For the better part of four months we've lamented the fact that Texas is a horrendous shooting basketball team. We've got athletes, rebounders, difference makers on the block, and defensive specialists. Obviously, the Horns do a lot of things well, but shooting is not one of them. The whole of the Big 12 conference minus Bill Self for a half, knows our shortcomings stroking the rock as well, and they were able to design special defensive looks to exploit that specific weakness. The downfall started with Tom Izzo's pseudo-box and 1 and morphed into different variations once Texas got into conference play.
Since Izzo's defensive experiment in Houston, Texas has seen soft man to man, box and 1, triangle and two, zone, one man zone, sagging man to man with zone principles, matchup zones with man principles, etc and so forth. All of these defensive variations were designed with one thing in mind, make Texas, with the exception of Abrams, shoot the basketball. Take away cuts, dribble penetration, and post entry and make the Horns beat you over the top.
Enter Coach K and Duke. The Devils are faced with somewhat of a dillema. Play aggressive pressuring man to man which is, with apologies to MBA students everywhere, a core value of who this Blue Devil squad is as a defense. Duke deciding to stick with what got them here and pressure Texas would be very similar to Adolph Rupp's stubbornly disasterous decision to run with Texas Western in the 1966 finals. Sometimes altering your style gives you the best chance to win, but often ego and hubris get in the way. And, if you're a Longhorn fan, you hope that Coach K is in full-on egomaniac mode shortly after calling out the Commander in Chief of the United States of America. Because if Coach K is stubborn enough to believe he can play right at the strength of the Longhorn guards and still defend against Dexter Pittman with Thomas or Zoubek, he's sorely mistaken.
This is your ballgame folks. If Duke plays Texas with a tweaked, junked, or softened M2M, they'll win. If the Devils decide to play Texas head up strength against strength, Texas has a very good chance to knock off Duke in their home state. On to the personnel.
The Devils play a ton of guards all with similar skillsets. John Scheyer is currently running the point guard. Scheyer is 6-5 and he's clever with a the basketball, but he doesn't possess the elite quickness to blow by and defeat good on ball pressure. Texas' guards can really make some hay in this respect by pressuring Scheyer into some turnovers and at the very least making it difficult for the junior to get Duke into an offense. Scheyer is a deadly jumpshooter but he can put the ball on the deck and find offense if you over contest.
Scheyer is flanked by Nolan Smith and Elliot Williams. Nolan Smith is more of defensive specialist/glue guy for the Devils, but he can knock down shots when left unattended. He's the perfect cover for AJ Abrams because he doesn't look for offense as much as he should. Elliot Williams has been inserted into the lineup for his explosiveness to the cup. Think OSU's James Anderson without the jumpshooting game. Williams is looking to blow by and dunk on people so Ward or Mason must make Elliot a jumpshooter and stay in front.
Paulus is a steady backup point guard that's coming in to defend and jack 3's. He can't be left alone around the arc.
Gerald Henderson is a 6-4 wing that plays like he's 6-10 with his jumping jack ability. He's good at slashing to the goal and finishing with his unreal athleticism or pulling up and shooting over smaller players in the midrange game. Recently, Henderson has added a beyond the arc look to his offensive repertoire. Defenders must force Henderson left, and then make him pull up from midrange to make it easier to contest his shooting hand. If he's hot, however, there is not much you can do. Texas would be well served to try to get Henderson out of his offensive game by going at him when he's defending. James or Ward need to use their strength going to the goal to try to draw some fouls to get the Duke star on the bench.
Kyle Singler is the other forward. He's a 6-8 inside/outside baller that is surprisingly strong inside. Physical teams have taken their toll on Singler by making him exert so much effort rebounding the basketball and defending the post, that he's gassed on the other end. If Gary Johnson is healthy he'd be ideal in this respect, but I'm not sure that's the case.
Lance Thomas is the only true pivot man starting for the Devils, but he's still undersized in a matchup with Dex Pittman. Thomas is virtually no threat offensively other than trash buckets.
Brian Zoubek gives the Devils 5 big fouls off the bench.
Keys to the game
Guarding the Ballscreen
There are a couple things Texas can do to defend all the ballscreens Duke will set in order to try and spread the floor and draw Pittman away from the basket. The first rule for guarding these screens is to show on shooters and hedge on drivers. Make it easy on yourself. Ballscreens for Scheyer, Singler, Paulus, and Henderson require the hedge man to show aggressively. If that's Dex Pittman so be it. Texas can't give up open looks to these 4 and let them go off.
If a screen is set for drivers like Smith and Williams, hedge softly to stop penetration, and allow your teammate to recover under the screen.
Specific instructions for ballscreens involving Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek, or McClure should be show and stay. What I mean by show and stay is that once the hedge is made and the screener dives, the hedger (probably Pittman) should stay an extra count to make sure the ballhandler is under control before handing him back off to your teammate. Not only does this chase the ballhandler off his shot or prevent dribble penetration, but it also entices a pass to non-scorers like Thomas and Zoubek. Anytime these cats are handling the ball it's a win for Texas.
Switch all guard to guard screens
Any screen or exchange involving Paulus, Smith, Williams, and Scheyer should be simply switched since they're virtually the same player. Texas can't get bogged down helping and recovering to ancillary players when so much of our helping resources must be devoted to Singler and Henderson.
Pressure the Ball
The only player Duke has with elite blow by quickness is Elliot Williams, and he's only skilled enough to attack with a power dribble from the wing or baseline. The Dukies don't have an Eaton, Collins, Warren, or Westbrook on their team, so, other than fouling, there's nothing punitive that comes from pressuring the basketball. Plus, we need as many easy buckets as we can get.
Make Singler Defend and Rebound
You know how running the point drained Justin Mason and robbed him of being the jack of all trades difference maker he was when he was just playing wing. The same applies for Singler when he's forced to rebound and defend like a true interior player. Singler is playing power forward on the defensive end, and Texas needs to remind him of that fact as much as possible. You do this by attacking him going to the goal and the glass.
Again, if Coach K is stubborn and the Devils decide that perimeter pressure is the way to go, the Horns have a solid chance to win. Keeping Pittman on the floor with some junked up rules on defense will also help as will a couple of deep bombs on the Greensboro rims that AJ Abrams seems so comfortable with. Will it be enough? Probably not. But this is about as far as I had the Horns going, so I'm cool with whatever happens at this point. Plus, as soon as the Horns lose, it'll force me to look into the crystal ball. And right now I like what I'm seeing.