JACKSONVILLE, Fla.- Duke Assistant Coach Nate James took time to break down the California Golden Bears for BDN in this exclusive interview. James scouted the Bears with fellow assistants Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski and they saw what the nation did in that Cal has three really good guards.
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Durham, N.C. - Coming off an MVP performance and helping lead Duke to the ACC Tournament Championship, Kyle Singler prepares for the NCAA South Regional where Duke will face Arkansas Pine Bluff. After the title game this past Sunday, I made a comment to Kyle in an interview about having no fear. I mean this is the guy who almost wiped out Dick Vitale going into the stands after a loose ball and he talks about that in this audio clip from yesterday's press conference. By the way, Krzyzewski has nice things to say about Singler in another audio clip posted prior to this. Plain and simple, Kye Singler is one tough Hombre.
Boston, MA Many have said that Duke and Villanova mirror each other and a quick look at the rosters and stats certainly add validity. The two schools have eerily similar stats when you look at their scoring averages on both offense and defense. They both play with no true big man and neither team goes deep into their bench.
Without continuing with tireless comparisons, let's just say these are two great basketball programs, each of which is competitive and equally hungry.
Each team is more than just a little familiar wth the other. Coach Krzyzewski and Jay Wright have both worked with USA Basketball and each of them depends on a version of the motion offense and pressure defense when needed.
The players have played together in AAU ball, some even talking to this day over the phone lines. The two schools have even recruited the same players out of high school and one recent transfer Taylor King, may be dropping hints of how to stop his former teammates after transferring.
When I look at Villanova's losses, I see no bad losses. Like Duke, they had a "bad road game," where Clemson and West Virginia blew tonights opponents out, but that was a rarity.
They have both played Georgetown once and each won a close game and Duke has a win over Texas to get to the Sweet 16, while the Wildcats (28-7) lost an early season affair with he Longhorns. Both own wins over Rhode Island, but the Wildcats enjoyed a much more comfortable margin on a neutral court while Duke won a nail-biter at home.
Villanova's only other losses were to #1 ranked Louisville (twice), UConn and Marquette. On the plus side of the ledger, they swept Syracuse and have a win over #3 Pittsburgh in their only meeting, 2 wins over Marquette among others.
The Wildcats may have played their best game of the season in their 89-69 blowout win over UCLA to advance to tonights game. That's the same Ben Howland team that prides itself on their defense. The game was so physical that Bruins were openly complaining after the contest.
Villanova essentially has seven starters and one reserve which gets minutes in Antonio Pena who adds about 5 points and 5 boards per game. They come off the bench with the "Two Corey's," Fisher (6-1 guard 10.9 ppg) and Stokes (6-5 swing 9.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg). Both of these kids are serous players capable of putting on streaky performances.
They start a long line up which includes, Dwayne Anderson (6-6 BF 8.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg), Shane Clark (6-7 SF 5,4 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Dante Cunningham (6-8 Post F 16.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg) up front. These three guys are all seniors and provide toughness and leadership, with Cunningham being the best of the springy bunch.
While Duke has rebounded the ball well this season, Villanova has done an even better job on the boards. Their quickness to the ball will have to be matched with desire on the Blue Devils end.
Scottie Reynolds (6-2 PG 15.1 ppg) is the Wildcats leader and he is an explosive player who teams with Reggie Redding (6-5 SG 6.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg) in the back court. While the starting line up has size, they are most dangerous when Fisher is added to the mix in a three guard set.
In short, Villanova can mix and match their line up in an almost interchangeable way. When their three point shot is falling like it was against UCLA, they're almost impossible to beat. In fact, they are 18-1 when they score 75 or more points this season and average 84.5 ppg in the tournament thus far.
The last time Duke was in Boston, they lost to Boston College in a game that caused a shake up in the line up. Duke went on to win 10 of it's last 11 games. and has stuck with Elliot Williams (4.2 ppg) as a starter.
Williams, of course, has provided good on ball defense, but has struggled a bit of late with the three point stroke and free throws. A good performance by the talented freshman would go a long ways towards helping Duke to a victory.
While Williams was a shot in the arm eleven games ago, Nolan Smith (8.5 ppg) has taken on that role of late. Smith has looked calm, cool and collected with his play of late. There is no doubt that playing the off guard has helped there and he has seemingly found his role on this years team. It is very important that Smith continues with his consistency of late against a talented back court.
It's no secret that the "Big Three." of Gerald Henderson, Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer must be on their "A" game for the Blue Devils to continue their journey and land in the final eight.
Scheyer (14.9 ppg, .8 apg) has been fabulous since taking over the point, but look for the Wildcats to really try and get in his grill early on. If this happens, he will need to find his teammates for open shots or cutting towards the baskets. He will then be able to have the ball kicked back out which will hopefully get him an open shot.
Kyle Singler (16.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg) has shown an incredible all around game all season long and that must continue. Singler will be an important factor on the boards and if he is able to build on his recent success from the three point stripe, he will be a match up problem for the Cat's.
The most important player on the floor for Duke, could be Gerald Henderson. If you have been reading any stories leading into the game, you know that he grew up in the backyard of Villanova and was recruited heavily by Jay Wright.
Henderson (16.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg) has the ability to take over games, but you can bet that he will be challenged every step of the way tonight. Many eyes will be on the Henderson to see how he reacts and if he tries to take too much on himself.
But for Duke to really succeed, they will need players to step up. One of those players could be Lance Thomas (5,4 ppg, 3.6 rpg). Thomas has had a couple of good games in a row, but hitting the boards tonight would be more than just a little timely.
Then Duke will look to get some production off the bench from David McClure, Brian Zoubek and Greg Paulus. McClure is likely to get the bulk of the minutes due to match up problems, but foul trouble could make Krzyzewski go a bit deeper than usual.
Okay, enough rambling, it's time for a pick. IMO, this game could go either way, but if Duke is hitting the three, then I feel they'll slip past the pesky Wildcats. There is a little pressure on me after picking Duke 75-70 over Texas where they won 74-69 and I doubt I can reproduce that again.
This will be a game of runs and a few lead changes where each team will leave it all on the court. The pick here is Duke 74 Villanova 72
Nolan Smith has been a key component in the Blue Devils' attack since coming back from a concussion suffered against Maryland. Coach Krzyzewski most recently sang the praises of the sophomore guard, saying that he feels like he has found his role on this season's team.
Smith has been in the news a lot of late, including a recent feature on ESPN's Outside the Lines. There is no doubt that Duke will need Smith to be at his best in order to defeat Villanova on Thursday evening. Here are some of Nolan Smith's thoughts from a question and answer session before the Dukies headed to Boston.
Did you have a tough practice today?
Today's practice was quick but very intense and we started going over Villanova and have a good game plan going into the game.
Has the team been able to stay fresh?
We are very refreshed. The days in between those games we've managed to relax and stay off our feet. We play those forty minutes and are right back to resting. We definitely take care of our bodies at this point in the season.
How does the team feel to be going to Boston for the Sweet 16?
This team is very excited to be where we are at. When we step on that court we're going to let it all out and play as hard as we can. That's what we have done during these first two NCAA games.
Was there ever a time when you thought the team might not make it to where they have today? Like after the Clemson game?
Not at all. Even after that we realized we weren't at our best. We knew that we're still developing and growing. Right now, I feel like we are playing very good basketball. We are getting something from different players every game.
Talk about your relationship with some of the Villanova players -
I played high school basketball with Dwayne Anderson and Dante Cunningham my freshman year at St. John's. And then Corey Fisher and Stokes were in my class and I have played against them numerous times on the AAU circuit. So, I have a good feel for all their players and have a good relationship with them off the court as well.
Many have said that Villanova and Duke are similar teams ...
They are very similar to us. Their Dante Cunningham is our Lance Thomas. They are not a real big force inside, but both teams shoot a lot of mid-range stuff. They play with three guards a lot just like we do.
Have you talked with Coach K a lot of late?
We've talked a little bit. He let's me know you have to be ready for anything. Role changes may happen and you have to be ready and do what is better for the team. Since my role change, we've been on a tear and playing great basketball. And my play has picked up, so ... He's told me to stay ready and be ready for anything.
Are you comfortable with your new role?
I feel very comfortable. Before I check into every game, Coach K looks at me and tells me to attack. So, I try to attack and make plays. If Jon is not out there, I still have the ability to run the one and set my teammates up. It's not for a long period of time like at the beginning of the year.
On Zoubek and McClure being in at crunch time versus Texas after Singler and Thomas fouled out -
Coach K lets us know that in order to win a National Championship, we are going to need a whole team. So they have to stay rested and ready. Zoubs and Dave and those guys have stayed ready.
Has the emergence of Elliot Williams helped you with your game?
Oh yeah, definitely, I tell him all the time that I'm glad he showed Coach he can really press the ball. I got tired of doing it the first 22 games by myself. (smiling while media laughing) It takes a toll on you. Now that we have two guys that can pressure the ball, Elliot and I can take turns out there.
Gerald Henderson talks about the bench play in the win over Texas, Villanova, his Dad's playing days with the Boston Celtics, being a leader and more. Enjoy -
Your thoughts on Villanova ...
It should be a good game. They're a really hot team right now and played a really good game against UCLA where they pretty much dominated the whole game. It should be a good match-up for us.
You grew up in Philadelphia ...
I grew up in Villanova. Back home, I live about fifteen or twenty minutes from there. My sister went there, I had a cousin that went there. You know, they recruited me, so I'm pretty familiar with all their coaches and most of their players.
So, they were your second choice?
It came down to Duke and Villanova. I took an official here and there, those were my only two. I think my host was Kyle Lowrey.
Did you grow up pulling for them out of the Big Five?
I guess it was 'Nova because they were the closest to me. My Dad took me to their games when I was little.
Speaking of your Dad, he has some great memories in Boston where he played with the Celtics. I guess it'll be kind of a homecoming for him?
He's got a lot of friends back there. A lot of people that are close to me. He always talks about that those were his best years as a pro. Not just on the basketball court, but in terms of just living and him having a good time as a basketball player. Those were the best times.
Do you think with all that's going on that there will be a lot of distractions?
I think the way we travel and our managers ... (laughed), I don't think there will be many distractions.
Does your Dad stay in touch with former teammates?
Nobody that's on the team now, but different people like Bill Russell he still talks to. I can't really think of any of the guys, but he still keeps in touch.
Does he ever talk about that big steal against the Lakers in the NBA Finals?
Yeah, he doesn't talk about it as much. Every now and then somebody will come up to me and say they saw it on ESPN Classic. It's probably one of the best moments of his career. (Henderson made a key steal vs. the Lakers in the NBA Finals, which helped his team win the game and the series.)
Earlier in the season, did you think you would be where you are now (Sweet 16)?
When we lost to Boston College, our season could have gone a lot of different ways. I wasn't even sure at that time we would make the tournament. Nothing is guaranteed. We could have gone backwards from there, but we just were not going to let that happen. Me, John and Kyle being the leaders kind of took it on our shoulders not to let that happen.
Your thoughts on Coach K -
I've said all season that his passion is something I've never seen in anybody before. I think winning that Gold Medal has given him even more passion just wanting to win another championship and do something nobody else has ever done. He's our leader and we get strength from that.
On his relationship with Wayne Ellington and his family -
His parents are really close to me, especially his Dad. He's been to all our high school games and him and my Dad always sit next to each other yelling at us. That's something I will never forget. They actually moved again and I have been to their house. It's good to have a close family like that, when mine just comes down for the games ... it's good to have them here in case I need anything.
Which Dad was the worst critic?
That depends on who was playing good.
On hanging out on occasion with the Ellingtons -
His Dad does more of the cooking than his Mom. Big Wayne will cook up fried chicken, rice, string beans, everything. He will cook up everything. It's good to have a place to get a home cooked meal away from home.
As a leader, do you feel any added pressure going into such a big game?
I don't really look at it as pressure. There is a lot of responsibility on Jon, Kyle and, well, everybody. I just look at it as something I have got to do. If we want to accomplish some of the things we set forth at the beginning of the year, I have to play well. Jon has to play well. Kyle has to play well. Everybody has to play well! That's how it is. I just look at it like you go after it and put everything into it and see what happens and see what you are made of.
With all the foul trouble against Texas, did you get nervous with reserves playing key roles?
That gives us confidence and should give that confidence as well. Elliot is making some really good plays. Rebounding and going after that ball (Scheyer pass). He was just really being a presence in there. And Dave made that play at the foul line. That should give them all confidence and show them that we have confidence in them in those situations.
Do you think playing in close games like in the last couple of weeks has helped this team grow?
I think it's good for us. As a team we are still evolving. It's funny that every game we play could be your last one, but yet we can still get better. Teams will play us differently and we have to adjust what we are doing and get better at those things.