have find a way to get looks offensively. He’s very slow footed which hurts him not only on defense but also in getting open from defenders. He struggles to find space against even the least athletic opponents. He’s not a rebounder either so if he’s not hitting threes he’s a waste of a body on the floor.
- Freshman Ryan Harrow is going to have to come back healthy and run this team much like last year’s Marquis Teague did. He has the athleticism to do it and he’s probably more polished around the perimeter but will he physically and mentally tough enough?
- Freshmen big men Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein must learn to play together on the floor. The two are 6’10″ and 7′ respectively but seem lost when paired together down low for the Wildcats. Both of them are ball hawks and want to block shots but when they do that they leave room for weak side offensive rebounds. Discipline will come with time.
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