West Virginia vs. Duke

A breakdown of Saturday's Final Four matchup

The Starting Five

        Two teams with two totally different philosophies. Duke features a three-headed attack, led by Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. Together, they form the nation's highest scoring duo at 53.2 points per game. Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek, their starting 4 and 5, are more role players, although Zoubek has recently gotten some isolation looks in the low post. Thomas and Zoubek work the area inside the 3-point arc, but are especially good at setting picks to free up their shooters and crashing the offensive glass. Scheyer is the team's primary ball-handler, though Smith and Singler will bring the ball up at times. Although all three are known as mainly perimeter options, they also get to the free-throw line a decent amount, where they shoot 82.3% as a group. Scheyer is probably the closest thing they have to a star player as he is their best offensive weapon; he leads their team in scoring and assists. He uses Thomas' and Zoubek's screens extremely well, possessing the ability to refuse the screen, step back and nail a jumper, or taking the ball to the rim, finishing with a floater in the paint. As a unit, they defend well, despite having a reputation for not being overly athletic. Smith
has good size (6'2"), length and excellent quickness to lock down opposing guards.

        While Duke's offense circles around their two guards and small forward, West Virginia's is based around three starting forwards, Da'Sean Butler, Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks. All are a different type of player, yet all three are capable of taking over the game with the scoring, or rebounding or defensive play. Butler is the team's unquestioned leader and best perimeter option. He will have the ball in his hands when the clock is winding down or when WVU needs a bucket. While some players go through an entire career without hitting a game-winning bucket, Butler has six this season alone. He hit two buzzer-beaters in the Big East Tournament, leading the Mountaineers to the 2010 conference championship. Jones is 6'8", 250-pound, power forward, but possesses a smooth outside game. He has knocked down the 2nd most 3s on the team this year, shooting 41% from behind the arc. He is a tough matchup because of his ability to score the ball down low, or from outside. Ebanks could easily be one of the most athletic players in the nation, but stands 6'9", making life tough for anyone trying to cover him. While he is not as perimter-oriented as Butler and Jones, he is solid in the mid-range offensively. Defensively, he can guard any position and will likely be matched up with Duke's Singler on Saturday. His length and quickness have been a problem for opponents all season long. Rounding out the starting five are Wellington Smith and Joe Mazzulla. Smith is another one of West Virginia's inside-outside players, standing at 6'7". He is not as offensively minded as the other three, but when WVU needs him most, he comes through. Against Ole Miss, Ohio State and Louisville, Smith came through with tremendous buckets down the stretch and key rebounds down low. He is a bit foul prone, which could bring way to West Virginia's bench. Mazzulla, normally a reserve, enters the starting lineup for the third time this season with their starting point guard likely to miss the Final Four with a broken foot. Mazzulla is a junior with tournament experience, and in fact has had two career games in the NCAAs- last week against Kentucky and as a freshman in 2007-08 against Duke. He is a rugged, physical player who can knock down shots if he is left open, but would prefer to run the offense and get the ball to West Virginia's big three.


        West Virginia's depth at the guard spot will be hurt with their starting point guard, Darryl "Truck" Bryant "very doubtful" with a broken foot, although rumor has it that he is trying to make a slight recovery and practice through the pain to be ready for Saturday's matchup with Duke. Even with Bryant, Bob Huggins' squad still went 11 men deep, with only three guards. Joe Mazzulla has been surprising in Bryant's absence, but history shows he is more than adequate off the bench. After missing most of last season with injuries, in the 2007-08 NCAA Tournament, Mazzulla has been a spark. In a second-round victory over the Blue Devils, the guard put up a 13-point, 11-rebound and 8-assist performance. His physical play is something to keep an eye on if Bryant is not cleared. Two other players to keep an eye on for West Virginia are forwards John Flowers and Deniz Kilicli. Flowers is a tremendously athletic 6'7" forward who could prove to be a problem on the offensive glass for Duke. Kilicli is just a freshman, but not your ordinary rookie. Last season, he was playing club basketball in Turkey, gaining valuable experience. Although he has played limited minutes in the first few NCAA games, he is a very physical post player, who could battle with Brian Zoubek down low.

        Duke is not as deep as the Mountaineers and thus, Coach K relies on his starters for more production. The Blue Devil's rank near the bottom of the country in bench minutes per game, 311 out of 347. The combination of guards, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer, are likely to play nearly the entire game, as they have done throughout the season and NCAA Tournament. Kyle Singler is the their third major contributor, who has played 140 out of 160 possible minutes in March Madness thus far. Duke's frontcourt minutes are handed out by Coach K in a whomever is performing basis. Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek are the regular starters, although Zoubek is a bit foul prone, leading way to one of the Plumlee forwards off of the bench. We should expect to see more opportunity for Miles and Mason due to their production- averaging 8 points and 8 rebounds between them, but also due to their heightened athletic abilities over the lumbering Zoubek. A third performer off the bench, freshman Andre Dawkins, will see some minutes, especially if Scheyer or Smith gets into foul trouble early. He is a sharpshooter with deep range. When he is looking for his shot, he can be an effective weapon, however, if he can't feel for the flow of the game, he will look to pass the ball and keep it in the upperclassmen's hands.

3-point Shooting

        West Virginia's streaky shooting from behind the arc came to an end this past weekend as the Mountaineers knocked down 10 3s en route to upending top-seeded Kentucky. In the six games prior to Kentucky (the Big East Tournament + the NCAA Tournament's first three rounds), West Virginia had made just 24-of-100 shots, 24%, from behind the arc. However, on the season, the Mountaineers, led by Da'Sean Butler, have 11 games of 9+ 3-point field goals. Can we expect more 3s against Duke? Yes... just not at the same rate. West Virginia's season 3-point percentage, 33.6%, ranks 195 out of the 347 Division I teams. Duke tops the nation defending the 3-point field goal, holding opponents to 27.8%. The Blue Devils have a foreseeable struggle with their perimeter shooting as well. Duke ranks near the top of the country, 29th overall, hitting 38.2% of their 3-point attempts. West Virginia is equally as good defending the 3, holding opposing players to a 31.6% from behind the arc.


        With both teams struggling from the perimeter, the rebounding battle should be key in determining extra possessions and controlling the tempo of the game. Duke ranks near the middle of the nation's ranks, averaging 246 defensive rebounds per game, but they have been even better as of late with the resurgence of senior center, Brian Zoubek. The former top-recruit has finally started to put all of his tools and potential together as a 7-footer, using his size and strength to box opposing frontcourt players out and corralling the rebound or tipping the ball to himself in traffic. With a starting lineup of four forwards, all at least 6'7", West Virginia is the second-best team in the country at hitting the offensive glass, averaging 15.6 per game. Duke is not far behind, grabbing almost 15 offensive boards a game themselves. Especially with West Virginia's "switch everything" defense, mismatches or slow close outs could benefit the Blue Devils.

        The length and athleticism across West Virginia's front four is unmatched by any NCAA team, making them not only difficult to contain after a missed shot, but the Mountaineers attack the rim, getting easy put backs or ending the possession at the foul line. Duke's frontline is not only not as experienced as West Virginia's, but does not have the depth the Mountaineers have either.