Sweet 16 Preview: Duke v Arizona Analysis and Prediction

Duke is the defending champion that most expected to be playing on the second weekend of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.

Arizona, on the other hand, is the rebuilding former juggernaut that had to knock off favored Texas to advance past the Tournament’s first weekend.

In this post, The Sports Muse analyzes the journey these two teams took to get to the 2011 Sweet 16, how they stack up statistically this season, and how Thursday night’s game will most likely play out.

First the basics:

Sweet 16 Preview: Duke v Arizona Game Info:

  • Date: Thursday, March 24th
  • Tip Time: 9:45 ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Announcers: Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery
  • Location: Anaheim, CA
  • Arena: The Honda Center
  • Point Spread: Duke -8.5
  • Over-Under: 144

Duke v Arizona – How They Got Here

Duke is a team that was ranked #1 in the preseason, hung in the Top 5 for the entire season, and everyone (many begrudgingly) expected the Blue Devils to still be dancing when the Sweet 16 rolled around.

duke-arizona-preview-prediction-point-spread-sean-millerArizona is a different story.  Lute Olson, et al, left the program a complete mess two years ago. They struggled to a 16-15 record with eight new players in Sean Miller’s first year as head coach last season, and another year of rebuilding was expected before contending in the Pac-10 next season.  In fact, in the preseason polls, Arizona was ranked tied for 46th, with a whopping 2 points, behind such 2011 powerhouses like N.C. State, Mississippi State, and California.

Needless to say, nobody thought the Wildcats would still be chasing a dream in the Sweet 16.

Duke did not disappoint.  Despite losing perhaps the best player in the country in Kyrie Irving eight games into the season (whom they got back for March Madness), Duke reinvented itself, worked its way to a 32-4 record, Coach K’s 13th ACC tournament title, a #1 seed in the West, and survived a scare from John Beilein’s young and gritty Michigan squad on Sunday.

Arizona, on the other hand, blossomed a year earlier than expected, led by Derrick Williams, who went from Pac-10 Freshman of the Year to All American stud. They did not enter the polls until the end of January, but had a nice consistent season.  This team won all the games they were supposed to (with the exception of a road loss at Corvallis), and steadily improved under Miller’s tutelage and Williams’ dominance.  Like Duke, they survived and advanced with two very tough and close games against Memphis and Texas.

As we move ahead to the Sweet 16, Duke and Arizona meet up with a spot in the Elite 8 on the line.  Who will win? Who will have their dreams shattered?

Duke v Arizona – Statistical Breakdown and Analysis

Duke v Arizona Personnel

Duke features three of probably the top 15 players in the country in Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, and Kyrie Irving.

duke-arizona-preview-point-spread-prediction-nolan-smithNolan Smith was probably the best all-around player in the country this season, averaging over 21 points and 5 assists per game, all while playing suffocating defense (ask Malcolm Delaney) and providing tremendous leadership skills.

In addition to the Big 3, Duke features two knock down shooters in Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, and three inside guys who can rebound, play strong off ball defense (especially Ryan Kelly), shot block (especially Mason Plumlee), and in the case of Kelly, hit from the outside as well.

Arizona relies more heavily on one guy, with Williams their only double digit scorer on the season. However, they have a bunch of complimentary players who are all capable of stepping up. Solomon Hill, Kyle Fogg, Lamont “MoMo” Jones, Kevin Parrom, and Jordin Mayes (who off the bench is a perfect 5-for-5 on 3’s in the tourney to date) are all capable of being a viable second option for the ‘Cats behind Williams.

Duke v Arizona Statistical Breakdown

Before we go any further, let’s quickly analyze some important metrics for this game, courtesy of the ESPN Bracket Predictor (which MSF is now using for the third straight year to provide an objective basis for comparing teams’ season-long body of work.)


duke-arizona-preview-prediction-point-spread-tip-time-announcers-date-analysis-sweet-16 duke-arizona-preview-prediction-point-spread-tip-time-announcers-date-analysis-sweet-16

Where does Duke have the advantage?

When they have the ball.

When Duke has the ball, they are a top 10 team in efficiency, scoring the 9th highest points per possession.  Arizona, on the flip side, is poor at defensive efficiency, ranking only 116th in the country.  With Kyrie Irving back with another week of practice under his belt, that will create more open perimeter shots for the Devils’ lethal three point shooters.  If Singler or Kelly hit from the perimeter, this advantage becomes big.


Duke has done a really good job of taking care of the ball this season, and they have gotten better as the season has evolved.  Arizona, however, tends to struggle in this area, and turns the ball over more frequently than the Devils.  The Wildcats simply have to take care of the ball to have a chance in this one, which is possible because Duke does not always force a ton of mistakes (Michigan had single digit turnovers on Sunday, which helped give them a chance at the upset).


Duke has more of it.  They have senior stars in Smith and Singler who have played in 13 NCAA games, winning 11 including a National Championship.  They also have four other players (the three bigs and Dawkins) who saw minutes last year when they cut down the nets.


Sean Miller is an excellent, not just a good coach.  He gets the most out of his players.  He knows Duke from his days as an assistant under Herb Sendek at N.C. State.  He has been extremely successful as a head coach at Xavier (man can that place produce coaches) and he could probably run for Mayor in Tucson based on his quick success.

But you have to give the slight edge here to Coach K, who has won 900 games overall (827 at Duke), won 79 NCAA Tournament games, been to 11 Final 4’s, won 4 National Championships, plus an Olympic Gold Medal and a World Championship.  Coach K has done a superior job this season morphing his team mid-stream to adjust to Irving’s loss, and he is more than capable of getting them back to a quicker tempo now that Irving is back with two games under his belt.

Where is it even?

When Arizona is on offense

When Arizona has the ball, they are an efficient team who scores at the 18th highest rate in the country.  However, Duke is equally adept on the defensive side of the ball, giving up the 6th fewest points per possession.  Arizona shoots the ball well, and Duke plays good field goal defense.  Duke does pressure the perimeter well (better with Irving back) and that could give the Wildcats trouble from behind the arc.

Where does Arizona have the advantage?

derrick-williams-duke-arizona-prediction-analysis-tip-time-announcersDerrick Williams. Plain and simple.

Williams can score on the inside and from the outside.  His field goal percentage is a fantastic 60% for the season.  Amazingly, he shoots 58% from behind the arc.  That is a better percentage from 3-point land than all-time UA sharpshooter Steve Kerr ever converted.  That is almost not fair.  Duke has a couple athletic bigs (Mason Plumlee followed by Miles Plumlee), but I look for Williams to use up most of the 15 fouls that Plumlee, Plumlee, and Kelly have at their disposal.

Arizona is not a great offensive rebounding team, but I look for Williams to relentlessly crash the offensive glass against a Duke team that is vulnerable to offensive rebounds. It is interesting to note a discrepancy in coaching styles.  Miller favors (and always has) using depth, playing 9-10 guys and sitting everyone.  Williams has averaged less than 30 minutes per game during the season, although I will be surprised if he does not play 36+ in this one.

Home Cooking.

Arizona is playing close to home, and they will have a huge crowd advantage, especially if San Diego State wins the opening game on Thursday (as all the Aztec fans will be rooting against Duke).  Duke is used to playing in hostile environments, and in a similar situation last year, beat Baylor in Houston to advance to the Final 4.  But this is an advantage for Arizona that will multiply exponentially if they stay within striking distance for the first 30 minutes.

Duke v Arizona Prediction

Can Arizona Win?

Of course they can.

They can win if Williams gets their bigs in early foul trouble by dominating the inside, if they have 1-2 other guys (most likely “MoMo” Jones) who step up and hit multiple big shots, if they take care of the ball, and if Singler especially continues to struggle from the outside.  It will also help if Irving is not completely back in early season form, and if they get the crowd energized early and make it a home game.

The other thing that Arizona should try to do is to get Singler in foul trouble, which would keep him from effectively helping to guard Williams and limit his defensive aggressiveness in general.

But What Will Happen?

Coach K will design a game plan in which all-for-one tries to beat one-for-all (see Portland Trail Blazers vs. Julius Erving’s Philadelphia 76ers, 1977).  He will not consume himself with stopping Williams.  K will let him have his, get his guys to play solid defense but without taking too many dumb fouls.  He will take away the other options.

If Duke does that, they simply have too many weapons on the other end of the floor for Williams to keep up by himself.  Arizona does not have the defensive talent to keep all the Duke shooters and scorers at bay.

  • Duke-Arizona Prediction: Duke 79, Arizona 65
  • Duke-Arizona Spread Pick: Duke -8.5
  • Duke-Arizona Over-Under: Push (144)

Follow The Sports Muse on Twitter @TheSportsMuse.


  1. Catfan167 says:

    Hope the Wildcats make you eat your words, typical Duke suck-up.

  2. I think he is eating his words now with the 93-77 win over Duke

    • Yeah, the Muse had to eat a little crow on this one. But he was very gracious when we exchanged emails after the game. It happens. NO ONE saw this coming.

  3. Would you be all in favour of exchanging links?

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