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Friday, March 7, 2008
Will Duke outshine UNC from the field again?

ESPN.com

Bob Donnan/US Presswire

Kyle Singler's ability to drive on Tyler Hansbrough was a big key in Duke's win against North Carolina earlier this season.

Must-See Game

By Jay Bilas
ESPN

No. 1 North Carolina at No. 5 Duke, Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Outlook: North Carolina and Duke are the two most potent scoring teams in the ACC, with Carolina averaging 88 points and Duke averaging 84.8 points in conference competition. While many have been critical of North Carolina's defense, the Tar Heels are limiting opponents to 43 percent shooting (third-best in the ACC), while Duke is allowing opponents to shoot 46.8 percent (11th in the ACC). But Duke's defense is bolstered by its ability to force turnovers and its huge turnover margin. Duke forces almost 19 turnovers per game and boasts a +5.9 turnover margin. North Carolina is the superior rebounding team, with a league-leading +11.5 rebound margin. North Carolina and Duke defend differently, with Carolina forcing fewer turnovers but also giving up fewer offensive rebounds and scores.

Join Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Hubert Davis and Digger Phelps in Durham, N.C., on Saturday as they break down the day in college basketball (ESPN, 11 a.m. & 8 p.m. ET).

This game will be about the 3-point line and the free-throw line. Duke has made 143 3-point field goals in 15 ACC games, including 13 against North Carolina in the Blue Devils' 89-78 win in the first game. The Tar Heels have given up 112 3-point field goals, the second-most in the ACC.

To beat Duke, North Carolina has to get up on Duke's perimeter threats and force them to be contested 2-point shooters. If Duke can score 36 or more points off made 3s, North Carolina will have a tough time winning in Cameron. Duke has shot a league-leading 400 free throws in ACC play, while North Carolina has made a league-leading 302 free throws in ACC play, with the Heels hitting a remarkable 78.4 percent of their free throws in 15 league games. The team that wins the free-throw battle will have a hammer-lock on the game.

Duke won the first meeting by hitting 10 more 3-point shots than Carolina, having five fewer turnovers and by hitting only three fewer free throws. Duke scored 55 of its 89 points off 3s and free throws. North Carolina missed 14 of its 17 3-point attempts, missed 11 of its 30 free-throw attempts, turned the ball over 20 times, and had Danny Green and Wayne Ellington go a combined 4-for-24 from the floor.

Key Matchup: Tyler Hansbrough and Kyle Singler. Hansbrough is the toughest and hardest working player in the country. He has been prolific against Duke, and you can almost bank him for a triple-double with double-figure points, rebounds and free-throw attempts. Singler is the best freshman in the ACC, and while he has not shot the ball well over the past few games, he understands how to play. Singler's ability to draw a bigger defender away from the basket is an important factor.

Key Stat: Turnovers and 3-point field goals. Even with Ty Lawson back in the lineup, he will not be at 100 percent. It is vital for North Carolina to take care of the ball and limit turnovers. If the Tar Heels allow Duke to turn them over and take it the other way for easy scores or opportunistic 3s, Duke will win. North Carolina will have to cover the 3-point line, and it cannot afford to help too much on drives and leave shooters open for 3-point looks.

Wayne Ellington

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Wayne Ellington needs to shoot better against Duke than he did on Feb. 6.

X-Factors: Wayne Ellington and DeMarcus Nelson. Ellington shot only 3-for-14 from the floor against Duke in February, including 0-for-6 from 3. I would not expect Ellington to miss so many open shots, especially since he has now had so many games without Lawson to learn how to get his shots. Ellington has had a great season, averaging 16 points in ACC play, but he is not a prolific 3-point shooter. He has a marvelous pull-up game, and he is the type of player that can have a big game against Duke. Nelson has had an All-America caliber season. He is strong and can defend multiple positions with his strength, athleticism and long arms. He is a good rebounding guard, and he can get to the rim in transition. Saturday will be Nelson's senior goodbye, and one never knows how the emotions of that day will affect him.

What To Watch For: Watch how Singler slips a ball screen or rolls a smaller defender into the post. He has great footwork and understands exactly how to space the floor and take advantage of matchups. Also watch how North Carolina guards him, and whether the Tar Heel big guys can guard on the perimeter. North Carolina is stronger inside and on the glass, and Duke has the ability to distort and stretch the Carolina defense. If Duke is hitting perimeter shots, it will be a very interesting game. One thing you can count on is that North Carolina is going to run at every opportunity, and the Heels will punch that ball inside.

Who Wins: I believe that North Carolina is the stronger team overall, but that usually does not carry the day in this rivalry. While I think that Carolina is more likely to reach the Final Four, I also think that the Tar Heels will not change the way that they play to win a single game. The key will be Duke's perimeter shooting. If Duke knocks down perimeter shots, the Blue Devils will be hard to beat. This game is a coin flip, but I think that Duke will pull out a narrow win based upon that line 19-foot, 9-inch from the basket.

Bubble Games To Watch

By Andy Glockner
ESPN.com

Pat Calathes

AP Photo/Al Behrman

Pat Calathes and Saint Joe's can build on Thursday's win over Xavier by beating Dayton.

Saint Joseph's at Dayton (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET)
The loser of this game pretty much sees its at-large chances disappear, especially if it's the homestanding Flyers. They need this one to get to .500 in league play and give themselves any chance entering the Atlantic 10 tourney. If the Hawks can get this one to back up the upset of Xavier, they could finish tied for second in the league.

Marquette at Syracuse (Saturday, ESPN, 4 p.m. ET)
This is basically a must-win for Syracuse, which needs this victory to get to .500 in the Big East. The Orange's at-large profile doesn't look like it can survive an 8-10 league campaign. They might need a couple of Big East tournament wins on top of this, but this is a mandatory first step.

Arizona at Oregon (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET)
Bubble games don't get much bigger. The winner finishes at .500 in the Pac-10 and avoids a potential meeting with RPI albatross Oregon State in the first round of the conference tourney. Oregon has to have this one and some more. For Arizona, it would provide significant relief, especially with Nic Wise back.

Florida at Kentucky (Sunday, noon ET)
Another massive game for both teams. The Gators need every win they can get to improve their overall profile, and this would be a sharp road W to add. The Cats are trying to validate their composite SEC record now without Patrick Patterson. Combining the Tennessee road loss with two wins to close out the regular season would be a fine way to do that.

Kent State at Akron (Sunday, ESPN Full Court, 6 p.m. ET) Win this road tester and the Golden Flashes are probably dancing, regardless of the MAC tourney. If they lose and let Akron tie them for the MAC East crown, though, Kent might want to be careful in the conference tournament. Given the league's recent one-bid history, the Flashes might run out of at-large profile strikes with a defeat here and an early one in the postseason.

Player To Watch

A.D. Vassallo, Virginia Tech
With four consecutive wins, including victories over fellow bubble dwellers Maryland and Wake Forest, the Hokies have played their way back into the NCAA conversation. In his latest Bracketology, Joe Lunardi counts Virginia Tech as one of the last four teams in. Tech's résumé is sketchy: an RPI of 56 but nothing to show for the nonconference schedule, a decent but not awe-inspiring 9-6 record in the ACC, and a nice but not jaw-dropping 7-3 record down the stretch.

All that said, the Hokies could push themselves on the right side of the bubble with a win on Sunday at Clemson (ESPN Full Court, 1:30 p.m. ET).

Known for a sextet of freshmen who are setting the ACC on fire -- together they average 37.8 points, the eighth-best mark by rookies in conference history -- Virginia Tech remains in the hands of a veteran. Vassallo, a junior, leads the team in scoring at 16.8 points per game and chips in 4.8 rebounds per game.

But it is how he's elevated his game down the stretch that has made all the difference. Vassallo is averaging 19.5 points per game and shooting 9-for-21 from beyond the 3-point arc (42.9 percent) during the Hokies' current four-game winning streak, coming up biggest in the games that have been the most critical.

-- Dana O'Neil, ESPN.com

Duke wins final tuneup vs. Virginia

Rock The Vote

Vote: Who wins? Louisville or Georgetown?

Vote: Who wins? North Carolina or Duke?

Key Games This Weekend

L'ville at Georgetown, Saturday, noon ET
The Cards will attempt to win their 10th in a row, sweep the Hoyas and win the Big East regular-season championship all in one day when they travel to the Verizon Center. Georgetown has sat atop the conference standings from Day 1 and has won 11 out of its last 13, with the losses coming at Louisville and Syracuse. Roy Hibbert and Jonathan Wallace must lead the Hoya attack. Hibbert must use his post presence on both ends by providing shot-blocking on defense, scoring, rebounding and passing to execute the Princeton offense. DaJuan Summers, Jessie Sapp, Austin Freeman and Patrick Ewing Jr. will have to be in attack mode to handle the Louisville full-court pressure and score against the Cards' man and zone defenses with regularity. Louisville center David Padgett is the key for the Cards. His low-post presence, jump hook and passing for open 3s takes Louisville to the next level. Terrence Williams, Jerry Smith, athletic Earl Clark and Andre McGee will have to make shots as they will have their hands full as the Hoyas have a great defense of their own.

UAB at Memphis, Saturday, 1 p.m. ET
The Tigers remain perfect in Conference USA play at 15-0 after drilling SMU on Wednesday. The backcourt of Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts is the key for Memphis. Douglas-Roberts can score in bunches with his slashing drives to the rim and acrobatic moves in transition. Rose is a unselfish point guard that can change gears and take over in the scoring department, like he did against Southern Mississippi when he scored 23 points and dished six assists as Memphis clinched its third consecutive C-USA regular-season title. In the first game, UAB had the Tigers down but couldn't take them out in Birmingham as Douglas-Roberts converted a three-point play in the closing seconds to give Memphis a 79-78 win. UAB's Robert Vaden will need another big performance to give the Blazers a chance after scoring 27, with four 3s in Game 1. Lawrence Kinnard will have to help Vaden as a second scorer and also produce double-figure rebounds.The Blazers need this one to get them that signature win and get them in the at-large conversation.

Stanford at USC, Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
On Saturday, O.J. Mayo lit up the Sun Devils for 37 points but the Trojans fell short in Tempe, Ariz. Mayo will need another great performance but the end result must be different for the Trojans to feel good about their at-large chances, after the overtime win over California. The Lopez twins have been a terror of late, especially Brook, the team's leading-scorer and rebounder who dropped 25 on Washington State and had 18 points and 13 rebounds against UCLA in a hard-fought loss. Stanford guards Anthony Goods and Mitch Johnson must continue to make open shots and play off the Twin Towers. Meanwhile, USC's Davon Jefferson, Dwight Lewis and Taj Gibson must help Mayo in the scoring department and on the glass if Southern California is going to pull off the upset.

California at UCLA, Saturday, ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC regional coverage)
UCLA will look to close out the regular season and head to the Staples Center for the Pac-10 tourney on a high note after securing yet another regular-season Pac-10 title. But leading scorer Ryan Anderson will test the Bruin defense with his all-around game and presence on the glass. The quick Jerome Randle will keep Anderson in his vision as he pushes the ball in transition and penetrates in the half court, where he is also a major scoring threat along with guard Patrick Christopher. Freshman phenom Kevin Love will be the landlord of the lane with his power finishes and rebounding. The balanced attack of the Bruins' perimeter is controlled by point guard Darren Collison. Sharpshooter Josh Shipp and high-wire act Russell Westbrook are the recipients of Collison's passes in transition and from his half-court penetration. The Bruins want to send out senior Lorenzo Mata-Real with a win and keep their NCAA No. 1-seed hopes alive.

Kansas at Texas A&M, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET
The Jayhawks looked like a team on a mission as they avenged the Jan. 30 loss to Kansas State 88-74. After pounding Texas Tech 109-51 on Monday, Kansas avoided the same setback that the Raiders handed the Longhorns on March 1. A&M's Joe Jones and DeAndre Jordan are very good low-post scorers that can challenge the Jayhawks' Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson. The perimeter play will be key as A&M's Dominique Kirk must handle the ball pressure of KU's Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson as he attempts to get the ball inside. Aggies junior Josh Carter will look to knock down 3s, and Donald Sloan will thrive in the open court, but Kansas' Brandon Rush will look to set the tone on the offensive end with his transition 3s and finishes on the break. The win over Baylor put A&M at 8-7 in Big 12 play with a chance to get an attention-grabbing win against the Jayhawks, which will be playing for a regular-season conference championship.

Michigan St. at Ohio St., Sunday, noon ET
The Spartans' Big Three of Raymar Morgan, Drew Neitzel and top rebounder Goran Suton must be the nucleus to take out the Buckeyes in Columbus. The Bucks are coming off an overtime win over league-leading Purdue. Seniors Jamar Butler, Othello Hunter and Matt Terwilliger must take the fight to the Spartans in their last home game to give the Bucks another quality win and improve their chances for an at-large bid heading into the Big Ten tourney.

Oklahoma State at Texas, Sunday, ESPN, 4 p.m. ET
Texas took an unexpected hit by losing at Texas Tech on March 1. But the Horns still have a chance to win the regular-season title if they beat the Cowboys. D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams and Damion James must handle the lion's share of the scoring, while Connor Atchley will help James on the glass and look for some scoring opportunities. OSU power point guard Byron Eaton has continued to score of late. James Anderson and Terrel Harris will have to provide support on the offensive end, and the Pokes' defense must remain physical with Marcus Dove setting the tone. A win against Texas will put a huge feather in their cap as the postseason talk continues to heat up.

-- Reggie Rankin, Scouts Inc.