A quick look at the Duke Blue Devils reveals the following.
Strength of schedule: 7th in the nation (Cal was 18th)
Best wins: Beat Maryland by 21, swept Clemson by 21 and 13, beat Georgia Tech by 19, beat Virginia Tech by 12, beat Gonzaga by 35.
Offensive threats: Jon Scheyer (ranked 19th nationally in offensive rating), Brian Zoubek (102nd), Kyle Singler (166th), Nolan Smith (228th).
Toughest losses: 4 point loss at Wisconsin, 4 point loss at Georgia Tech, 12 point loss at Georgetown, 7 point loss at Maryland. Their other defeat was a 14 point loss at NC State I can't even begin to explain.
Common opponents: Arizona State (Duke won by 11 on an neutral court, Cal swept their season series), Iowa State (Duke won by 21 on a neutral court, Cal won by 19 at Haas).
Duke and Cal aren't that much different in style and execution. The Blue Devils have three good scorers who love to shoot the three ball (Scheyer, Singler, Smith hover around 39% from downtown). The Duke trio has actually shot more threes this season than Theo Robertson, Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle (550 to 481, although some of that must be excused by Robertson's six game absence). They like to stretch the floor and find the best possible shot with their spread offense, with only occasional looks inside. They have a short rotation that puts heavy emphasis on guards logging big minutes. They play aggressive man-to-man defense (okay, Cal's defense is man-to-man, but it'd be a stretch to call it aggressive), and they do their best to contest shots. They have a 7 foot center, with the qualification that theirs is a senior and can rebound the ball and can score and do center-like things. We even have our own flopper (Cal has Jorge. Duke has everyone.) And just like Cal, a bad shooting night could mean the end of their season.
The most interesting thing about this Blue Devils team is their traditional point guard doesn't get many assists. The 6'5" Scheyer does most of the ball-handling while Smith does a lot of the driving and finishing. It'll be interesting to see how Christopher does battle with him; although Scheyer's length should bother him, Christopher should have a few opportunities to get to the basket and make some noise. How he competes against Scheyer defensively could also be key; forcing him away from the three point line and putting the ball on the floor would be awesome. If he doesn't do so well, I expect to see plenty of Gutierrez while Christopher switches onto Smith or the fourth Duke perimeter man, Lance Thomas.
Smith should have the advantage over Randle on his side of the floor since he has about four inches and 20 pounds on him, but Randle's quickness could be a big factor on the other side, especially when it comes in transition. And while I think Duke will guard the three exceptionally well, I do feel Randle is in a kind of unguardable range unless they put someone longer and bigger than Smith on him. If he gets some opportunities, expect him to let it fly. Still, it's another tough matchup for Jerome, although it's not in the realm of Seth Tarver eye-gouging; he's probably going to have to get most of his scoring opportunities on the run like he did against Louisville.
Randle's defense will be key. He's not going to stop Smith from getting to the basket one-on-one, but can he funnel him into the help defense when he gets moving inside?
Robertson draws Singler, and this is another matchup that the Bears need a big performance one. Of all the three perimeter matchups, I feel Theo has the best chance of holding his own with, even bettering Singler, but so can Singler the other way. It'll be much tougher for Robertson to finish in this one in the halfcourt against Duke's size inside, but he's going to have to make a go of it.
The nightmare matchup is Zoubek. Sorry, but we don't have anyone to guard him. Jamal Boykin probably draws the initial and nearly impossible assignment. Sanders-Frison and Zhang can probably make some impact before Zoubek starts picking up fouls on them, but he gets offensive boards at a monstrous pace (the best in the country according to Pomeroy). Zhang has already played one seven footer this year and the results were not pretty.
The flipside is that Boykin can probably bother Zoubek with his midrange game and the ability to step out and make fairly long jumpers...but that's assuming he doesn't pick up those quick fouls. Cal has to let Zoubek go and focus on holding the shooters down; they did fine when Samuels and Buckles went off on them Friday night and the Cardinals outside guys kept on clanging.
If rotations hold, we'll probably see two main lineups. I'll denote them small and big, depending on who Duke puts out there.
Small (starting lineup)
Boykin at the 5, draws Zoubek
Robertson at the 4, draws Singler
Christopher at the 3, draws Lance Thomas (fourth guard who doesn't play as much as the other three)
Gutierrez at the 2, draws Scheyer
Randle at the 1, draws Smith
Yikes. Mismatches galore with this one. All our bigger players are out of position. The Amoke suspension didn't hurt us too much in the Louisville victory. It's hard to see how it won't hurt us now.
Big (when Duke puts two big guys on the floor)
MSF/Zhang at the 5, draws Zoubek
Boykin at the 4, draws one of the many big guys Duke can throw out there or Singler
Christopher/Robertson at the 3, draws Singler/Thomas
Gutierrez/Christopher at the 2, draws Scheyer
Randle at the 1, draws Smith
A little bit better size-wise, but it's still looking like a really tough cover unless the Bears shoot the lights out and somehow get a bad shooting night out of the Dukies.
The Numbers. BIG advantages are numerical rankings of +100 or more. Stats courtesy of Pomeroy.
Cal eFG% (27) vs Duke def eFG% (9). Advantage: Duke
Cal def eFG% (143) vs Duke eFG% (92). Advantage: Duke
Cal TO% (38) vs Duke def TO% (74). Advantage: Cal
Cal def TO% (250) vs Duke TO% (13). Advantage: Duke (BIG)
Cal off reb. % (98) vs Duke def reb. % (148). Advantage: Cal
Cal def reb. % (85) vs Duke off reb. % (9). Advantage: Duke
Cal FTR (234) vs Duke opp FTR (93). Advantage: Duke (BIG)
Cal opp FTR (87) vs Duke FTR (140). Advantage: Cal
Cal offensive eff (4) vs Duke defensive eff (3). Advantage: Even
Cal defensive eff (68) vs Duke offensive eff (2). Advantage: Duke
Hey look, a team that's better than us in almost everything. I love playing like teams like that. We've done so well against them!
The Blue Devils are again perimeter-oriented, but in year's past they have gotten a lot of home-cooking from the refs. Well their FTR is pretty low this season, which could work to Cal's advantage...if they themselves could get to the line. If past results are any indicator, it's not that likely. The offensive rebounding advantage we enjoy won't be as big unless Gutierrez and Christopher crash the boards like they did Friday. Amoke provided a lot of that, and he's not there anymore. I'd consider it a wash more than an advantage.
And good luck seeing turnovers in this one. Duke should have a relatively clean game unless Jorge wreaks havoc with Scheyer. I doubt we'll see either side turn the ball over much, although Randle and Gutierrez can get slippery with the ball.
The biggest stats that aren't listed? Well...Duke is the best three point shooting defense team in the country. For a team that puts a premium on making threes, California is probably going to struggle getting the looks they want. Expect Singler, Smith Duke defends extremely well.
The most curious thing about the Blue Devils? They aren't a very good two point shooting team (47%). Scheyer and Singler both shoot under 42%. Smith is better at 46%, but those are pretty rough numbers.
So how can we win this one? Quick, uninformed thoughts...
Out-Duke Duke. Usually this is cliche, but I think on both sides Cal needs to show no fear. They need to attack the boards before running out in transition. They need to spread the ball out and keep the rock moving until they found their open looks. They need to keep the tempo moving and force the Blue Devils to keep running, catching, grabbing, holding. Most importantly, they need to get to the line and take advantage of their free throw shooting.
The goal should be 72 points. All five of Duke's losses, they've allowed 72 or more, and they only have one win all season when they allow that amount. So stay aggressive and find easy points when you can.
The biggest Duke-like thing our guys will have to do is...
Run out on shooters. If you're demanding to know at any point "WHY IS HE SO WIDE OPEN???", our team is in trouble. Gutierrez, Robertson, Randle, Christopher (hell we might see Nikola too), none of them can be casual in letting the Duke shooters to lace it up. They have to get up and force Scheyer, Singler and Smith to put the ball on the floor and keep it moving. If they have to use the entire shot clock, so be it, but wide open threes have to be taboo.
It's gotta be Theo or Patrick who takes us home. As much as we love Jerome, if he dominates the ball on Cal's side we're probably going home tonight. Unless he plans on nailing 7 threes and racking up 40, you want to see that ball move around and find someone who can drive and force Duke's defense to collapse. Smith is too good a defensive matchup for him.
So we need someone to be the driver. And that's usually been Theo, although a little of Christopher would definitely be nice (not too much Jorge either--he makes, uh, curious decisions). I wouldn't recommend Randle do this that much in the halfcourt (when he drives against good defenses it's usually a tossup between a contested floater or a turnover), but both Robertson and Christopher are really going to have to get inside and attack that Duke defense, draw fouls, and get to the line. Theo especially has the pro moves. Christopher is less polished, but I feel he can take Scheyer to the hole.
Speaking of which. I need a private pep talk with him.
Yo. PC. You're shooting 33 percent from 3 point land. You're shooting 51 percent from 2 point land. Yet you're shooting more threes and less twos this year than last year. I know the rebounding and all the defensive work can tire you out, but come on man. Scheyer's not going to let you take those shots uncontested.
So put your head down and go to the rim. Create contact and get to the line. If you really want to show that you have what it takes to the pro, you've got to be able to get inside. This is as big a stage as you'll get.
Boykin needs to hold his ground against Zoubek. Yuck. Poor Boykin. Even if he's pumped up to play his former guys, this is a thankless job. Unless Cal double teams like they did Samuels, it's very hard not to see Zoubek having a monster game.
However if Boykin can get something offensively and force Zoubek to play tough D, or stretch the floor with his midrange game (which would force him to come out and guard) and open up opportunities for his teammates to get to the hole, that'd be a great draw. We can't let Zoubek win the big assignment by default. Boykin's gotta come up with something.
More importantly though...
No foul trouble. Seriously. NO FOUL TROUBLE. Robertson, Christopher and Randle will probably go wire-to-wire and are low risks for picking up fouls outside of bad handchecks, but Boykin cannot pick up two early and put our big man fate in the hands of Zhang and Sanders-Frison. Gutierrez is also a risk when he gets put on Scheyer or Smith, so he'll have to be sure he doesn't get too aggressive and earn him the wrathful eye and vulgar mouth of Coach K as he does his usual ref-milking technique.
Amoke's versatility could help us a lot on Singler though, so even though Omondi picks up a lot of bad fouls we could definitely make Singler work for his...
What should scare the Bears: The Blue Devils did not have an easy season and were probably just as tested if not more than our California Golden Bears. They had to face the defenses ranked 1st (FSU), 7th (Wisky), 13th (Va Tech), 15th (Clemson, twice), 16th (Georgia Tech, three times) in adjusted efficiency. They went 6-2 against those squads. And Cal, while no defensive newbs, are not going to scare Duke and force them out of their rhythm if they execute their offense well.
Cal's record against good defenses though? Not so good. They split USC (#2 in national defensive efficiency), beating them at home in a mess of a game but then got outscored 25-0 in the road matchup and lost at the buzzer. Syracuse and Ohio State both bulldozed and befuddled the Bears for the majority of their games. And although they held their own against Kansas for 30-32 minutes, they got outdistanced at the end. You could see a similar thing happening here, where Cal's offense manages to play lights out for much of the game but they eventually succumb to missed shots and a superior team with better depth and better athletes.
What should give Cal fans hope: On the flip side, Duke has played three of the top 20 offensively efficient teams in the country--Maryland (4th), Georgetown (9th), Wisconsin (17th). Their record against those teams? 1-3.
Now, Wisconsin is a better defensive team than an offensive team, but Maryland and Georgetown are pretty much known for their offensive abilities. Neither team played great defensively against Duke but were both able to hold on for big-time wins. (Of course, those games were at home. The only way this turns into a home crowd is if Cal goes back.
In comes Cal, with a measly 68th in defensive efficiency. The Bears have had a few outstanding defensive efforts this year, but they've also been pretty weak as of lately (their defense wasn't very good in the Pac-10 tournament). But they did ramp it up against Louisville at the beginning and at the end. They're going to have to play that way for forty minutes today though. I'm talking "ASU-level-2-points-in-ten-minutes" defense.
If Cal can get the shooting going early and get Duke playing tight, they'll have a chance. Anything else means it's probably the end.