Site, time: Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum, 9:22 tonight
TV/Radio: Channels 11, 9/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line: Arkansas by 4
The Blue Devils go into this championship game with their youngest backcourt in recent history, freshman Jeff Capel at the point and sophomore Chris Collins at shooting guard. After an up-and-down regular season, Capel has had a terrific tournament. Collins, meanwhile, has struggled lately with his TC shot. Neither is excessively quick -- Collins in particular -- and both are sometimes prone to turnovers in the face of pressure. They will get that from Arkansas guards Corey Beck and Clint McDaniel, who are extremely quick and tough in the half-court trap. McDaniel is a terrific three-point shooter who has been on a roll lately. If Capel has problems, as he did at times against Florida, Duke may go with Grant Hill at the point.
Hill is the best all-around player in the country. He does everything for Duke, including guarding the other team's best player. But the Razorbacks present problems because that could mean guarding Scotty Thurman, who's a little quicker than Hill, or Corliss Williamson, who's stronger. With Hill and senior Antonio Lang, Duke can compete athletically but it needs Lang to stay out of foul trouble to have any chance. Thurman was pretty much shut down by Arizona's Reggie Geary, who's not as good a defensive player as Hill. But Williamson is perhaps the best low-post player in the country, this game's version of UNLV's Larry Johnson. He will be a load for Duke, no matter who guards him.
That's the big question mark for the Blue Devils, who found out yesterday that Cherokee Parks has possible torn cartilage in his left knee. Even when healthy, Park is not the most mobile big man. He had problems for the first 30 minutes with Florida's Dametri Hill. Darnell Robinson is raw, but could have a big game if Parks can't play or isn't at full strength.
Edge: Duke (if Parks makes a miraculous recovery) or Arkansas (if he doesn't).
It has been a weak spot all year for Duke, with senior swingman Marty Clark as the only consistent contributor. Clark is tough, has made big plays in big games throughout his career, and is a clutch free-throw shooter. Junior Erik Meek has provided good moments in a backup role, but if he's thrown into a more prominent position tonight, it could cause a significant drop-off. Meek is active, but not very mobile. Arkansas' bench is as deep as Nolan Richardson wants to go. Tonight, it will likely mean junior Dwight Stewart, the big small forward who shoots threes and dribbles like a guard, as well as junior guard Al Dillard, the man with no conscience in his shot selection, as well as a cast of thousands.
Mike Krzyzewski is considered the leading coach in the business, the John Wooden of his generation. If he had a few days to prepare for this game, Krzyzewski probably would find a way to give the Blue Devils a better chance to win. But with only a day, and a tired team to get ready, it's almost an impossible task. Richardson hasn't gotten this far before, but he certainly has won some big games in his career. If he goes ahead with his plan to start senior reserve Ken Biley, who didn't play at all in the semifinals, it could wind up helping Duke stay in the game early. Still, the coach with the better talent usually wins. And Richardson is a very good coach with a lot of talent.
Edge: Duke, but it shouldn't matter.
Experience is certainly in Duke's favor, especially if the Blue Devils can keep it close. While Richardson said last week that a meeting with Duke in Charlotte would be "like playing Notre Dame in Rome," the Blue Devils might not be as overwhelming a crowd favorite as first thought. It depends whether the Florida fans sold their tickets to Duke or Arkansas fans, or stayed to root for their fellow Southeastern Conference team. Same holds for the Arizona fans, and where their allegiances lie. Then there's the Sports Illustrated jinx that could affect the Razorbacks, whose No. 1 fan (President Clinton) adorned the cover last week.