Duke and Arizona Battle in West Regional Semifinals in Anaheim

NCAA Tournament West Regional Semifinals
#1 Duke Blue Devils vs #5 Arizona Wildcats
Honda Center, Anaheim, CA
Thursday, March 24, 2011, 9:45 pm Eastern, TV: CBS
Opening Line: Duke -9
Current Line: Duke -8 1/2
Opening Total: 144 1/2
Current Total: 148
Money Line: Duke -475 / Arizona +395

The Duke Blue Devils take on the Arizona Wildcats in the West Regional Semifinals in Anaheim. Duke is an 8 1/2 point favorite.

The last time these two powerhouse programs played was in the 2001 National Championship Game. Duke came out on top 82-72 in that encounter to get Coach Mike Krzyzewski his third national title. He didn’t win his fourth until last year, but has an excellent chance of getting his 5th this year. Duke is 32-4 overall and finished 2nd in the ACC with a 13-3 record. The Blue Devils have gone 13-2 in their last 15. In the NCAA tournament, Duke has beaten Hampton 87-45 in the second round and held off a furious comeback by Michigan in the third round to win 73-71. The big news for Duke is freshman point guard Kyrie Irving returned to the lineup after missing almost 3 months with a toe injury. He is averaging 12.5 points a game in the two games back.   Arizona is 29-7 overall and won the Pac 10 regular season title with a 14-4 record. The Wildcats have gone 14-3 in their last 17. In the tournament, Arizona has survived two nail-biters  to get to the sweet 16. They beat Memphis 77-75 in the second round and Texas 70-69 in the third round. Pac-10 player of the year Derrick Williams made two huge plays to secure the two wins. He blocked  a shot at the buzzer against Memphis to allow the Wildcats to hold on for the two point victory. Against Texas, he drove to the hoop  for a lay-up with only seconds left and drew the foul for the and 1. This was after a controversial 5 second violation called on Texas that replays showed wasn’t 5 seconds. Williams buried the free throw to give the Wildcats the one point victory.

Duke leads the overall series 4-3 against Arizona. The 2001 championship game was the only meeting in the NCAA Tournament between the two until tonight. Duke has won their last 22 neutral site games. Their last loss on a neutral court was to Villanova in the 2009 NCAA tournament. Duke is 43-30 ATS in all games the last 2 seasons, including 43-29 as a favorite and 23-13 against non conference foes.

Arizona guard Kevin Parrom is listed as probable against Duke with an ankle injury. He scores 7.8 points a game.  Arizona sophomore forward Derrick Williams leads the Wildcats in almost every statistical category except assists. He is averaging 19.1 points a game, 8.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1 steal and 0.7 blocks a game. Though he doesn’t shoot a lot of 3-pointers he is shooting 58.1% from behind the arc. Guard Lamont Jones averages 9.5 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists a game. Guard Kyle Fogg is averaging 8.1 points, 1.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists to lead the team and 0.8 steals a game. Forward Solomon Hill averages 8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 0.9 steals a game.  Arizona is outscoring opponents 76-68 this season. The Wildcats are shooting 47% from the field and 39.9% from 3-point range. Arizona opponents are shooting  44.5%  from the field. The ‘Cats make 74.7% of their free throws. Arizona averages 34.4 rebounds a game and has a rebounding margin of +3.6. Arizona averages 14.1 assists and 12.9 turnovers a game. They force 12.8 turnovers a game on defense. Arizona averages 2.6 blocks and 5.2 steals a game.

Duke has no significant injuries right now.  Duke has two other players besides Irving who are averaging double digit scoring. Senior guard Nolan Smith is averaging 21 points to lead the team, 4.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists to lead the team, and 1.3 steals a game. Smith is the ACC player of the year. Forward Kyle Singler is averaging 16.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 0.9 steals a game.  Guard Kyrie Irving averages 16.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.5 steals a game to lead the team.  Guard Seth Curry averages 9.2 points, 1.9 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.4 steals a game. He also shoot 43.8% from 3 point range.  Guard Andre Dawkins averages 8 points and 1.9 rebounds a game.   Mason Plumlee leads the team in rebounds with 8.4 a game and blocks with 1.6 a game. Duke is outscoring opponents 81-64 on the season. The Blue Devils are shooting 47.6% from the field and 37.7% from 3-point range. Duke opponents are shooting 40% from the field. Duke makes 75.1% of their free throws. The Blue Devils average 37.1 rebounds a game and have a rebounding margin of +3.1. The Devils average 14 assists and 11.6 turnovers a game. Duke forces 14.5 turnovers a game on defense. Duke averages 4.1 blocks and 7.2 steals a game.

Though Irving’s return has generated a lot of buzz, the heart and soul of the Blue Devils is Nolan Smith. Smith is an All-American and candidate for national player of the year. Though Williams is talented and also among the nation’s best players, Duke is the deeper team. If Duke’s defense can shut down Williams, where will the scoring come from for the Wildcats. That question could decide whether Arizona will be able keep it close or have a chance to pull off the upset. Duke’s coach K got his 900th career win last weekend against Michigan. If Duke makes the Final Four he will tie Bob Knight  for most career wins. I think he gets number 901 against Arizona.

Our college basketball handicappers are red hot in the tournament. Don’t miss out on any more winners from now until the Championship game next month.

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