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Rating the UConn-Duke matchups

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Posted: Sunday March 28, 1999 06:26 PM

By Dan Shanoff, CNN/SI

C Jake Voskuhl vs. Elton Brand
Voskuhl's 3-inch height advantage is negated by Brand's strength and agility, which should cause the foul-prone Voskuhl (fouled out vs. Ohio St.) fits. Brand devoured a big -- and tough -- Spartans frontcourt for 18 points (on 7-of-10 shooting) and 15 rebounds. If Voskuhl isn't enough, UConn's able power forward will have to help. Speaking of which. ...

F Kevin Freeman vs. Shane Battier
Freeman wins any defensive battle inside and is the superior rebounder on both ends of the floor. But Battier presents a hybrid challenge -- he's big enough to mix it up in the lane, but quick enough to play around the perimeter. Freeman isn't that quick; he'll need help on the outside, especially if he doubles down to help Voskuhl with Brand.

F Richard Hamilton vs. Chris Carrawell
Hamilton put on an awesome display against Ohio State (24 points on 10-of-17 shooting), showcasing his smooth touch and clutch shooting. Carrawell, Duke's best man-to-man perimeter defender, is just the right size to give Hamilton a hard time. But when Rip is hot, no single defender can really take him totally out of his game.

G Ricky Moore vs. Trajan Langdon
If the Ohio State game was your first hard look at Moore, you know by the way he shut down Scoonie Penn (3-of-13 shooting) that Moore is a top-notch defender. He better be, because Langdon is a deadeye shooter. The Duke senior can't create much on his own, so Moore's key will be ball denial. If Moore takes a cue from Michigan State, he'll guard Langdon well beyond the 3-point arc.

G Khalid El-Amin vs. William Avery
Two players who love the big shot even more than they do the big game, which should make for some interesting fast-break improvisations. El-Amin recaptured his shooting form (8-of-15 from the field, 18 points) against OSU following an 0-for-12 West Region final against Gonzaga. That game is forgotten. Speaking of things we hope are forgotten, Duke fans better pray Avery's 14-shot, no-assist game against Michigan State was an aberration due to the physical nature of the game, Brand's foul trouble and Langdon's inaccuracies. The last thing Duke needs is Avery reverting back to his freshman year, I-can-do-it-all form. If he settles down, his matchup with El-Amin will be the game's most entertaining.

The Michigan State game exposed how thin Duke's bench really is. On paper, the Blue Devils went three deep into the bench, but after Corey Maggette , who has the most physical gifts on the team, Nate James played just seven minutes and Chris Burgess played 12 in an unusual extended relief appearance for Brand, who was in foul trouble.

UConn went to five players on its bench, one at each position. Souleymane Wane is a big man with few skills, but five fouls to use. E.J. Harrison is a competent relief at point guard. Rashamel Jones is a heady senior. Shooting guard Albert Mouring has a scorer's mentality, if not the shots to accompany it. Finally, sixth man Edmund Saunders is just slightly less physically gifted than Maggette, with fewer guard skills but a better nose around the basket.

Maggette is better than any of the UConn reserves, but in evaluating bench strength, quantity trumps quality.

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski has been in this position many times before; there's nothing he hasn't seen. He's a motivator without being a screamer and his presence on the sideline is reflected in his team's cool-headedness.

UConn's Jim Calhoun lives and dies with each possession. He'll scream in the huddle, in the locker room or on the sideline. Can he handle the pressure of the late minutes of a national championship game? He's never been in one, so who knows? As a motivator though, his style doesn't do anything to undermine his obvious skills.

Duke has flashed a full-court press, but won't likely use it against UConn, which would rip it to shreds. Instead, Duke will rely on its stingy half-court man-to-man, which held Michigan State to 37 percent shooting from the field.

UConn loves an up-tempo game and will bring Moore and El-Amin out to press in Duke's backcourt. But similar to Duke, UConn won't leave themselves open to Avery's speed, which usually makes for a one-man press-breaker. The Huskies must take a cue from Michigan State and be vigilant beyond the 3-point arc, plus send at least four players to the defensive glass.

Both teams love to run. UConn can and will break at any time, led by El-Amin, who seems to slither his pudgy body through the smallest of holes on the floor. Duke is the better of the two teams at fast-breaking as a counter-punch -- off an opponent's miscue or missed shot -- mainly because Avery fills the lane, Carrawell flies along one wing and Langdon hangs back as a 3-point shooting safety valve.

This question dogs the Huskies: Can they operate a half-court offense effectively enough to score at an equal pace with Duke, the best defensive team of the tournament?

Of any team in the country, UConn has the personnel to defeat Duke. The starting fives are even in most every way and the bench advantage is clearly UConn's. But Coach K is a title-game veteran, and his team has visualized the national championship as a goal all season. Can UConn say the same thing? Destiny greets Duke at the trophy ceremony, 84-80 .

Related information
Big Dance at a Glance: Down to two
UConn dumps Ohio State, advances to NCAA title game
Duke outlasts Spartans, to meet UConn for title
UConn-Duke Stats Matchup
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