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.