Duke vs Arkansas, ACC vs SEC: NCAA Tournament Elite 8 Game
The last time Duke and Arkansas faced off on the basketball court, Scotty Thurman rained down a 3-pointer that broke the hearts of the Blue Devils and led the Razorbacks to their first, and so far only, championship. NCAA.
On Saturday night, 28 and 2,711 miles west of where that game took place, the schools meet again, this time with a Final Four spot on the line.
On April 4, 1994, Arkansas defeated Duke, 76-72, at the now demolished Charlotte Coliseum.
Thurman hit the biggest shot of the game, a 3-point scramble as the shot clock expired with 50.7 seconds left, which broke a 70 tie and put the Razorbacks ahead for good.
Regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s West Regional Finals at San Francisco’s Chase Center between No. 2 seed Duke and No. 4 seed Arkansas, the Razorbacks’ joy and the Blue Devils’ despair of this game won’t change.
But it speaks to the level of play in the brief but high-profile series between the Blue Devils and Arkansas.
They only met three times, but two of the matches came in the Final Four.
In 1990, Duke won, 97-83, in the national semifinals in Denver. The Razorbacks won a regular season game eight months later, 98-88, and their third game in Charlotte left a result that remains a painful memory that can ruin the day for any Blue Devil who was on the court tonight- the.
As for Saturday’s game, one team will advance to the Final Four and the other will leave heartbroken.
The Blue Devils (31-6) battled their way past third seed Texas Tech, 78-73, on Thursday night to continue their season — and outgoing coach Mike Krzyzewski’s career — for at least one game of more.
The Razorbacks (28-8) upset tournament seed Gonzaga 74-68 in the first major upset the West Region bracket has seen this year.
The game, from Duke’s perspective, looks a lot like what the Blue Devils faced against Texas Tech. Arkansas is experienced and has proven to be a tough defensive team this season.
Here’s what to look out for:
What have Arkansas accomplished this season?
Ranked No. 17 by the Associated Press at the start of the tournament, the Razorbacks earned that ranking by going 13-5 in Southeastern Conference play. In a span from early January through the first week of March, Arkansas won 14 of 15 games, beating fellow NCAA Tournament entrants Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee and LSU along the way.
In non-conference play, however, Arkansas did not face a single team that ended up in the 68 field of the NCAA Tournament. The Razorbacks actually lost, 89-81, to Hofstra on Dec. 18 in a tough few weeks where they lost five of six games, including their first three SEC contests.
How did Arkansas get here?
The Razorbacks started their NCAA Tournament in Buffalo, New York, outlasting 13th seed Vermont, 75-71, in the first round before dispatching the No. 12 seed from New Mexico State, 53-48, to reach the Sweet 16, where they beat Gonzaga Thursday night in San Francisco.
What kind of team is Arkansas?
The Razorbacks started four seniors and a second big man in their win over Gonzaga so, again, Duke’s opponent will have an experience advantage.
JD Notae is Arkansas’ best player. The senior 6-2 leads the team in points (18.5), assists (3.7) and steals (2.8).
It should be noted, however, that he scored 21 points against Gonzaga, but did so on ineffective 9-of-29 shooting with five turnovers. That included hitting just 2 of 12 3-pointers. Duke would be fine with Notae repeating that performance on Saturday night.
Duke will also have a height advantage as the only Arkansas player above 6-6 who plays consistently is runner-up 6-10 Jaylin Williams.
Filming? Not so good
Arkansas beat Gonzaga despite shooting just 40.3 percent from the field and 7 of 25 3-pointers.
That’s par for the season, though. The Razorbacks have reached just 30.4 percent of their 3-pointers this season, which is No. 316 nationally. The one shooter Duke needs to worry too much about is Stanley Umude, a 6-6 senior who made 37.2% of his 3-pointers.
To compensate for this rather poor shot, the Razorbacks are very good at protecting the basketball. They had just eight turnovers against Gonzaga, which tied with their season record of returning the ball on 16.3% of their possessions. This is below the national average of 18.4%.
Arkansas recorded 12 turnovers in defeating New Mexico State, with Notae accounting for half of them. But the team only turned the ball over five times against Vermont.
Two Razorbacks, one starter and the other reserve, have extensive experience against Duke.
Au’Diese Toney, a 6-6 senior, played for coach Jeff Capel in Pittsburgh for three seasons before moving to Arkansas this season. He’s averaging 10.7 points per game and hitting 52% of his shots.
Chris Lykes, the 5-7 guard, played four seasons in Miami before moving to Arkansas this season to use the extra season allowed by the NCAA due to the pandemic. He came off the bench to contribute 7.8 points per game.
How does the Arkansas defense compare to Texas Tech?
The Razorbacks don’t have the strong record to match the Red Raiders, who were No. 1 in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s measure of defensive efficiency before losing to Duke.
But Arkansas is No. 11 in the same metric, having allowed .904 points per possession.
Sure, Duke shredded Texas Tech, especially in the second half, shooting 70 percent and hitting its final eight shots from the field.
With star center Chet Holmgren limited due to foul issues, Gonzaga scored just 0.88 points per possession in their loss to Arkansas.
New Mexico State produced a meager 0.67 points per possession, shooting 33.9 percent from the field in its second-round loss to Arkansas.
Duke, of course, is No. 2 nationally in offensive efficiency, scoring 1,209 points per possession.
In their three games in the NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils drove in 1.2 points per possession in beating Cal State Fullerton, 78-61, followed by 1.29 in the 85-76 win over Michigan State.
Duke’s points per possession against Texas Tech was 1.16.
Thus, the Blue Devils proved capable of scoring even against the best defences.
This story was originally published March 25, 2022 2:03 p.m.