Duke-Louisville Preview

Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino are quite familiar playing for

tournament championships any time of year.

While the two storied coaches have teams quite capable of

winning college basketball’s biggest prize come April, they have a

chance to bring home the Battle 4 Atlantis title Saturday night

when Krzyzewski’s fifth-ranked Duke squad clashes with Pitino and

No. 2 Louisville in the Bahamas.

The winningest coach in men’s Division I history, Krzyzewski has

four NCAA tournament titles and eight appearances in the

championship game among his 11 Final Four showings. He also has

consistently had the Blue Devils (5-0) playing well in tournament

settings, and Duke carries a 22-game winning streak in

regular-season tournaments after Saturday’s 67-58 victory over VCU

in the semifinals.

Mason Plumlee had 17 points and 10 rebounds for his second

double-double in as many games in the Bahamas, but Krzyzewski also

lauded the 6-foot-10 senior’s ability to help break the Rams’

pressure defense along with 6-11 teammate Ryan Kelly.

“These guys played with so much poise, two turnovers total

between them,” Krzyzewski said. “I am most proud of how they

handled players who were quicker and again, they showed that

poise.”

Plumlee is the focal point for the Blue Devils, averaging 20.4

points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks thus far while shooting 68.6

percent. However, the Blue Devils also are showing a more balanced

offense than in 2011-12, when Austin Rivers played more as a

combination guard in his only season at Duke.

Duke is averaging 15.6 assists in its 5-0 start – 3.2 more than

last season – and five players are averaging at least 2.0 assists.

Sophomore guard Quinn Cook had nine Friday and is averaging 7.3 in

three games since supplanting Tyler Thornton in the starting

lineup.

“I thought Quinn has played two terrific games here,”

Krzyzewski said.

As Krzyzewski has built a legacy at Duke, Pitino’s success in

the college game has come at multiple stops. He made his sixth

Final Four appearance last year – with Louisville being the third

school he’s taken there – and also has the 1996 NCAA tournament

title to his credit while at Kentucky.

The preseason favorite to win the Big East, the Cardinals (5-0)

have looked every bit the part in November and are coming off an

impressive 84-61 dismantling of No. 13 Missouri in the other

semifinal Friday night.

“We consider it a big treat to play them for a championship,”

Pitino said about facing Duke. “We feel we got the guys to play in

that championship and win.”

Louisville slowed the up-tempo Tigers with a zone defense that

recorded 12 steals and forced 23 turnovers. The Cardinals have

reached double figures in steals in all five games while forcing at

least 19 turnovers in every contest.

By contrast, Duke is committing 12.8 turnovers per contest and

had only eight against a VCU team that led the nation in that

category last season.

Offensively, Russ Smith had 18 points and is averaging a

team-best 19.6 overall. He shot only 1 for 7 from 3-point range,

but Pitino is willing to gamble with his feast-or-famine game from

the perimeter to allow fellow guard Peyton Siva – who had 13 points

and six assists versus Missouri – to be an effective

distributor.

“Every possession you really have your heart in your mouth, but

he really hits a lot of home runs,” Pitino said of Smith. “He

bothers everybody, and he allows Peyton to do a lot of good things

out there because he is so intense and Peyton knows he is going to

gamble. But you have got to give Russ his free reign.”

This is the first meeting between the teams since Louisville

defeated Duke 72-69 to win the 1986 NCAA tournament. It’s also the

first time Pitino will be facing the Blue Devils since a 104-103

overtime loss in the 1992 East Region final while coaching Kentucky

that many consider college basketball’s greatest game.