Louisville came into the NCAA tournament as one of the country’s hottest teams and that hasn’t changed in its pursuit of the Final Four. Now, coach Rick Pitino and the Cardinals are one win away, impeded only by a long-standing symbol of college basketball supremacy, Duke. Can Coach K and the Blue Devils continue to run on the fuel of strong guard play into the Final Four? Check out a position-by-position preview below:
Duke point guard Quinn Cook has been much more of a facilitator than a scorer in three NCAA tournament games thus far. Through three rounds, he is averaging 3.7 points on 4-of-21 shooting from the floor, but also has 19 assists to just six turnovers. His ability maintain the pace Sunday will be key for Duke against a Louisville defensive attack that will want to speed him up and turn him over. If that cycle of turnovers to points starts taking hold for Louisville, we end up seeing stretches like in the second half against Syracuse in the Big East tournament title game.
On the other hand, both Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon have carried the offensive load. Curry went for 29 points in the win over Michigan State, while Sulaimon had 21 against Creighton and another 16 against the Spartans.
For Louisville, the major question facing Louisville coming into the tournament was whether or not Peyton Siva and Russ Smith would play like they did around this time last year or slump like we had seen at points during the season. Smith has been a consistent scorer through three games, while Siva has been steady. Siva needs to outplay Cook on Sunday.
Ryan Kelly has not been nearly as hot in the NCAA tournament as he was when he initially came back from injury toward the end of the season. His ability to stretch the floor from the power forward position makes it easier for Curry, Sulaimon, Cook, and Plumlee to create and get good shots for themselves. Will he turn it on today?
Louisville will have to counter with Montrezl Harrell, Wayne Blackshear, and Chane Behanan. If we add Luke Hancock into the mix of forwards, his ability to stretch the floor as Kelly does and hit from the outside adds another dimension to Louisville offensive attack.
Mason Plumlee versus Gorgui Dieng will be one of the better one-on-one post matchups we’ve seen in this tournament. Plumlee has been the senior centerpiece for Duke all season, while it has been striking to see the development of Dieng on the offensive end to be a passer and legitimate scorer to complement Louisville’s other pieces.
Dieng will need to be the presence in the paint that Michigan State lacked in its loss to Duke. His ability to deny and keep Duke’s guards away from the rim will be crucial on Sunday. If he can block shots and force Duke to take more jump shots than it is comfortable with, missed shots and run-outs added to turnovers would tilt the table in Louisville’s favor.
Tip off is at approximately 5:05 p.m. ET.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_