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Preview: 2009 NCAA Opening Rounds
By Rob Clough
March 17, 2009

NCAA Opening Round Preview - Duke and the ACC


Thanks to their strength of schedule and excellent showing in the ACC tournament, Duke was awarded the lowest of the four #1 seeds. In some respects, this is a dubious honor, given that the Devils would likely face Stanford in Berkeley, CA in the regional finals. While Duke narrowly edged the Cardinal in their first meeting, Stanford is much harder to beat closer to home. Of course, Duke has a number of other obstacles to overcome before they would get to think about such a matchup. Let's take a look at Duke's first weekend in the NCAA tournament, hosted by Michigan State in East Lansing, and the teams they might face.

First Round: Duke vs. Austin Peay. 3/22/09 @ 2:30pm.

The Governors were the surprise winners of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, beating three teams seeded ahead of them, including Eastern Illinois in double OT for the title. APSU is a small team that plays big, with 5-9 forward April Thomas leading the way with 13 ppg and 9 rpg. APSU played Miami and UNC, two of Duke's opponents. The Canes beat them by 13 and outrebounded them, which says something about the Peay's tiny frontcourt. UNC crushed them by 30, as APSU wasn't ready to deal with UNC's tremendous quickness. Louisville was the other top team that APSU faced, and the Cardinals also did a number on the Governors.

To keep this game from getting interesting, Duke has two missions. First, keep Thomas, wing Ashley Herring and post Nicole Jamen off the foul line. That trio goes to the line a combined 11 times a game on average. If the Devils don't foul, they'll force APSU to either jack up shots (32% from three as a team) or try to score against Duke's halfcourt defense. Neither option is an especially good one for APSU. They are a decent rebounding team (+3 on the season) but aren't a great defensive team. They're susceptible to teams with size that can score efficiently in the post.

Thomas, Herring and Jamen combine for 37 of their team's 66 points a game. A disciplined Duke team should either be able to shut APSU down or least force desperation moves against Duke's halfcourt defense. Herring, Whitney Hanley and Brooke Faulkner are the team's shooters. The Devils have to close out these players and not let them get open looks. On the opposite end, Duke will have every opportunity to get open looks inside for Chante Black. Duke's wings could also have a great game attacking the rim, while Duke's guards should be able to generate plenty of turnovers and scores as a result.

Potential Second Round: Middle Tennessee State or Michigan State, 3/24

Either one of these teams would be a very tough opponent for Duke but for entirely different reasons. MTSU finished 28-5 and is ranked in the top 25; with an RPI of 21, I'm a bit baffled as to why they were seeded so low. They have victories over LSU (in Baton Rouge!), Indiana, Arizona, and Alabama, though they did provide little challenge to Oklahoma and Tennessee. The biggest blots on their resume were losses to FAU and Western Carolina, though the latter squad made it to the NCAA tournament. The Blue Raiders otherwise stormed through the Sun Belt conference, which has the roughest travel schedule of any league in the country.

Coach Rick Insell loves to use an attacking, gambling defense. His 2-2-1 press forces 21 turnovers a game. He replaced high-scoring Amber Holt with the even higher scoring forward Alysha Clark, who leads the nation at 27 ppg. The 5-10 wing isn't a chucker, but rather a relentless attacker of the rim who averages nearly 10 rebounds a game and gets to the foul line an average of 9 times a game. Her scoring sidekick is 6-3 wing (and serious matchup problem) Brandi Brown, who shoots 41% from three but has also blocked 34 shots. Brown puts up 12 ppg along with 4 rpg. Chelsia Lymon is the team's playmaker but is also a shooter, averaging 9.6 ppg. Forwards Emily Queen and Anne Marie Lanning round out the fairly tight rotation for the Blue Raiders; both average around 8 ppg, with Queen also serving as the team's second-leading rebounder at 6 rpg and Lanning as a sharpshooter at 40% from long range.

If Duke winds up playing MTSU, it seems like they'll need to do three things. Above all else, Duke will need to take care of the ball. They won't necessarily need to immediately score every time MTSU throws on their press, just make sure they don't turn it over in the backcourt. Given Duke's superior size and overall quickness, they would have an advantage if the game bogs down to a halfcourt battle. Second, Duke needs to turn Clark into a jumpshooter and keep her away from the basket. She's a relentless offensive rebounder, and the Devils must make sure she doesn't get a lot of extra looks that could potentially get its forwards in foul trouble. Along those lines, the Devils have to control the paint. They should rotate fresh post players in to keep MTSU off-balance with different looks. If Duke alternates posting up Chante Black and Krystal Thomas while sending Carrem Gay out to take jumpshots and Joy Cheek to do a little of everything, the Blue Raiders will have trouble keeping up. But it would all come down to Abby Waner and Jasmine Thomas making good decisions with the ball and doing so both quickly and decisively.

MTSU will have a dogfight against Michigan State. The Spartans had a solid but unspectacular season, finishing in a three-way tie for second in the Big Ten. This is a classic, grinding Big Ten team, built around several players recruited by Joanne P. McCallie. Obviously, a Duke-MSU matchup would be pretty hyped-up for a second round game, especially considering that McCallie took the Duke job shortly after she was about to sign an extension at MSU. Suzy Merchant has been a solid replacement and the Spartans have had a few very good wins this year. They swept Purdue and Penn State, knocked off Iowa and also defeated Ohio State. They did lose three of their last four games, including a first-round loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, but this team has proven to be very tough at home with a 12-2 record.

That's what makes a game with MSU so dangerous for Duke. The Spartans average a solid 6000 fans a game; against Duke, it might be double or triple that number. That's a tremendous home court advantage for a 9 seed. Throw in the revenge factor against their old coach (center Alyssa DeHaan was reportedly extremely upset when McCallie left), and a game that Duke should win fairly easily suddenly becomes quite challenging, especially when one considers that Duke has been quite mediocre on the road this season.

The key matchup in this game is the 6-9 shotblocking specialist DeHaan vs Chante Black. DeHaan is not a great scorer (10.7 ppg_, but Black has often struggled against players her size. Black at least needs to control DeHaan and can exploit her by taking her outside a bit. That would allow Duke's penetrators to attack the rim or else give Black uncontested jump shots. MSU's top gun offensively is Aisha Jefferson, a quick scoring wing who averages 11 ppg. Duke has any number of players who can match up with her, but the Devils will need to turn her into a jump shooter and keep her off the line.

Tempo will be a big key to this game. MSU is all about getting the ball inside and going to the foul line (an average of 19 times a game). They have an interchangeable set of forwards in Kalisha Keane, Lauren Aitch, Lykendra Johnson and Brittney Thomas who all board and bang. MSU's guard play is erratic at best; none of the guards are big scorers and there's no one set playmaker. Indeed, the Spartans turn the ball over 21 times a game. When one considers that MSU doesn't have any great shooters, you have an opponent tailor-made for Duke's full-court traps followed by a matchup zone to neutralize DeHaan and Jefferson. One of MSU's biggest strengths, its depth, will be neutralized by Duke's own deep lineup. On paper, Duke holds every advantage here. Still, the Spartans have all the intangibles going their way, if they beat a formidable MTSU club. Either way, this looks to be a fascinating second-round matchup for the Blue Devils.

Previewing the rest of the ACC

Peeking around the rest of the bracket at the other ACC clubs, Trenton #5 seed Virginia has an absolutely brutal sub-regional. They first have to go up against giant-killer Marist in a dreaded 5/12 game, and they have to play in Los Angeles of all places. If they win that game, then they will likely have to face Joanne Boyle's tough Cal club that features a Big Three not unlike theirs. If they get past that obstacle, they'll be rewarded with a date with UConn.

In the other half of that bracket, Trenton #3 seed Florida State is actually in great shape. They shouldn't have too much trouble with NC A&T, especially since they get to play relatively close to home in Duluth, GA. Then they would match up quite favorably either with 6 seed Arizona State or 11 seed Georgia, neither of which could keep up with their quickness and size. Texas A&M or Notre Dame would likely be next; FSU already beat aTm on their home floor.

Raleigh #1 seed Maryland could see former Duke player Laura Kurz and Villanova in the second round, playing on their home floor in College Park. The Terps have pretty smooth sailing until the regional final in Raleigh, where either Baylor or Louisville could give them a lot of trouble. The latter would certainly be a "made for TV matchup" with Jeff Walz coaching against the players he coached and recruited as a long time Maryland assistant.

Oklahoma City #8 seed Georgia Tech could give Oklahoma some trouble in the second round given their defensive pressure and physical style. I don't see them having much trouble with Iowa (even at Hawkeye-Carver) but wouldn't be surprised to see them push Oklahoma to the limit. In the other half of that bracket, Oklahoma City #3 seed UNC will have a series of favorable matchups. I don't think Purdue has the guns to keep up with them in the second round, and I don't think Auburn could deal with UNC's pressure. Watch out for Rutgers in that half of the bracket, however. I could very easily see UNC head to the Final Four given what they have in their bracket, and that they've already defeated the Sooners on their home turf.



Terps Claim ACC Nets, 92-89 (OT)
Photo Gallery
 
Devils Veto Lady Governors, 83-41
The Nutshell

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