We'll take a different approach this time around with a "2-3 zone" edition of our traditional recap. For those unsure about how 2-3 zone will be applied here, it means we'll recap two games and preview three that will take place tonight.
Marquette still doesn't know just how good it is.
Buzz Williams's squad played their hearts out in an 82-77 loss to Duke last night, and that performance against a team most feel is the best in the land will only increase the number of Golden Eagles supporters. Jimmy Butler paced Marquette with 22 while newcomer Jae Crowder chipped in with 15 off the bench. However, a weakness Marquette has always had is its size, which was exploited by the Blue Devils throughout the night despite the presence of 6-10 center Chris Otule for Marquette. Mason Plumlee led Duke with 25 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn't the rout everyone expected as Marquette remained within striking distance in each of the forty minutes.
It's not too late to jump on the K-State bandwagon.
After K-State dismantled a trendy Final Four pick in Gonzaga, one can expect absolute delirium tonight at the Sprint Center when the Wildcats play Duke. (we'll have more on that later) Frank Martin's team has shown that there is life without Denis Clemente and did it again last night behind their trio of guards. Jacob Pullen led the way with 18 and Rodney McGruder came within a rebound of a double-double.
Tonight features the first of many Final Four previews.
Duke and Kansas State (CBE Classic championship) will be, in essence, a de facto home game for the Wildcats, and it will be interesting to see how Frank Martin uses the atmosphere to his advantage. While it has come as a surprise to many that Will Spradling has yet to break into the starting lineup, I feel like Martin is doing himself a favor by leaving the lineup the way it is. When used right, Spradling reminds me of a smaller Corey Stokes in that he can just come in at any given time and start firing from beyond the arc the way Stokes has done at Villanova throughout his career. For the reigning national champions, the key to victory is simple: Exploit Plumlee as they did last night against Marquette, and the game will be theirs to control. Pullen against Kyrie Irving will be an underrated matchup to watch, as the freshman Irving looks more than just legitimate at the point for Mike Krzyzewski. As much as certain fans would like to see K-State win, (and if they do, they'll probably move up to No. 1 in the polls next week) Duke remains at this time the better team, and will pull out a squeaker.
Pullen vs. Irving is good...
...but Kalin Lucas vs. Kemba Walker is even better. Michigan State and UConn (Maui Invitational semifinals) will meet for the first time since their Final Four matchup at Ford Field in 2009, this time on a neutral court since the Final Four game was practically a Spartan home game. While Michigan State is virtually the same team from that game, (save for Goran Suton, Travis Walton and Raymar Morgan) UConn only has one player who saw significant minutes against the Spartans, and that is the aforementioned Walker. So far this season, the Rice product has gone off for 18, (Stony Brook) 42, (Vermont) and 31, (Wichita State) with 29 of those 31 coming in the second half for the Huskies' junior point guard. In Lucas, Walker gets his first real test at the position, defending against one of the most complete players in the country even after the Achilles injury that sidelined him during Michigan State's run to the Final Four. For the Spartans, Draymond Green is averaging a double-double while Delvon Roe is finally starting to show signs of his former dominant self before knee problems limited his capabilities. Just like the Duke-Kansas State game, there is one key and it is outside shooting. UConn isn't the most gifted from long range, and if Durrell Summers and Korie Lucious are on target tonight, this game could get ugly real fast. UConn is better than critics are giving them credit for, but Michigan State will be focused more than ever after toying with Chaminade last night and playing that game closer than expected. The Spartans should win convincingly.
The winner of this game...
...plays the winner of Kentucky vs. Washington, which is the other Maui Invitational semifinal. The most impressive thing about the Huskies is how well Lorenzo Romar has had them playing as a team. Five players are averaging more than ten points per game and two others average over nine a contest. Isaiah Thomas has been the most valuable, stepping into the role vacated by Quincy Pondexter and running this offense. Of course, John Calipari's latest group of freshmen has stolen the headlines once again, and the subplot here will be Wildcats freshman Terrence Jones. Jones is averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds per night, and if you remember, he had given Washington a verbal commitment over the summer only to renege at the last minute and sign with Calipari, bolstering his already stellar group of first-year talent. Kentucky has been pleasantly surprising from long range, particularly behind guards Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb, the latter serving as Calipari's sixth man through the early stages of the season. While this group of Kentucky freshmen is (in my opinion) more talented than last year's class of Wall, Cousins and Bledsoe, there will be moments and opportunities for maturity for the Wildcats. One of those will come tonight as Washington gets what some feel will be an upset win, but a quality nonconference victory on a neutral court.