NCAA Sweet 16: (2) Duke vs. (3) VillanovaS

East Region: No. 2 Duke (30-6) vs. No. 3 Villanova (28-7)
When: Thursday, 9:57 p.m., EDT
Where: TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, Massachusetts


DUKE BLUE DEVILS

1) Zoooooooooooubek Anyone who watched Villanova pound UCLA into frightened little schoolgirls knows that the key to this weekend's matchup is for Duke to try and bang with Nova at least a little bit. And anyone who has watched Duke at all over the past, oh, 40 years or so knows that banging is not their specialty, and as a result has a creeping sense of dread about the game. This year's model is classic Duke: lots of finesse, not a lot of beef. Except for Greg Zoubek. The junior center is listed at 7' 1" and 280 pounds, which is roughly the size Shaq was in college. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the fact that, well, he's still at Duke and not in the pros, he doesn't exactly put up Shaq numbers: in about 10 minutes a game, he averages 4 points and 4 rebounds. Granted, he's been improving all season, and even managed to contribute against Texas on Saturday, but the Pride of Haddonfield will have to put his broken schnozz out of his mind and step up big time for Duke to really have a chance.

2) Backyard Brawl, Sort of In addition to Zoubek, Duke has a few other players from the general Philadelphia area, giving this weekend's game an extra emotional dimension. As is typical with most Blue Devils, they have overcome hardscrabble backgrounds to succeed. Gerald Henderson, for example, fought his way up from the mean streets of Merion, Pennsylvania, while up the Jersey Turnpike Lance Thomas beat the odds in Scotch Plains. And don't even get me started about David McClure and Ridgefield, Connecticut. So let's hear it for these gritty, gutty underdogs.

3) You're Not Helping And it's not as if Duke will have the Boston crowd on its side. Granted, more than a few Duke families will clip more than a few coupons to buy tickets on Stubhub so their precious, precious children can attend the game, but everyone else will be rooting for Nova. Duke's status as the most hated team in college basketball is unlikely to change at this point, and this year's crop of tournament-oriented commercials is not making it any easier to be a Duke fan. Okay, at least Dick Vitale doesn't work for CBS and, okay, at least American Express isn't running those awful Coach K spots this year, but the Vitamin Water commercial with Christian Laettner and Rick Pitino… did we really need that? — Charles Dainoff

VILLANOVA WILDCATS

1) Flip of a Coin It's difficult to determine which Wildcat team will show up on Thursday vs Duke in Boston. The first round game against American highlighted some problems the Wildcats occasionally experience. American was able to exploit Villanova's weak perimeter defense and consistently force the Wildcats to scramble in transition. Villanova's lack of a true center forces their defense to over-compensate and stay close to the paint; teams with strong 3-point shooting are able to take advantage of this. However, as the UCLA game illustrated, Villanova is capable of running a fluid and fast-pace offense that is difficult to defend against. Nova's strong guard play from Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher overwhelmed UCLA. Villanova, as with many Big East teams, is very physical and Duke will be forced to keep up with Nova's style.

2) Balancing Act Villanova is one of the more balanced teams in the tournament. In the UCLA game, 6 players scored in double digits and 6 had at least 3 rebounds. It's difficult to completely shut down the Wildcats offense due to their ability to move the ball around and score from all areas of the floor. Corey Fisher, a sophomore guard and Big East 6th Man of the Year, has been a huge part of Villanova's recent success. His ability to bring the ball up the court and create plays on his own has allowed the Nova offense to spread out.

3) If You Aren't Already Convinced... Thursday's game will provide what many NCAA basketball fans have been waiting for: a major matchup between a Big East and an ACC team. Although the Big East has made quite the showing with 3 number 1's and 5 teams heading to the Sweet 16, the debate continues as to which conference is the toughest. Thursday's game pits two strong programs, both with styles representative of their conferences, against each other. Villanova will look to control the pace of the game while setting the tone with strong physical play. Duke will attempt to unravel the Wildcat defense with strong perimeter shooting. The game has the potential to be one of the more exciting games so far in the tournament. — CRyan (3:10 To Joba)