Miami, Duke Battle For Elite Eight Berths

Mike Krzyzweski is 6-1 against Tom Izzo's Michigan State teams.
Mike Krzyzweski is 6-1 against Tom Izzo’s Michigan State teams.

#2 Miami vs. #3 Marquette
Thursday, 7:15 PM, CBS

The Hurricanes will be without Reggie Johnson, as he underwent minor knee surgery. This could hurt Miami’s frontcourt depth. However, anybody who has watched Miami recently would be hesitant to say this is a huge loss. Johnson has struggled considerably (probably due to the knee), so it’s not like Miami is losing the player that nearly averaged a double-double as a sophomore in 2010-11. All the same, it’s an unfortunate turn of events, especially for a senior whose collegiate career may now be over.

Where Johnson’s loss will be felt the most is on defense. Marquette pounds the ball inside, relying on juniors Vander Blue and Davante Gardner. They aren’t a great three-point shooting team (30.3 percent), but they shoot 51.9 percent on two-pointers and get to the free throw line with regularity. Marquette is also a very good rebounding team. While Johnson may have struggled offensively, he was still doing work on the glass. Between his rebounding and the ability to spread out fouls between Johnson, Julian Gamble, and Kenny Kadji, his absence will be noticed most defensively.

Marquette is turnover prone, averaging 13.5 giveaways per game. While Miami isn’t particularly adept at generating turnovers, they do a good job of protecting the ball and limiting mistakes. With two teams that generally play at a slower pace, every possession will be valuable. If the Hurricanes can capitalize on a couple of mistakes and turn them into points, it could show in the final score of what will likely be a close game.

#2 Duke vs. #3 Michigan State
Friday, 9:45, CBS

Mike Krzyzewski is 6-1 against Tom Izzo’s Michigan State teams. The one loss came in 2005, when the fifth-seed Spartans defeated a one-seed Duke squad 78-68 in the Sweet Sixteen. Izzo hopes he can bring back some of that magic from five years ago with a win on Friday night.

This should be one of the most intriguing games of the round of sixteen, as Duke’s well-rounded offense will go against one of the best defensive teams in the nation. The Spartans hold opponents to 39.0 percent shooting, 23rd best in the nation. Two of the teams ahead of Michigan State in field-goal percentage defense are Maryland and Virginia. Duke was 1-3 against those two teams, the lone win being an 84-64 defeat of the Terrapins in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The counter to that? Duke is 15th in the nation in field goal percentage. Against Big Ten teams that had a better shooting percentage (Indiana and Michigan), Michigan State posted an equal 1-3 record. However, they did beat Kansas during non-conference play as well as Valparaiso to open the NCAA Tournament, and both teams are in the top fifteen of shooting percentage.

In short: It’s really hard to beat a team as good as Michigan State or Duke. However, they are playing each other as one of the last 16 teams remaining in the battle for a national championship, so a worthy team will win and a very good team will go home.

As a random aside: What is the purpose of keeping teams like Duke and MIchigan State close to home (Indianapolis is the site of the Midwest Regional) if their game won’t start until nearly 10:00 p.m.? Due to their late start in Philadelphia on Sunday night against Creighton, the Blue Devils didn’t return to Cameron Indoor Stadium until 4:30 a.m. Monday morning.

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