Five Reasons To Worry

The Blue Devils enter the NCAA Tournament having lost two of their last three games and having struggled since winning at Florida State. Contrast that with Lehigh, which enters the tournament on an eight game win streak. Duke is certainly the favorite, but here are five reasons Blue Devil fans may need to worry.

1. Lehigh's best player is really good

C.J. McCollum is a 6'3 guard who may very well find a roster spot at the next level. He certainly put the Mountain Hawks on his back throughout his conference tournament, culminating with a 29 point, five assist performance as Lehigh defeated Bucknell 82-77 in the Patriot League title game.

Many Blue Devil fans will think back to 2007 when VCU's Eric Maynor gave Duke fits before winning the game for the Rams down the stretch (Link), and there is good reason for the comparison.

McCollum isn't the same athlete as Maynor, but he's just as fearless a scorer, averaging a stellar 21.9 points per game - good for fifth in the nation. Despite his size (6'3), McCollum is also his team's best rebounder, pulling in 6.5 boards per game. Certainly the competition in the Patriot League isn't the best around, but the Blue Devils will absolutely need to slow down McCollum.

"Any time you're top-five in scoring in the country, you're doing a good job no matter what level you're at," said Seth Curry. "So he's a great scorer and he has a lot of responsibility on that team."

Like Maynor in '07, McCollum will be looking to put on a big performance against Duke in hopes of impressing NBA types in attendance. If Duke can shut him down, it's hard to see Lehigh winning.

They are deep and efficient, but small

The Mountain Hawks rank in the top 30 in points per game at 76.2 per night. McCollum scores a lot of those points, but Lehigh can also point to tremendous depth as 10 players average double figure minutes.

Though not a big team, Lehigh still manages to shoot a respectable 45 percent from the field and 36 percent from the perimeter. The Mountain Hawks make 7.4 three pointers per contest on 21.4 attempts while shooting an even 50 percent from the floor on shots inside the arc. The team also boasts a

Aside from McCollum, the only other starter averaging double-figures is junior forward Gabe Knutson (12.1 ppg). The 6-foot-9 Knutson starts as one of two post players along with 6-foot-6 senior combo forward Jordan Hamilton. The only other true rebounding presence the Mountain Hawks have is 6-foot-7 junior Holden Greiner (4.9 rpg) off the bench. Rebounding for the Mountain Hawks is a team effort, and yet Lehigh

Without a ton of size, the Moutain Hawks like to pressure the ball and force opponents to adapt to a small, quicker lineup. Lehigh forces 14.5 turnovers per game - seven of which come on steals.

Their Experience & Toughness

There's little doubt that Lehigh enters the game as the hotter of the two teams. The Mountain Hawks' last loss came more than a month ago against American. Since that time Lehigh has won eight straight contests by an average of 12.3 points per game.

The starting lineup features four upperclassmen and a sophomore. Two years ago those players made the NCAAs and faced Kansas in the first round. This season the Mountain Hawks have battled some name opponents in close games. Lehigh lost at St. John's by just five points, at Iowa State by nine, at Michigan State by just nine in December, and at Bucknell by seven.

The team hasn't yet earned a signature win, but head coach Brett Reed says his team is hoping to make that leap against Duke.

"Really our goal is to be a competitor in this tournament. We have young men who have a great deal of confidence in themselves, have a great deal of confidence in each other, and a great deal of confidence in our system, and ultimately the things that we're trying to accomplish here.

"I think that confidence really can translate into something that makes this tournament as special as it is and the reason it has the moniker of March Madness. Because upsets happen -- anything can happen."

The loss of Ryan Kelly

Much has been made of Duke's recent struggles (see below), and much of that can be traced to the loss of junior forward Ryan Kelly who not only gives Duke third player over 6'10, but also a perimeter shooter. It's that combination of skill and size that Coach K is missing the most.

"It's not a shooter," Krzyzewski said. "It's the fact that he's a big guy who can shoot. We can put another shooter out there, but then we're real small. So it does have an impact because you might get a few more open looks or a little bit more time to shoot the ball. There's more space. There are a variety of things that happen as a result of him being out there."

Without Kelly Duke has relied heavily on Miles Plumlee and Josh Hairston. The elder Plumlee has been Duke's best rebounder over the past month and has shown a consistent scoring punch than in the earlier part of the season. Over his past nine games Plumlee has averaged 8.0 points and 10.8 boards while shooting 29-of-52 (.557) from the field. Meanwhile Hairston has filled in against Virginia Tech and Florida State to the tune of 19 minutes of action per night resulting in 4.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 50 percent shooting from the field.

Of course Duke would much prefer to have Kelly, but the coaching staff isn't allowing his team to play the "what if" game.

"They would all love Ryan to be able to play," Krzyzewski said. "But we're fine. You play with who you got and you play, there's no excuses for anything. Our guys are ready to go. We love to have Ryan because when he comes into ball games, he's different than the other two [big men, brothers Miles and Mason Plumlee]. It makes the other team have to adjust more during the course of a game."

Duke has struggled since the win over Florida State

The season appeared to have finally solidified some positive momentum after the Blue Devils went to Tallahassee and out-toughed the Seminoles en route to an eight point victory. Since that time it's been a roller coaster of performances for Coach K's team.

Duke returned home and was forced to rally against Virginia Tech to force overtime before winning by five. The next game saw lowly Wake Forest rally from nearly 30 down to make a game of it down the stretch before falling by eight at home. Those performances and the associated issues with the team were preliminary views of what was to come when Duke was pounded by North Carolina on Senior Night.

Following a few days to regroup, Duke once again struggled to pull away from Virginia Tech before another loss at the hands of Florida State.

In those five contests since the win on the Seminoles home court no Blue Devil has struggled more than Andre Dawkins. Despite shooting better than 40 percent from deep over the course of his three year career, Dawkins has made just 1-of-12 from behind the line during this stretch. And he's not alone. Austin Rivers has managed just 3-of-20 from the perimeter while the team is shooting just 23 percent from the perimeter.

The long range shooting isn't the only area where the team has struggled either. Duke has committed 55 turnovers while logging just 48 assists in those games.


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