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Okafor gives UConn the edge over Duke


More on Final Four from Vitale: Georgia Tech-Oklahoma State preview

In my preseason magazine, Connecticut was No. 1 and Duke was No. 2, so it's no surprise to me that these teams made it to San Antonio.

Chris Duhon
Senior guard Chris Duhon is hoping his Blue Devils stay on their feet vs. UConn.
This matchup gets down to the post, baby! UConn junior center Emeka Okafor, the shot-blocker extraordinaire -- the best I've seen since David Robinson -- meets up with Duke sophomore forward Shelden Williams. It will be physical inside, and the player who stays out of foul trouble will have the advantage.

Duke has so much talent on the perimeter, but that should be negated by Connecticut's talented corps. The Blue Devils have five capable players who can fill backcourt roles, led by senior point guard Chris Duhon, junior Daniel Ewing and sophomore J.J. Redick. Duke's guards can really play D -- just ask Xavier's perimeter trio of Lionel Chalmers, Romain Sato and Dedrick Finn.

But Duke had trouble against the Musketeers' defense, and one must wonder what would have happened if Xavier big man Anthony Myles didn't foul out with 12-plus minutes left in the game. Myles had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

The Blue Devils are so effective when they have a balanced attack. When Williams can avoid foul trouble and stay on the floor -- and therefore not be on the bench like one of Coach K's assistants -- this is a different team. Williams has improved so much from last year but still has a way to go.

Look for Connecticut to pound the ball inside to Okafor early to try to get Williams into foul trouble. Duke may try to do the same against Okafor. It will be interesting to watch this chess match.

Okafor anchors a defense that holds opponents to 36 percent from the field. Duke will have to make the perimeter shot and the trifecta to have a chance to march on.

Connecticut's perimeter game has gotten better and better. Senior point guard Taliek Brown is a four-year starter who has been maligned during his career for not living up to a big buildup coming out of high school. When you look at his career, how bad has it been? He's been the quarterback of a team that has won more than 100 games. He's led them to Big East championships and now a Final Four.

Brown does a nice job distributing the ball to perimeter shooters like junior guard Ben Gordon and sophomore guard/forward Rashad Anderson, who combined for 64 points in the regional final win over Alabama. Gordon is averaging more than 22 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. Anderson has earned his starting role, replacing sophomore Denham Brown (now a reserve).

When Gordon and Anderson are effective, the Huskies are tough to beat.

Freshmen big men Charlie Villanueva and Josh Boone are diaper dandies on the interior. Villanueva could start for 95 percent of America's teams, but he's so effective for Connecticut off the bench. His athleticism and long, lean body make him tough to stop. Boone is tough and physical as a defender and rebounder.

Deng and Villanueva are former high school teammates, and now they will mix it up. How will they react against each other?
Duke has its own diaper dandy on the interior, forward Luol Deng, who was sensational against Xavier in the regional final to help Duke get to the Final Four. Deng has been one of the most influential freshmen in the nation. He came through in crucial moments down the stretch vs. Xavier.

Wow, Deng and Villanueva are former high school teammates, and now they will mix it up. How will they react against each other?

The Huskies have all the elements to repeat their championship run of 1999. This time, they're a slight favorite, unlike the last time they met the Dukies, in that '99 title game. That year, UConn coach Jim Calhoun won his first title in his first trip to the Final Four.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has won three national titles and is in his 10th Final Four, behind only John Wooden (12) and Dean Smith (11) on the short list. He knows how to prepare his team in March. He will have them ready to battle.

So Hall of Famer Krzyzewski is eyeing his fourth title, while future Hall of Famer Calhoun goes for his second. Something's got to give, and I feel that Okafor's presence and defensive ability makes UConn the favorite to move on.

Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he's been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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