Duke-VCU Preview

VCU is looking forward to facing an opponent with the pedigree
of Duke, although it has been the program that has gone farther in
each of the last two NCAA tournaments.

The Rams have also won the only previous meeting between these
schools heading into Friday night’s semifinal matchup with the
fifth-ranked Blue Devils at the Battle 4 Atlantis in Nassau,
Bahamas.

VCU (3-1) reached the Final Four two seasons ago and the third
round of the NCAA tournament last season. Duke (4-0) exited in the
first round last March and the round of 16 in 2011 since winning
its most recent national title in 2010.

The Rams may have ushered in their recent era of success in 2007
when they ended a 22-year drought without an NCAA tournament
victory by beating the Blue Devils 79-77 in the first round.

“Playing Duke, what an incredible opportunity,” VCU coach Shaka
Smart said. “We’ll be facing arguably the best program in the
nation and with no argument the best coach in the modern era.

“But we won’t fold up to the test.”

More than five years later since these schools last met, Duke
will try to gain some revenge behind Mason Plumlee. The 6-foot-10
senior is averaging 21.3 points on 71.4 percent shooting after he
had 20 points and 17 boards in Thursday’s 89-71 victory over
Minnesota.

“Maturity is what you need to be this good,” coach Mike
Krzyzewski said. “Most kids don’t figure that out. He has. And it
wasn’t a case of him being immature before, he has just
matured.”

Plumlee figures to be a handful for VCU’s frontcourt.

Center D.J. Haley made his third start in Friday’s 78-65 win
over No. 19 Memphis, but the 7-footer has not logged more than 15
minutes in any game this season.

The 6-9 Juvonte Reddic is the Rams’ best post player, although
he was held to eight points Thursday after averaging 16.3 on 63.3
percent shooting in his first three contests.

Duke finished at 54.5 percent from the field against a Golden
Gophers team that entered leading the nation in defensive
field-goal percentage at 28.6.

Seth Curry made 8 of 11 shots for 25 points and Quinn Cook added
17 as Duke extended its win streak to 21 straight in regular-season
tournament games.

Cook, Curry and freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon will have to
deal with the Rams’ famed “havoc” defense.

VCU scored 33 points off 22 turnovers Thursday, building an
early 16-point lead and holding off a late rally. The Rams entered
averaging an NCAA-best 14.1 steals, and had 14 versus the
Tigers.

“We had them on their heels in the first half,” Smart said.
“The overall style of play took a lot out of both teams but we
practice that way.”

Treveon Graham and Rob Brandenberg did all the scoring in a late
11-0 run for a 74-61 advantage. Graham scored 26 points and
Brandenberg added 15.

The Rams drained 13 3-pointers for the second consecutive
contest and have gone 26 for 47 (55.3 percent) from beyond the arc
in those wins.