Game of the Week: Louisville vs. Duke
Perhaps the best thing about the early season tournaments is that they gave us a preview of the Big Dance. Teams from a variety of conferences play in exotic locales even though the huge domes that host the NCAA tournament aren't used. The same conferences usually do not send more than one team to an early season tournament, so we are presented with a variety of styles of play. Last night, Duke and Louisville played in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantic tournament in the Bahamas and it was a well-coached even battle.
Before I start in on the game itself, I'd like to touch on a topic that is becoming mentioned with increasing frequency in college sports: conference realignment. With the announcement that the Maryland and Rutgers would leave the ACC and Big East, respectively, for the Big 10, college sports writers worked themselves into a tizzy. The main arguments against schools moving from one conference to another are that it breaks tradition and upsets rivalries. Another problem that writers have is that schools are only doing it for the money. Let me let you in on a little secret: schools (but certainly not players) are making money off of college football and basketball. A lot of money. And I have no problem with it. Would said writers really take less money to do essentially the same thing?
I choose to see the positives of conference realignment: namely new rivalries. Yes, Syracuse won't be playing Georgetown anymore in what was the quintessential Big East rivalry, but they will be playing Duke. The Greg Paulus connection aside, those games are going to be great. This year, I am looking forward to Missouri's trip to Kentucky on Feb. 23. In my mind, the biggest downside of conference realignment is that conferences of more than 12 teams play unbalanced conference schedules. The Big 10 and Big East are too big. I prefer 10 teams in a conference (and not just in the name, since neither the Big 10 nor the Atlantic 10 have 10 teams) so that every a true round robin schedule can be played. Nevertheless, conference realignment is mostly for the good. And there may be a day in the not too distant future in which Louisville and Duke are in the same conference. It would certainly make sense from a basketball perspective. Conference realignment is pushed by football, where Duke is not very successful.
Last night's game was played in the Imperial Arena at the Atlantis Resort where the roof of the building seemed lower than most basketball courts. Because of this, the television cameras were placed at a lower angle. I usually dislike a change of camera angle, but the cameras also seemed closer to the court, so I enjoyed the new perspective.
Louisville was playing without Gorgui Dieng, who injured his wrist Friday against Missouri and was sitting on the bench with a cast. The Louisville center will have his wrist X-rayed upon returning to Louisville, but there is some fear that the bone may be broken. Losing Dieng may not have much effect on the Cardinal offense, but it takes away their primary low post defender. Dieng likely would have reduced Mason Plumlee's effectiveness and caused the Blue Devils to rely even more on their perimeter players.
Neither team displayed much offensive fluidity. The Cardinal offense relies on point guard Peyton Siva's ability to break down the defense. I strongly dislike over-dribbling and Siva is a prime offender. The best offensive player on either team was Russ Smith. The junior looked like the only player who could create his own shot. He is Louisville's designated scorer on a team that is defensively oriented. I was hoping for a big leap up from sophomore Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear, but neither player was very active or efficient of offense. Freshman Montrezl Harrell was a presence and he may be in a position to get more playing time if Dieng is out.
Duke's Quinn Cook earned the MVP trophy for his scoring down the stretch, but he looked like a backup point guard at best for most of the game. I was more impressed by Seth Curry and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon. Curry did not shoot well (3-of-11), but had more of an offensive presence than Cook. Sulaimon looks like he will be a terrific two-way player. The 6-4 freshman has a sweet mid-range jumper and played tough perimeter defense. He could be this year's Bradley Beal. Plumlee was able to get points and rebounds. I still see him as too robotic to be a pro, but he is good enough to be a solid college player.