LAHAINA, Hawaii — Eight months later, they meet again.
After falling in a 73-71 heartbreaker to Duke in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament last March, the Michigan men’s basketball team has a shot at redemption when the two square off once more in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational on Tuesday.
The stakes aren’t quite as high — neither team’s season is on the line, and each is still trying to figure out just how good it is. As Michigan coach John Beilein said on Sunday, the Invitational is more about getting several opportunities for significant wins than any one game.
Senior guard Zack Novak downplayed the possibility of a rematch with the sixth-ranked Blue Devils when he spoke before knowing the outcome of Monday’s Duke-Tennessee quarterfinal.
“Right now, there are two teams out there playing that we could play,” Novak said. “One thing I can tell you is whoever does end up winning this game, we’re going to be just as ready to play either one of them.
“You’re at the Maui Invitational. You don’t need any extra motivation to get up for a game. Whoever wins, whoever is on the schedule tomorrow, we’ll be ready to go.”
Still, the game presents a huge chance for a statement win. In the wake of former Michigan player Jalen Rose’s documentary last spring about the “Fab 5” and its battles with the Blue Devils, the matchup will get plenty of media attention in what seems like another chapter to a newly revived rivalry.
Legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is fresh off becoming the winningest coach in college basketball history after recording his 903rd victory last week over Michigan State. The Blue Devils (5-0) dispatched Tennessee, 77-67, in their quarterfinal matchup on Monday.
Stars Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are gone from last season, but Duke returns three starters from a team that reached the Sweet 16 a year ago.
And though freshman stud Kyrie Irving also departed after last year, Duke has replaced him with another first-year sensation — consensus top shooting guard recruit Austin Rivers. Son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, the Winter Park, Fla. native forms a potent backcourt duo with sharpshooter Seth Curry. The pair combined for 35 points in the win over the Volunteers.
“When you’re a freshman (like Rivers), you start evaluating what you’re doing, and sometimes you’re a step slower in the next thing you’re doing,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s because you care, and you want to be good.
“He’s learned a lot. He’s not afraid, and he’s going to be a really good player for us.”
The bigger issue for No. 15 Michigan may lie in Duke’s frontcourt with the Plumlee brothers. The two forwards — Mason and Miles — are big, physical presences in the paint. Though Michigan sophomore forward Jon Horford played well down low against Memphis, the challenge then was more about stopping guard penetration instead of battling one-on-one against fellow big men.
And redshirt sophomore forward Jordan Morgan, as was the case in many games last season, was in foul trouble early against the Tigers. Frustrated after turning the ball over, Morgan recorded his second foul just four minutes into the game, hacking Wesley Witherspoon when he had a clear path to the rim.
“Just let him score the basket,” said Michigan coach John Beilein of the play. “I liked (Morgan’s) desire there, but all of a sudden he’s in foul trouble again. So we’re in a place right now where, hopefully, we’re versatile enough there to play (sophomore forward) Evan Smotrycz, to play (redshirt sophomore forward) Blake McLimans.”
The Wolverines took a step forward in their win over the Tigers when they shot just 6-for-20 from long range and still came away with a comfortable win. Continuing to score in other ways will be key against the Blue Devils.
Michigan also hopes that, playing in a tournament setting, the limited amount of time between games will give it an advantage, as Beilein’s offense is reputed for its complexity and for being difficult to prepare for.
“I haven’t watched (Michigan),” Krzyzewski said. “But (Beilein) does a great job. He’s got a veteran team. For them to beat Memphis like that, they must have played a great basketball game because Memphis is one of the most talented teams in the country.
“It will be difficult for us.”