How they got here: Duke survived Michigan in the round of 32, escaping with a two-point win that left coach Mike Krzyzewski upset with his team at times. The Blue Devils have spent the NCAA tournament incorporating freshman sensation Kyrie Irving back into the rotation, and he has come through with 14 points against Hampton and 11 against Michigan. Arizona has gotten to this point after two incredible end-of-game plays by star forward Derrick Williams. He blocked a potential game-tying shot to seal an opening-round win against Memphis then converted on the game-winning 3-point play against Texas to upset the Longhorns.
Storyline: While Arizona is the blue blood that has rapidly rebuilt and is once again in a position to make a deep run, Duke is the defending champ that keeps on chugging along.
There is another motivating factor for the Blue Devils. With two wins, they would not only go to the Final Four, but Krzyzewski would tie Bob Knight for the most Division I wins with 902.
“What he’s done at Duke speaks for itself, and that’s part of playing Duke is playing against a coach who has been there so many times that it’s never to your advantage going against them in this tournament,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
For the many Wildcats who are Southern California natives, the chance to go to the Elite Eight means they will play in front of family and friends. The team held a practice at Williams' alma mater, La Mirada, and a big game from the star sophomore would be special.
“Going back to my high school brought back a lot of memories,” Williams said.
Players to watch: Krzyzewski has repeatedly said that while Irving will not start he will play a “significant” amount of minutes. With Irving on the floor, Duke has another big-time weapon at its disposal, given his game-changing talent.
Arizona has reviewed film of Duke playing with Irving and without him. It’s just one more thing the Wildcats have to worry about on top of preparing for national player of the year candidate Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, who is in a bit of a funk.
“I don’t know if there has been another situation where you have almost a No. 1 seed without a player that many people would say is their best player, and now he‘s back in the equation,” Miller said.
Meanwhile, Duke will have Mason and Miles Plumlee try to match up against Williams, the Pac-10 Player of the Year.
“He’s part of our game plan, trying to stop him, and our big guys are ready for that task,” Smith said.
What to look for: The key for Duke will be to keep Williams from making a significant impact. Memphis and Texas did a decent job of that up until the final minutes, when Williams simply took over each game. He has the ability to block shots and shoot 3-pointers and is the best at getting to the line.
It might help Duke if Arizona forward Kevin Parrom is a step slow while recovering from a sprained ankle, but as the Wildcats showed against Texas, they have a deep bench.
Just as the Blue Devils will have to keep UA point guard Lamont Jones in check, Arizona will have to focus on stopping Duke’s penetration. That could prove difficult with Smith running the show and Irving lurking on the bench.
“Having Kyrie is a huge benefit for our team because he is so talented,” Smith said. “Even though he missed a lot of time, he was a great teammate while he was out.”