As they proved in a 66-50 win on Sunday night, No. 2 seed Duke turned out to just be a horrific matchup for No. 7 seed Creighton to draw in the round of 32.
Because the Blue Devils aren’t a great defensive team. They were 29th nationally, according to Kenpom, in adjusted defensive efficiency. They play guys like Quinn Cook and Seth Curry, who aren’t exactly known for their ability as ball-hawks.
What they do well, however, is defend the three-point line and defend the scouting report. Duke only allows opponents to shoot 30.5% from beyond the arc, and they only allow 26.8% of their opponent’s field goal attempts to come from deep, which is the 22nd-lowest percentage in the country. It’s their game-plan. They want to chase you off the three-point line.
Well, the three-ball just so happens to be as important to them as it is to any team in the country. They’re the nation’s best three-point shooting team, getting more than a third of their points from beyond the arc. It should be pretty obvious what Duke was focusing on stopping on the defensive end of the floor.
To their credit, Duke executed that game-plan to perfection. The Bluejays shot just 2-19 from three on Sunday, which is an impressive number in and of itself. Now think about it like this: Creighton still had a chance until two Tyler Thornton free throws with 2:44 left on the clock put Duke back up 12. You could see it in Creighton’s body language that they were all-but ready to throw in the towel. In that final 2:44, the Bluejays managed to fire off seven shots, all from beyond the arc. They made one.
That means that, with the game in doubt, Creighton, who puts so much stock into their ability to shoot the three, took just 12 of their 46 field goals — 26.1%, about a third less than their season average — from beyond the arc, making one.
When you combine that with the fact that Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee and Amile Jefferson defended Creighton’s all-american Doug McDermott about to perfection — he finished with 21 points, but he was 12-12 from the line and 4-16 from the field, as he didn’t hit a field goal for the last 25 minutes of the game — and it’s no wonder that Duke was able to beat Creighton and advance to the Sweet 16.
Their reward? They’ll get to play No. 3 seed Michigan State and Tom Izzo in Indianapolis.
Duke is going to need to do a lot more than simply stop the three ball to beat the Spartans.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.