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Opposites Attract With West Virginia, Duke

It’s the new guy against the old schoolyard bully

April 3, 2010
By JIM ELLIOTT

INDIANAPOLIS - Older brothers remember the last time Duke appeared in the Final Four. Only grandfathers recall the last time West Virginia reached such lofty NCAA Tournament heights.

They'll meet at approximately 8:47 tonight at Lucas Oil Stadium to see if any of that matters in the second of two national semifinals.

A pair of 5-seeds - Michigan State and Butler - meet in the earlier game, one that some are referring to as the jayvee tilt.

Article Photos

AP PHOTO

West Virginia University basketball fans express their enthusiasm for the team’s first Final Four appearance in 51 years during a send-off event at the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown. The “Let’s Go, Mountaineers” cheer cards being held by these fans were sponsored by Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and produced by The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register.

The general feeling here is whether you've waited six years or 51 for this, the past means nothing.

West Virginia, behind a sparkplug reserve named Joe Mazzulla (13 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists), knocked second-seeded Duke from the 2008 tourney in the second round. Eleven players from those two teams, including two starters each, have returned for a rematch of sorts.

''No, we were a totally different team,'' West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said, ''and they were a totally different team. "They made a lot of 3s. We were so dependent on Joe Alexander I think to make plays for us to score the ball. So I think both teams are considerably different this time around.''

That was a game that put Mazzulla on the map, just before a serious shoulder injury took him back off it.

With a heroic performance against No. 1 seed Kentucky (17 points in a season-best 30 minutes) and an East Regional Most Valuable Player trophy, he showed he's back.

''He's been a big factor, especially of late,'' said Duke's Jon Scheyer, who scored 15 points off the bench in the 2008 game. ''For us, it's just another guy, another weapon they have. You respect him. He's a really good player. Really, in that Kentucky game, from watching that game, he had a huge game.''

Mazzulla hogged the headlines all week. Duke's ''Big Three'' of Scheyer, Nolan Smith, and Kyle Singler, all of whom average better than 17 points per game, have been doing that for a couple of years.

''I think they're terrific,'' Huggins said. ''I think they do a great job with ball security. They seemingly make every open shot they take. They really play within themselves, which I think in today's world, is easier said than done.''

The funny thing is, this Duke team is better known for its defense and rebounding.

''I think they do a great job of guarding,'' Huggins said. ''They give good ball pressure. I think their help defense is very good.''

Both teams have several players from the New York-New Jersey area that have a little history against each other. For West Virginia's Wellington Smith, this game just might be about payback.

''I'm looking forward to playing him,'' said Duke's Brian Zoubek, whose high school team twice got the best of Smith's in New Jersey state title games. ''I'm looking forward to the matchup. It's going to be tough.''

Same with Da'Sean Butler, whose Bloomfield Tech team was beaten by Duke's Lance Thomas' team in the middle of the last decade.

Butler remembered he scored 16, while Thomas had five in that one.

These matchups are worth watching, just as West Virginia's defense is against Duke's shooters. The 1-3-1 zone has become a big weapon for the Mountaineers of late.

The challenge, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, is ''their length and athleticism. They have (Devin) Ebanks up on top. Then (Kevin) Jones and Butler on the wings, 6-6, 6-8, they take away vision. Instead of looking at them, you better focus on who you're supposed to pass to.

''So it's a defense that fits well for their personnel. You know, we've worked on it. You know, we feel comfortable attacking it in practice, but we can't simulate that length. So you won't know that.

''Length and speed are two things that you can't simulate, you know, when you're practicing. They have great length on that zone.''

Try as they might, the Mountaineers can't simulate Duke's good shooting either.

''It's going to be a hectic atmosphere,'' Thomas predicted. ''They are as competitive guys as I've seen or played against, especially in my career here. So I'm looking forward to it.''

 
 

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