Thursday Sweet 16 preview: Duke vs. Villanova
You can find plenty of previews of all the Sweet 16 games all across the Interwebs, so I thought I'd just lend some selected insight where I can.
(2) Duke vs. (3) Villanova - East Regional, Boston
Contrary to their reputation, Duke has become much more offense-centered since the insertion of Elliot Williams into the starting lineup February 19 at St. John's. Conventional wisdom says Williams has had more impact on defense, but that's not the case at all.
In starting 21-5, the Devils averaged 12.9 offensive NEM and -16.5 defensive NEM. (NEM refresher here; larger offensive NEM is better, smaller defensive NEM is better.) After the change their offensive NEM has improved to 22.5, but their defensive NEM has dropped significantly to -3.0. In other words, the Devils' defense has been performing somewhere between that of Iowa and Northeastern.
Other than a four game stretch from Jan. 28 to Feb. 7, their offense has actually been very good: 15.2 NEM before, 1.3 NEM during the slump, and 21.1 NEM after. Don't necessarily blame Williams for the drop in defense; the Devils' drop in defense actually goes back a few games before the Williams change. Before the Feb. 4 Clemson game, Duke played defense at a phenomenal -19.5 NEM; since then it's dropped dramatically to -2.4 NEM. Keep in mind this has nothing to do with conference play; the net efficiency margin factors out strength of opponent.
- Villanova probably wants to slow it down. Their defensive efficiency degrades significantly at faster paces, much moreso than their offensive efficiency. Duke's offensive and defensive efficiency ratings each slightly improve with faster tempo, so a slower pace would benefit the Wildcats.
- Control over the boards, particularly after Villanova misses, will be important. Duke's defense is highly dependent on how well they control the glass, especially defensively. The Devils are only middle of the pack in D-1 (though certainly not the worst remaining team) in allowing offensive rebounds. They are much better on the offensive glass than on the defensive end, but their offensive rebound rate has little correlation with their offensive efficiency.
- Villanova's offensive efficiency is more sensitive to their turnover rate than is Duke's, so they need to take care of the ball. Duke is very good at turning you over, so this battle could be key.