Some strategic thoughts from the vanquished
Let's get one thing straight: The anticipation for No. 1 Duke versus. No. 2 Texas Saturday at the Meadowlands isn't the same as for 1 versus 2 in football.
A 1 versus 2 game in basketball simply doesn't mean as much -- not now, maybe not even until February. Even then, it still might not prove to be a determining factor in who earns a No. 1 seed.
There are others teams out there that could claim a matchup between them should be just as hyped -- notably Connecticut and Villanova in the Big East -- and Michigan State could be in that mix by season's end, as well.
On the way to winning the NIT Season Tip-Off, Duke smashed Seton Hall by 53, wriggled free from Drexel and outlasted Memphis (the latter two games in New York). The Blue Devils also have taken Indiana's best punch and survived in Bloomington and then needed a half-court shot (not heave) from Sean Dockery to stun Virginia Tech at Cameron last Sunday.
Texas won the Guardians Classic title in Kansas City by beating West Virginia when the Mountaineers couldn't make a free throw in the final minutes and then pushing aside Iowa late. The rest of the UT schedule has, let's say, been a little light -- until Saturday.
What's the best way to get impressions of what makes these teams worthy of their rankings and how they can be beaten? We'll turn to some of the coaches who have already played them.
First, since this is a road game for Texas (and the Longhorns will be donning their new Nike black jerseys, something that will send the burnt-orange-loving alumni into a tizzy), we'll do the Horns first, offering up Iowa coach Steve Alford and Rice coach Willis Wilson, both losers to Texas this season.
First, Alford: "They're very fast and Duke likes to play that way [as well]. Texas runs the transition as well as anyone. We liken them to Michigan State in our league.
"[LaMarcus] Aldridge is as good a center as I've seen. He's a load and he understands shot-blocking. When [Kenton] Paulino starts shooting well, they're hard to match up.
"[P.J.] Tucker isn't a big-time shooter, but he can take people off the bounce and be real physical."
So, how should you defend Texas?
"We trapped the ball screens and made sure to get back in transition, take good shots and you can't turn the ball over," Alford said. "Their best offense is transition. You can't allow them to get out and run, run and run to get shots. How you defend them starts with your offense."
Texas beat Iowa 68-59.
What did Wilson think?
"Boy, are they good. They've got four really good players in their starting five. The thing that impressed me the most was that they were more physical in person then they looked on film and I watched quite a bit of film on them.
"They execute better than I thought and they don't beat themselves. They run their stuff well and don't take bad shots and don't get hurried."
So, how do you beat Texas?
"You have to make them get into their bench and get them into foul trouble," said Wilson, whose Owls lost to Texas 85-58 on Monday. "The [Mike] Williams kid off the bench I like a lot but the other guys, I'm not sure they've got guys off the bench that can give them a big boost other than the Williams kid. If Tucker and [Brad] Buckman get into foul trouble, then their toughness erodes."
For Duke, we turn to Memphis coach John Calipari, who was a possession and a few free throws away from beating Duke in the Garden, and Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, who was a shot and a prayer away from taking down the Devils (and likely disrupting this 1 versus 2 matchup) last Sunday.
"You've got to have mental toughness and be physically tough," Calipari said. "If you don't have that, then you can't beat Duke. You can't. Even though they have young guys, and I have more young guys then they do, they beat you to the balls and get an offensive rebound on a free throw or jerk the ball out of your hands and dive onto the floor."
Duke's Shelden Williams had a key tip-back rebound on a missed free throw against the Tigers. That's the kind of hustle play Calipari said other teams don't match when they play Duke.
"I imagine Texas is tough mentally and [Texas coach] Rick Barnes will figure out how to play them, but will his team beat Duke to the loose balls, to the rebounds?" Calipari said. "That was a great lesson for my team. Are we tough to win games like that? We're not there yet, not mentally tough yet."
Calipari said Duke freshman point guard Greg Paulus got Williams five dunks by driving and dropping a pass off and maybe "jerked away five balls out of my guys' hands, and we lose by three."
All of the coaches who have come close to Duke say you have to drive on them and attack them right up the middle. You have to beat them in transition and help off the passer, so you're there to contest J.J. Redick off a curl before he shoots the ball. But that's the technical stuff that can be matched. The question is does Texas have the toughness. Does anyone?
"Duke's strength is their competitive spirit and their will," said Greenberg, still sore over losing 77-75 on the Dockery 40-foot buzzer-beater. "They are trained by a member of the military. They are constantly being brainwashed to expect to excel and to accept nothing but that.
"They are coached by the best motivator in college basketball and they happen to have players that buy in [and] are terrific players and that's a heckuva combination. He gets his players to embrace that and champion their roles better than anyone in America.
"[You must match] their sense of urgency. You cannot back down. You've got to draw a line in the sand for [the] 40 minutes they will. You've got to be the aggressor."
Sounds like a 1 versus 2 matchup, even if there are others lurking out there that would like you to believe they could be in these spots before season's end.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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