In the piece linked bleow, Eamon Brennan offers us a bit of this CW:
2. Size matters. Once the ball is tipped, the pregame storylines will fade away, and what you see on the court will matter most. What, exactly, will you see? You'll see the tallest Duke team of coach Mike Krzyzewski's career take on a team with three players in its rotation -- one of which, Matt Howard, has been in foul trouble for much of this tournament and might not play in the first place; more on that below -- that stand 6-foot-8 or taller. The other two are Gordon Hayward and Avery Jukes, both are capable rebounders, but neither have the size to match up with Brian Zoubek, Kyle Singler, Lance Thomas, and the brothers Plumlee on the interior. Hayward will likely spend much of his time harassing Singler. Butler has given up size before in this tournament, but never this sort of size, and never to a team that banged the offensive rebounds quite so hard. Can the Bulldogs stand up to that test?This last part is just factually untrue. Yes, Duke is a great offensive rebounding team, but so are Kansas State and Michigan State -- all three are ranked in the top 10 in Division I in offensive rebounding percentage. The Wildcats rebound 40.4% of the shots they misses, and the Spartans 39.7%.
But here's the thing. Butler is a great defensive rebounding team (14th in the country), and they kept Kansas State and Michigan State off the boards, holding them to 28.9% and 25.0% offensive rebounding percentages. Those would be very solid numbers against any team, but they're simply outstanding against teams like Kansas State and Michigan State. It was K-State's worst offensive rebounding percentage of the year and MSU's second worst.
In short, the Bulldogs have sufficient size and tenacity to keep Duke from dominating the game via the offensive glass. What about rebounding on the other end of the floor? Well, first, Duke is a fairly mediocre defensive-rebounding team, but even if their size advantage makes them better in this game -- so what? Butler doesn't rely on offensive rebounding the way Duke does. They would rather run back on defense to prevent easy transition buckets than crash the glass, and they've managed to win 24 straight games with a very low offensive rebounding percentage.
The key point here is that Butler has the tools to take away a key part of Duke's offensive game -- offensive rebounding -- while Duke's potential advantage in defensive rebounding won't do much to contain Butler's strengths. Abstract commentary about Duke's rebounding advantage (offered in such crude terms as +/- rebounding per game - sorry, Jay) unmoored from this context is not really helpful.
But are there other ways in which Duke's size advantage might help them? Perhaps, but not in a way that is likely to prove decisive. Comparatively speaking, Duke a small percentage of its points from two-point shots. They have a relatively poor 2-point field goal percentage, and they don't sport any meaningful low post threats. Instead, the Blue Devils rely heavily on three-point shooting, dribble penetration, and getting to the free throw line. With the exception of the somewhat anomalous Cal game, that's proven to be the case in the Tournament. Check the box scores.
The key for Butler will therefore be perimeter defense: (1) containing Smith, Scheyer, and Singler off the dribble without overhelping, and (2) staying close to, and aggressively closing out on, three-point shooters. If Duke shoots 13-for-25 or 11-for-23 from 3 (as in their last two games), Butler will likely be in trouble.