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Frontcourt play imperative for Final Four success


April 1, 2004 | ESPN.com's NCAA Tournament coverage
Final Four V-Previews: Connecticut-Duke | Georgia Tech-Oklahoma State

SAN ANTONIO — The common bond for the Final Four teams is that they all excel on the perimeter. To be able to survive in college basketball today, you must be strong shooting the rock outside.

There is tremendous depth in the Duke backcourt. Senior point guard Chris Duhon is the team's heart and soul, along with junior Daniel Ewing and sophomores J.J. Redick and Sean Dockery. Plus, there's diaper dandy Luol Deng, whenever he steps out on the perimeter. Connecticut has junior Ben Gordon, senior point guard Taliek Brown and sophomore Rashad Anderson shooting the trifecta.

Oklahoma State has junior point guard John Lucas and senior Tony Allen, the Big 12 player of the year. Georgia Tech's backcourt includes juniors BJ Elder and Will Bynum as well as Jarrett Jack, the super soph point guard.

Emeka Okafor
Emeka Okafor doesn't block every shot, but he led the country with 4.2 swats per game.
If these four backcourts offset each other, the key could be balance on the baseline. Perimeter players can be stopped to a certain extent, but those guys are so skilled that they'll still get their points.

When looking at all four teams, it's obvious that each team has frontcourts filled with talented players. Just check out some of their shooting stats.

Connecticut faces Duke in one national semifinal, with UConn featuring junior center Emeka Okafor, the Big East player of the year, who shot 60 percent from the field this season. Diaper dandies Josh Boone and Charlie Villanueva shot 55 and 52 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, Duke sophomores Shelden Williams (60 percent) and Shavlik Randolph (58 percent) were also impressive this season .

In the other national semifinal, Georgia Tech has juniors Isma'il Muhammad (58 percent) and Luke Schenscher, the 7-foot-1 center (56 percent). Oklahoma State counters with senior Ivan McFarlin (59 percent) and junior Joey Graham (58 percent).

Those are unbelievable numbers! If these teams negate each other on the perimeter, it could come down to whoever is most effective stopping the inside scoring.

Connecticut has to shut down Duke's potent frontcourt of Williams and Randolph. Meanwhile, Duke will have its hands full with consensus All-American Okafor, plus Boone, Villanueva and sophomore Hilton Armstrong. The Blue Devils can't allow Okafor to get deep in the low post or they'll be in serious trouble. There will be special frontcourt matchups this weekend, but Williams versus Okafor should be a dandy.

To be successful Saturday, each team must limit the opponent's ability to get touches and position inside. If a team isn't successful in those two phases, it may not be playing for the national title Monday night.

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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