Gameday: Duquesne

THE CONTENTS: No. 7 Duke battles Duquesne at 3 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium today. You can see the game on ESPN with Bob Picozzi and Jimmy Dykes and hear it on 620 AM.

THE EXPOSITION: Duke (6-0) got a much-needed break after playing four games in eight days. The Blue Devils are coming off their 78-58 victory over Montana.

Duquesne (4-0) hasn’t exactly played top-flight competition yet. The Dukes have defeated High Point, Saint Francis (PA), Furman, and South Carolina Upstate. Duquesne was picked to finish 12th in the 14-team Atlantic-10 (that’s a lot of numbers). For context, Rhode Island was picked to finish ninth. It is the first Dukes game to be televised nationally since 1995.

Duke is 4-1 all-time against Duquesne, including a 3-0 mark in Durham.

THE PROTAGONISTS: The Blue Devils’ game against Montana was odd for a number of reasons, primarily because of the weird lineups Mike Krzyzewski had on the court for much of the game. With Greg Paulus out with his nagging forearm injury, we saw a little bit of Jon Scheyer and Elliot Williams at the point, with both proving serviceable. It will be interesting to see (a) if Paulus plays today; and (b) how he fits back into the rotation.

THE ANTAGONISTS: Duquesne had a surprisingly good season a year ago (its first winning campaign since 1993-94), but the Dukes are now one of the youngest teams in the country. Duquesne boasts eight freshmen and four sophomores on scholarship, with just one senior on the roster. That’s versatile senior Aaron Jackson, who’s played the 1, 2, and 3 in his first three seasons. Last season, Jackson averaged nine points per game; this season, he’s stuffing the statline with 17.3 ppg, 7.5 apg, 7.0 rpg, and 3.3 spg.

Duquesne likes to play fast, so expect this to be an uptempo game with Duke making a lot of substitutions.

THE CONFLICT: How do Duquesne’s youngsters handle the Cameron environment? It represents a sizable step-up from the Dukes’ first two road contests at Saint Francis (PA) and South Carolina Upstate.

WHY DUQUESNE?: With the football team hosting the James Madison Dukes earlier in the season, it looks as if the basketball team wanted to follow suit and play a team nicknamed the Dukes. Makes for easy headline-writing.

WHERE IS DUQUESNE?: Duquesne, of course, is in Pittsburgh, close to the old Fort Duquesne where a young George Washington completed one of his first military tasks by delivering a letter to the French. My 8th grade Social Studies teacher smiles.

NOTABLE DUQUESNE ALUMS: It would be obvious to point to German filmmaker Werner Herzog, but since he didn’t graduate and can’t then be considered an alum, I’ll go with everyone’s favorite ESPN NFL reporter, John Clayton. (NOTE: I’m being sarcastic with that “everyone’s favorite” business. Who doesn’t prefer Chris Mortensen?)

FUN FACT ABOUT DUQUESNE VIA WIKIPEDIA: It was founded in 1878 as the Pittsburgh Catholic College of the Holy Ghost before changing its name in 1911 to Duquesne University of the Holy Ghost.

TIM’S FAVORITE PLAYER IN DUQUESNE HISTORY IS…: Remarkably, I have never seen a Duquesne basketball game. Or sporting event, for that matter. Anyone I put here would be a lie.

WHAT THE LOCAL MEDIA ARE SAYING: “Welcome to Cameron Indoor Stadium, where three national championship banners hang from the rafters, where the Cameron Crazies do whatever it takes to unnerve opponents, where legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski roams the sideline and where the Duke Blue Devils almost never lose a game to a team not in the Atlantic Coast Conference.” — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

DUQUESNE WILL PROVE TROUBLE IF…: Duke comes out flat on the day after Thanksgiving in front of a reduced crowd at Cameron. If Duquesne’s underclassmen get comfortable and confident early, the Dukes could stick around.

THE DENOUEMENT: Duke does come out a little flat, but the Dukes don’t take advantage. The Blue Devils push tempo, Duquesne complies, and Duke builds a big lead before the Dukes make it more respectable late. DUKE 80-62.

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Gameday: Montana

THE CONTENTS: No. 10 Duke (who, barring a loss, should move up this week) hosts Montana Sunday afternoon at Cameron Indoor Stadium at 1 p.m. The game can be seen on FSN with Mikes Hogewood and Gminski and heard on 620 AM.

THE EXPOSITION: Duke (5-0) is coming off its somewhat disappointingly easy title in the 2K Sports Classic with double-digit victories over Southern Illinois and Michigan Thursday and Friday.

Montana (2-1) has won two straight over Montana-Western and Mississippi Valley State after dropping its opener by 30 at Colorado State (CSU’s win was revenge for a 36-point loss to Montana in the season-opener a year ago). The Grizzlies (or more commonly known as the Griz) are coming off a 15-17 season and fourth-place finish in the Big Sky. Montana is 33-32 over 2+ seasons under head coach and alum Wayne Tinkle. Tinkle, of course, replaced Larry Krystowiak, who made the sensible leap from head coach at Montana to head man of the Milwaukee Bucks. He has since been fired.

Sunday marks the first-ever meeting between Duke and Montana.

THE PROTAGONISTS: The Blue Devils probably put together their most complete game of the season Friday night in their 75-61 disposal of Michigan. Duke dissected the Wolverines’ 1-3-1 zone in the halfcourt and received balanced scoring from Kyle Singler, Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, and Nolan Smith.

In this game, it’s kind of back to the beginning of the season principles: You just want to see the Blue Devils play crisp, turnover-free basketball. Smith seems to be settling into his role as the starting point guard, and perhaps the brightest spot coming out of New York was the production out of the second frontcourt option: Both Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas brought something to the table. It would be nice to see more of that against the Griz.

THE ANTAGONISTS: Montana is part of the nine-team Big Sky Conference, which ranges from Northern Arizona in the south to Eastern Washington in the north (hehe). Portland State won the Big Sky last season and proceeded to get wiped off the floor in the first round by eventual champion Kansas.  The Griz are the all-time winningest program in Big Sky history, and Montana last made the NCAA Tournament in 2006 as a 12-seed, scoring a first-round upset of former Big Sky member Nevada, 87-79, before bowing out to Boston College. (P.S. Montana totally didn’t deserve that 12-seed, and Nevada didn’t deserve a 5 that year. It was a whack pairing made essentially for geographic purposes.)

Montana is picked to finish second in the Big Sky this year behind the reigning champion Vikings.

Through three contests this season, the Griz are averaging 70.7 points on 47.8 percent shooting with 15 assists to 14.7 turnovers. Junior guard Ryan Staudacher (16.3 ppg) and senior forward Jordan Hasquet (13.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg) lead Montana on the offensive end. Staudacher is an impressive 11-for-16 from beyond the arc in the young season. Hasquet, meanwhile, was a 1st-team Big Sky selection two seasons ago and finished fifth in the league in scoring with that same 13.7 average a year ago. At least he’s consistent.

THE CONFLICT: The best I can come up with is Duke’s motivation. This will be the third game in four days–the other two being played a flight away–and it’s against much lower competition. Can you blame the Blue Devils if they come out flat?

WHERE IS MONTANA?: The northwest United States.

I MEANT THE UNIVERSITY: Missoula, MT, which is in the northwest of the state.

TIM’S FAVORITE PLAYER IN MONTANA HISTORY IS…: They had a guy a couple years ago named Kamarr Davis who I remember being pretty good. But I had to look his name up, so that’s kind of cheating.

AREN’T THEY REALLY GOOD AT FOOTBALL OR SOMETHING?: Well, really good within their Division I-AA context. The Griz have appeared in the division’s title game five times in a 10-year span from 1995 to 2004, with wins in 1995 and 2001.

FUN FACT ABOUT THE STATE OF MONTANA FROM ITS WIKIPEDIA PAGE: Montana has 56 counties, with Missoula county ranking second in population with just over 100,000 people (ca. 2005).

FUN FACT ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA FROM ITS WIKIPEDIA PAGE (x2): Rolling Stone named UM-Missoula the nation’s most scenic campus, and Montana ranks 5th among public universities and 17th overall in producing Rhodes Scholars.

NOTABLE MONTANA ALUM: The always enjoyable supporting actor J.K. Simmons (Spiderman, Juno, Thank You for Smoking, Burn After Reading) graduated from Montana.

WHAT DO THE LOCAL MEDIA HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE GAME?: Here’s a preview from The Missoulian, which talks a little bit about how this game came about (seems to me Duke wanted to play a team of the same quality it might meet in the NCAA Tournament first round).

MONTANA WILL PROVE TROUBLE IF…: Montana will not prove trouble.

THE DENOUEMENT: Like I said, don’t be surprised if Duke comes out a little flat. That being said, this isn’t the kind of team Montana has had in years past that would be capable of sticking with the Blue Devils for a half or so. Duke is up 15 by the intermission, and the Blue Devils put it on cruise control in the second half. I’d make a Timothy Treadwell reference, but that’s probably in poor taste. DUKE 84-55.

Gameday: Michigan

fabfive

We weren’t supposed to be writing this post for another couple of weeks, but I guess we get a rough draft tonight.

THE CONTENTS: No. 10 Duke (4-0) battles Michigan (3-0) in the championship game of the 2K Sports Classic tonight at 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in New York City. You can see the game on ESPN2 with Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale (contrary to popular belief, Doris Burke has remained on the sidelines all tourney) or hear it on 620 AM.

THE EXPOSITION: The Blue Devils used a seven-point possession to blow open a close game in the final eight minutes and roll past Southern Illinois, 83-58, in last night’s semifinals.

The Wolverines, meanwhile, came back from a six-point halftime deficit to knock off No. 4 UCLA, 55-52, in the first big upset of the college basketball season.

Duke and Michigan have quite the series history, but one that was interrupted for several years while Tommy Amaker coached in Ann Arbor. It was restarted last season, with the Blue Devils cruising to a 95-67 win in Durham. The two will play again Dec. 6 in Ann Arbor.

THE PROTAGONISTS: A lot of things to like in that second half against Southern Illinois, particularly the play on the offensive end of Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler. During the huge spurt late, the two illustrated how good this offense can be when clicking.

The first half? Not so much. Henderson and Singler were scoreless, and Brian Zoubek and Jon Scheyer were basically the only Blue Devils doing anything besides turning it over. Duke totaled 15 turnovers in the first half on 38 possessions, a rate roughly equal to Jon Kitna’s interception percentage in the fourth quarter of the Lions’ Week 2 loss to Green Bay. Duke cut that number down to four in the second half, and despite my repeated questions about the Blue Devils’ halfcourt offense, they’ve managed to put up 165 points in the last two contests (just two shy of Texas Tech’s beyond jaw-dropping total last night). A lot of that is the excellent free-throw shooting, spearheaded last night by Lance Thomas.

On the other end of the floor, however, Duke did exactly what it needed to in shutting down Southern Illinois. The Salukis aren’t a great offensive team, and the Blue Devils exposed that with relatively strong interior defense from Zoubek and Co. (some lapses, but overall good) and strong perimeter pressure.

Tonight the question is: How long until Duke puts together a complete effort, where Henderson, Singler, and Scheyer are all on at the same time, and the offense is in full rhythm?

THE ANTAGONISTS: The stories are already being written that last night is the turning point in Ann Arbor for John Beilein and Co. The Wolverines, who struggled to a 10-22 mark in Beilein’s first season a year ago after several years as a bubble team, won their first game over a top-five opponent since 1997 when they upset–who else?–Duke.

It’s tough to come away from that game, however, as impressed with Michigan as you are unimpressed by UCLA. The fact of the matter is the Bruins were beaten by a middle-of-the-road team in a down year for a usually bad conference that wasn’t even playing its A game. (It also speaks volumes about the Pac-10, which might now be the worst BCS conference in the country one season after being arguably the best. It’s close right now between the Pac-10 and the WCC for supremacy on the left coast.)

That being said, it looks like Beilein has the players to hit key threes, run well-timed backcourts (who wasn’t impressed by the clinching backdoor to DeShawn Sims last night?), and run his 1-3-1 zone far more aggressively than he ever did at West Virginia. I can’t remember Beilein’s Mountaineer teams pressuring on the perimeter as much as the Wolverines did last night, and that might be a byproduct of having more athletes than he did in Morgantown.

And oh yeah, Manny Harris is basically a lock for First-Team Big Ten and a candidate for conference Player of the Year. He’s good.

THE CONFLICT: Duke’s halfcourt offense vs. Michigan’s 1-3-1 zone. One night after seeing Duke succeed in the halfcourt in the second half, we’ll see them tested by a different kind of defense. True, the Blue Devils put up 95 on Michigan’s zone last season, but the Wolverines now know the system and looked much more aggressive last night. And remember, Miami’s 2-3 matchup zone last season gave Duke a ton of trouble.

TIM’S FAVORITE PLAYER IN MICHIGAN HISTORY IS…: It’s really a no-brainer for me. Most people will go with Robert “Tractor” Traylor or Chris Webber or Juwan Howard, but to 6-year-old Tim, no college basketball player was cooler than Jalen Rose. Rose, who paid for the billboard up top, helped redefine the point guard position and was basically the antithesis to Bobby Hurley (who, somewhat paradoxically, Tim also loved at the time). More importantly, Rose and his teammates redefined basketball style for an entire generation: the long shorts and the black socks? I’m still rockin’ those.

MICHIGAN WILL PROVE TROUBLE IF…: They hit threes and create turnovers with their defense. There’s two ways the Wolverines can go in this game: (1) They can tire out, playing a top 10 team for the second consecutive night; or (2) They can get off to a hot start, build momentum, and ride it to a huge and unexpected early-season title that should move them into the top 20. I think we’ll know fairly early.

MICHIGAN WON’T PROVE TROUBLE IF…: They don’t shoot the ball well, and Henderson and Singler play the way they did in the second half. Otherwise, Duke is simply too talented.

THE DENOUEMENT: I see the Wolverines getting off to something like an 8-2 lead before Duke reclaims the advantage, leads by 4-6 at the break, and pulls away at the 10:00 mark. In short, much like last night, although not quite as extreme. Gerald Henderson leads the way and claims Tournament MVP in a tight battle with Kyle Singler. DUKE 84-66.

Gameday: Southern Illinois

THE CONTENTS: No. 10 Duke (two spots down following Sunday’s survival of Rhode Island) battles Southern Illinois in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic at 7 p.m. at the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden in New York. You can see the game on ESPN2 with Dan Shulman and Doris Burke (Doris gets the nod at analyst for the first game, as ESPN is limiting Dick Vitale’s minutes early in the season; he’ll be on for the nightcap) and hear it on 620 AM.

THE EXPOSITION: Duke defeated Presbyterian and Georgia Southern handily to advance to the semis, with that squeaker of a win over Rhode Island sandwiched in there last Sunday.

Southern Illinois, meanwhil, took care of business in Carbondale against California University of Pennsylvania (yep, never heard of it either) and Massachusetts. The Salukis established themselves as a second-half team in those two contests, as they turned a tie score into a 14-point win after the intermission against CUP, and outscored the Minuteman by 18 in the second half to overcome an 11-point deficit at the break.

THE PROTAGONISTS: A couple key things coming off of Sunday’s nailbiter (that’s right, I’ve called it a survival, a squeaker, and now a nailbiter):

1. The halfcourt offense: Duke struggled in the first half to not only score points, but also to find quality in-the-flow shots. There was a lot of isolation and individual play, and the result was a 4-for-19 start from the field. If the Blue Devils haven’t fixed this in the last few days of practice, it could be an ugly game tonight. No team over the last five years has played as consistently stingy halfcourt man-to-man as SIU.

2. Gerald Henderson: One of the main reasons Duke struggled in the halfcourt was the perplexing absence of junior Gerald Henderson. Everyone expected Henderson to take the reins of the offense this season, but the co-captain has been somewhat passive early. Combine that with his foul trouble against URI, and he was never really into it. It’d be nice to see him show off his athleticism in the Garden tonight the way he did in the loss to Pittsburgh last season.

3. The frontcourt carousel: In the preseason, all the talk was centered on Miles Plumlee. But Brian Zoubek has gotten the starting nod the last two games, and Lance Thomas and David McClure got a lot of the crunch-time minutes Sunday. Thomas, in particular, was impressive, with 10 points on three dunks, including what I assume is his first alley-oop since his St. Benedict’s days. The Blue Devils just need one–anyone–of these guys to step up this season.

THE ANTAGONISTS: Last season was an unexpected down year for SIU, as the Salukis missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002. They lost Randall Falker, one of the nation’s toughest interior defenders, off that team, and now look to sophomore forward Carlton Fay on the offensive end. Fay leads the team with an average of 16.5 ppg. He’s joined in the frontcourt by Tony Boyle while senior point guard Bryan Mullins, one of the best in the business in assist-to-turnover ratio and currently averaging a double-double with 11.5 points and 10.5 assists per contest, runs the offense.

THE CONFLICT: Tempo, tempo, tempo. Duke will try to push, Southern Illinois will do everything it can to pull. Don’t let the 80 points the Salukis scored on UMass fool you; this is a team that prefers to play its games in the 50s and 60s. If the Blue Devils force turnovers and get out on the break, they’ll cruise. In fact, if they get to 70 points, they’re probably a lock to win.

TIM’S FAVORITE PLAYER IN SIU HISTORY IS…: I know you’re thinking it has to be Jamal Tatum or Jermaine Dearman, but I’m going off the board with current New York Giants’ running back Brandon Jacobs, who I could see as a Barkley-like beast on the block.

SIU WILL PROVE TROUBLE IF…: Mullins takes care of the ball, Duke struggles in the halfcourt, and the Salukis shoot 9-for-14 from beyond the arc like they did in the second half against UMass.

SIU WON’T PROVE TROUBLE IF…: All of the above doesn’t happen.

THE DENOUEMENT: The Blue Devils struggle early from the field adjusting to the bigger arena. SIU struggles more, however, and Duke builds a 10-12 point halftime lead. They maintain it for most of the second half, survive a brief scare, and pull away late. DUKE, 75-60.

ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon

Wanna get a head start on scouting some of Duke’s key opponents this season? ESPN’s 23-hour college basketball marathon is underway, highlighted by a couple of the Blue Devils’ premier in-state rivals.

Tonight at 9 p.m. on ESPN, No. 1 North Carolina headlines the marathon with their showdown with Kentucky. Hard to call this a showdown, especially after the ‘Cats lost their season opener at home to VMI. The only story here is if UNC will crack 100, like the Keydets did.

At 9:30 on ESPNU is the gem of the day, when No. 21 Davidson visits No. 12 Oklahoma. It’s the first meeting between ranked teams this season and pits two of the nation’s best players, Stephen Curry and Blake Griffin, against one another. It’s a big test for both teams: Can Davidson do it again, and can there interior handle Griffin? And is Oklahoma ready to challenge Texas and, to a lesser extent, Kansas for the Big XII title?

Duke’s ACC-Big Ten foe, No. 11 Purdue, is in action earlier at 7 p.m. on ESPNU, when the Boilermakers host Loyola (Chicago). Again, it’ll be interesting to see how Purdue adapts to being the hunted this season.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, another of the Blue Devils’ non-conference opponents, UNC-Asheville, just cruised past Liberty (and Stephen’s brother, freshman Seth Curry), 84-56, in their Big South opener. We’re counting down the days until December 17.

The Buzz: Rhode Island

Duke escaped Cameron Sunday with an 82-79 win over Rhode Island in which the Blue Devils trailed for an estimated 30-35 minutes. The more important news? Officially surpassing 2000 Tim’s prediction that Ryan Leaf would lead the San Diego Chargers to the AFC West title (they went 1-15) was Sunday morning’s gem: “I see Baron being bottled up.” Yea, that’s the new Steve Urkel “Did I do that?” worst prediction ever.

You know, I had heard that Jimmy Baron was a good shooter. But the idea behind that clearly flawed statement was that Duke had, too; the Blue Devils would take Baron away and make the other Rams beat them. To URI’s credit, they did exactly that in the first half. At the intermission, even though Baron had just three points, URI led by one (and deserved to be up more).

But for the second time in two games this season, Baron carried the offense in the second half. He scored 17 after the break against Brown, but that was just the warmup for 21 Sunday. A lot of times when a guy hits a high percentage of his three-point shots, they come in the flow of the offense and largely because he is open. (The most prevalent example coming to my mind is when the point guard from UNC-Wilmington went 8-for-8 from beyond the arc in a first-round matchup with Maryland in 2003–you know, the game won by that Drew Nicholas fallaway. The point is, John Goldsberry–if that is his name–was the secondary option behind the great Brett Blizzard, and thus didn’t have to force his shot. Hence, 8/8.) But let’s be honest: for the last 10 minutes of the game, Rhode Island’s offense was “Get out of Jimmy’s way.”

There’s really no defense for it when a guy gets that hot. The Blue Devils tried Scheyer, Smith, McClure, and Singler on Baron, and none of them worked. The only successful strategies remaining were to: (1) run a double at him, which leaves the defense wildly exposed; (2) face-guarding him to prevent him from getting the ball, which is, to put it mildly, easier said than done for 94 feet; or (3) straight foul him. Only No. 2 is remotely practical, and I imagine the Blue Devils were trying it down the stretch.

Duke got the stop it needed, however, with Singler on Baron, which I didn’t like coming out of the timeout. (P.S. Here’s how I imagine URI’s huddle before the last play: Coach Jim Baron draws up a play intended to use son Jimmy as a decoy and set up Delroy James. The Rams all slump in disappointment. Baron the Elder says, “What’s the matter with you guys?” Jimmy looks up at Pop, looks around, and says, “I’ll make it.”) But Baron made the mistake of going inside the 3-point line (where he was 0-for-5), which allows Singler to defend even more aggressively because the help is closer. The jab-stepback that had worked so well all game didn’t create enough space, and Singler was able to alter the shot and, in the end, preserve the win.

Unfortunately for Duke, it can’t get caught up in the elation of that final stop and the awe in witnessing Baron’s second-half performance. The Blue Devils can’t forget that they trailed that game at halftime, largely because of their inability to score in the halfcourt. The offense broke down into ugly 1-on-1 action that resulted in poor shot selection and a 4-for-19 start to the game. That kind of offense probably won’t get it done against Southern Illinois’ intense man-to-man (which may be the best in the nation), and certainly won’t be enough in a potential matchup with UCLA.

Two more brief observations: (1) Someone tell Gerald Henderson the season started. (2) It’s great when Nolan Smith leaks out of the backcourt for easy transition buckets against Presbyterian and Georgia Southern. To put it bluntly, that tactic won’t fly against any quality opponent. The point guard’s responsibility is to be the first outlet pass after the rebound–not the last one. With Smith trying to sneak out early, Duke’s forwards got caught with the ball under the basket waiting for him to come back through the crowd for the outlet; this slows down the offense more than speeds it up, and against teams that pressure the outlet (hello, UCLA!) could lead to costly turnovers. Just something to watch out for this week.

Gameday: Rhode Island

THE CONTENTS: No. 8 Duke hosts Rhode Island at 4:30 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium. You can see the game on ESPNU and hear it on 620 AM.

THE EXPOSITION: The Blue Devils are off to a 2-0 start with easy victories over Presbyterian and Georgia Southern in the 2K Sports Classic. That makes this their first non-tournament regular-season game and represents a step up in opponent quality. That’s a trend this week for Duke, as it faces off with URI, then Southern Illinois, and finally UCLA (or less likely Michigan) at MSG Friday.

Rhode Island, meanwhile, escaped Friday night with a 76-74 home win over Brown in its season opener. The Rams are coming off an up-and-down 2007-08 campaign, with most of the ups coming in the non-conference schedule and the downs in the unexpectedly difficult A-10 last year (URI was 14-1 before going just 7-9 in conference and losing in the first round of the NIT).

This is the first-ever regular-season meeting between Duke and Rhode Island, although the Blue Devils have twice defeated the Rams in the NCAA Tournament, including a 73-72 win to advance to the Final Four in 1988.

THE PROTAGONISTS: It’s tough to say Duke has played all that great in its first two games. The Blue Devils committed 21 turnovers in their 80-49 win over Presbyterian, and, while they cut that number to 11 against Georgia Southern, still looked sloppy at times. After all, the Eagles were only down a dozen with about 5:00 to play in the first half.

Kyle Singler has been Duke’s primary offensive option, usurping the role I (and pretty much everyone else) expected to be occupied by Gerald Henderson. However, it wasn’t like the Blue Devils were running the offense through Singler in either of the first two games; a lot of his buckets came in the open floor or scavenging on the inside. It will be interesting to see how the Duke offense takes shape in a game played more in the halfcourt–although that might not happen today either.

THE ANTAGONISTS: Rhode Island lost its leading scorer, Will Daniels, from a season ago, but the Rams return one of the nation’s best shooters in Jimmy Baron, the son of head coach Jim Baron. Baron the Younger, who averaged 14.2 points per game last season and shot over 40% from deep, scored all 17 of his points against Brown in the second half Friday night while hitting 3-of-7 from beyond the new arc.

The Rams’ next two returning scorers, guard Keith Cothran and forward Kahiem Seawright, poured in 16 and 15, respectively, against the Bears.

THE CONFLICT: Duke forced 45 turnovers against Presbyterian and Georgia Southern; Rhode Island committed just three against Brown. Now the Bears may not exactly play pressure defense, but three turnovers? That’s three touches for Brian Zoubek.

It might just be an anomaly, as the Rams averaged 14 giveaways per contest a season ago. Nevertheless, the Blue Devils will look to pressure Cothran and Marquis Jones in the backcourt while overplaying Baron and forcing him to beat them off the dribble. Rhode Island isn’t exactly a slow-down team–they averaged 80 points per game a year ago–but the Rams will likely be picking their spots when it comes to pushing tempo.

TIM’S FAVORITE PLAYER IN URI HISTORY IS…: Now this is where you expect to hear the Rams’ best player of the last decade, one-and-done star Lamar Odom. But I’m going back one year earlier (when Odom was academically ineligible) to URI’s best team in memory–the 1998 eighth-seeded squad that upset No. 1 Kansas in the second round before choking away a Final Four berth to Stanford in the final minute in the Regional Final–and their three-headed monster in the backcourt of Preston Murphy, Tyson Wheeler, and star Cuttino Mobley.

THEY CHOKED?: Big-time. Six-point lead in the final minute until Stanford went on a 14-3 lead behind Arthur Lee, who is perhaps best remembered for making the “choke” sign when Wheeler missed two huge free throws in the final seconds.

URI WILL PROVE TROUBLE IF…: They take care of the ball and Baron lights it up from the outside. Duke hasn’t had to play in the halfcourt in either of their first two contests, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were rusty running through their sets, particularly with a new starter at point guard in Nolan Smith. If the Blue Devils can’t get out on the break, the Rams can keep it close for awhile.

URI WON’T PROVE TROUBLE IF…: The above doesn’t happen: The Rams turn the ball over, shoot 39% from the field like they did against Brown, and allow Duke to shoot 50% like the Bears did against the URI defense.

THE DENOUEMENT: After several days of practice following the opening games, Duke comes out crisp offensively and knocks the Rams off their heels early. URI manages to keep it respectable for awhile, likely behind the secondary options (I see Baron being bottled up), but the Blue Devils roll relatively easily…DUKE 81-59.