clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Guard play key for Arizona against Duke in the Sweet 16

TUCSON, Ariz. -- It's no secret that guard play goes a long way in the NCAA Tournament.

If a team features guards who can knock down the three, create for their teammates while handling constant ball pressure, that squad is poised for a deep run. 

And that's exactly where Duke should make its money against Arizona. No offense to Momo Jones, Kyle Fogg, Kevin Parrom, Jordin Mayes, and Brendon Lavender, but none of those guys are Nolan Smith or Kyrie Irving. 

Yes, the Blue Devils are considerably bigger than the Wildcats up front, but Derrick Williams erases that size advantage with his interior play, and it comes down to Arizona's guards, who may very well hold the keys to an Elite 8 berth. 

Arizona does it with depth on the perimeter, while Duke does it with pure star power. Smith and Irving are a dynamic duo as they combine for 37.4 points, 9.6 assists and 2.8 steals per game. But Duke is still trying to adjust to having their stud freshman back, as Smith and Irving have played only 10 games together.

"I'm sure it's a challenge for Duke to just bring him along at a good pace, and at the same time keep the others players in the same roles they've had, and have had so much success in," Miller said. "They really earned a number one seed almost without him, and now you put him back into the equation, and I'm sure that's what they're trying to work through that."

The Wildcats are also struggling to prepare for a team that hasn't had one of its best players most of the season. They've been watching film from earlier in the year, which makes things difficult because Duke's evolved quite a bit as a team since then. 

"It's different to prepare for them, because I don't know if there's ever been a situation like this very often, where such an elite player misses almost the entire season, and then comes back for the most pivotal time of year," Miller said. "We've watched them a little bit with him, and watched them quite a bit without him, and he's just an excellent guard, like so many other great guards who have played at Duke."

Irving's been coming off of the bench in his first two games back, and that figures to be the case again against Arizona. After averaging around 17 points a game in the eight games he played during the regular season, the freshman guard has struggled at times shooting a combined 5-for-12 from the field against Hampton and Michigan to average 12.5 points per game thanks to 14 free-throw attempts. 

But even though Duke is still adjusting, it never hurts to have one of the best guards in the country back in the lineup, and Arizona has its hands full. 

"You look at Nolan Smith, and both of them out there together, and very few teams have two guards who are that good, on the court at the same time," Miller said. 

It will be interesting to see how Jones, a childhood friend of Irving's, will handle defending Smith and Irving, while staying poised amid their ball pressure on the other end. If Jones and the Arizona guards can do a decent job limiting Smith and Irving, while facilitating the offense and getting to the hoop on, the Wildcats have a chance against last year's national champions.