West Region, Honda Center, Anaheim, California
(1) Duke Blue Devils vs. (5) Arizona Wildcats (9:45 p.m. on CBS): Another player with great timing is the Duke basketball program's freshman guard Kyrie Irving, who missed most of the season with a toe injury, but returned for the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Irving netted 14-bench points in a 87-41 second-round victory over No. 16 Hampton, and then tallied 11 in a third-round victory, 73-71, over No. 7 Michigan.
"It's different to prepare for them because I don't know if there's ever been a situation like this very often, where such an elite player misses almost the entire season," said Arizona's second-year head coach Steve Miller at Tuesday's news conference. "And then comes back for the most pivotal time of year. We've watched them a little bit with him, and watched them quite a bit without him, and he's just an excellent guard, like so many other great guards who have played at Duke."
Naismith Award finalist senior guard Nolan Smith is still the No. 1-seeded Blue Devils go-to guy. Smith, who netted 24 points against the Wolverines, is a very smart basketball player who can make every play. I am a sucker for those kinds of players -- then again, who isn't?
Meanwhile, No. 5 Arizona is still thinking about the 2001 National Championship game it lost to Duke, 82-72.
"Arizona doesn't have the same star power, and the Sweet 16 sure isn't the National Championship, but the Wildcats are well aware of the history attached to this game," wrote SB Nation's Mike Schmitz of Arizona Desert Swarm on Wednesday. "It's two former superpowers reuniting as Duke's remained atop the college basketball totem pole, and Arizona's steadily climbing to the spot it used to occupy."
Sophomore guard Derrick Williams is the Arizona basketball program's leading scorer (19.1 ppg). Williams scored a game-best 22 points in a first-round victory against No. 12 Memphis, 77-75. And, then Williams scored a team-best 17 points, including a game-winning 3-point play with just second remaining, in the second-round upset against No. 4 Texas, 70-69.
This issue for Arizona will be if Williams is shut down by Duke, who will step up?
"We've been a true team in every sense of the word," said Miller. "And that's where our success should be credited. We've played ten players in every game this season. We've played eleven in quite a few more. The guys who come off the bench, who don't start are just as important to our success. We all recognize Derrick and his terrific season, and what he brings to the table, but just like the other day, when he was out of the game, we played very well."
Prediction: I think the Wildcats have the goods to keep things close, but just can't see a team as good as Duke going down to an athletic squad that doesn't play sound fundamental basketball. Blue Devils win, 70-60.
-- Visit SB Nation's Arizona Desert Swarm for more on the Wildcats.