Duke, Purdue square off in Houston

By: Jimmy Sirody | Thursday, March 25, 2010

Duke hopes to advance past the Sweet 16 for the first time since '04.

Duke will confront its NCAA Tournament demons on Friday when it takes the court at Houston’s Reliant Stadium for a game against Purdue. The winner advances to the South Regional to play for a berth in the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium.

In truth, it has been a while since the Blue Devils were legitimate national contenders. Nobody has won more first-or-second round NCAA games in the last decade than Duke. But since winning the 2001 national title, Duke is a miserable 1-5 in Sweet 16 games.

The Blue Devils' recent early tournament exits have made a lot of observers happy. Duke is like the New York Yankees — fans either loathe them or love them.

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Purdue fills the role of a former favorite with a cause — even Krzyzewski remarked on how sorry he felt for Robbie Hummel and the Boilermakers shortly after his injury.

But Purdue has now played seven games and 471 possessions of basketball without its star and the Boilers’ are what they are, a bona fide Sweet 16 team good enough to beat Texas A&M in overtime on a neutral floor to get to Houston.

Purdue is 5-2 since Hummel’s injury on Feb. 24. In those seven games, the Boilermakers have shot a combined 38.7 percent from the floor, lower than the 39.9 percent the team allowed for the season. As currently constituted, Purdue is a tremendous defensive team that relies exclusively on its defense.

The Boilermakers have scored just 135 points in 150 possessions and Duke represents far and away the best defense the struggling Purdue offense has yet to run across in the tournament.

The Blue Devils defense shut down a high-powered California attack in their last game, and unless the Boilermakers get a huge game from big man JaJuan Johnson, they have no shot at an upset.

If there is a team that is going to cause Purdue matchup problems, this would be the game. Coach Matt Painter starts four players 6-foot-4 or smaller. Duke starts three players 6-foot-8 or taller and usually rotates 6-foot-10 brothers Miles and Mason Plumlee into the game before the first media timeout.

The Blue Devils’ rebounding margin for the season is plus-6.1 per game. Since losing Hummel, Purdue’s is minus-11.0 per game. When Duke dominates the backboards and protects the basketball, the Blue Devils are hard to beat.

The Boilers’ are going to do everything in their power to keep the game close. Painter has a full palette of lock-down perimeter defenders to throw at Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, who combine to average 51 points per game.

Big Ten teams are used to Purdue’s in-your-jock defense, but it can be a shock for first-time opponents. The Boilers also want to push the tempo. In the regular season they were 15-0 when they scored at least 70 points.

Duke cashed in its first two tourney tests to improve their recent spread Big Dance card to 4-10.

Purdue has ‘covered’ eight of its last 11 as neutral short-enders. However, the Boilers have dropped five of seven ATS versus ACC opponents and they are 7-16-1 as dogs of between seven and 12 ½-points.

Don’t be surprised if points are at a premium on Friday. The Blue Devils have slithered ‘under’ in five of their last six games, in eight of 11 in the tournament and in 18 of 24 at neutral venues. They have also dipped below the number in 14 of 19 games after allowing 55 points or less.

Purdue has dribbled ‘under’ in eight of 11 as pups of seven to 12 ½-points and in six straight when facing an ACC foe.

Most offshore books opened Duke as a seven-point favorite, with the ‘total’ set at 129 ½. CBS has the tip for Friday's game starting at approximately 6:57 p.m. (PT).

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