Preview: Duke (8-0) vs. Elon (5-4)

Previewing the Blue Devils and Phoenix who tip off on Monday evening in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

ELON PHOENIX

5-4 Overall; 1-2 Away

PROJECTED STARTERS
F- 32 Ryan Winters (5.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
F- 03 Tanner Samson (13.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
C- 15 Tony Sabato (3.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
G- 11 Kevin Blake (7.0 ppg, 3.8 apg)
G- 10 Austin Hamilton (5.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg.)

LINKS: ROSTER | SCHEDULE | STATISTICS | SCOUT SITE

STAR WATCH
Starting wing Tanner Samson played the best game of his career against Central Pennsylvania on Pearl Harbor Day, scoring 25 points and pulling down 11 boards. He’s been in double figures throughout the first nine games and leads the CAA in three pointers on the season, having made 34 of them in the first nine games. Against Northwestern on November 22nd, Stone knocked down a career best eight three-pointers. Over the course of his career, Samson has shot nearly forty percent from the outside. This year he’s at 44.2 percent from long range (34-of-77)

STORYLINES

DEPTH FOR DAYS:
The Phoenix have 11 players who have appeared in at least eight of the nine contests this season. 10 of those players have played 14.6 or more minutes per contest. It allows the Phoenix to force the tempo and throw waves of fresh bodies at opponents. Which is why he Phoenix have come very close to earning some early upsets this season. Elon pushed Northwestern to overtime in Chicago before losing by one, and the Phoenix nearly upset Missouri on December 11th. The biggest win of the season came against Miami of Ohio on November 30th.

The depth isn’t just for making close games either as Elon made use of their rotation and tempo with back-to-back 100+ point performances…albeit against clearly overmatched opponents - besting Virginia University of Lynchburg 111-55 and then smashing Central Pennsylvania by a 117-73 margin.

On the other side, Duke has maintained a 10 man rotation, though in the two highest profile games of the season the Blue Devils have shortened the bench to an eight man group. The Phoenix don’t figure to warrant the shorter rotation, which will likely mean extended minutes for both Grayson Allen and Semi Ojeleye as Blue Devils look to shake off some rust from an extended period away from competitive games.

BATTLE ON THE BOARDS:
Both Duke and Elon enjoy positive differentials on the glass with the Phoenix out-rebounding their opponents by an average of 41-37 per game. However, those numbers are skewed by the game against Virginia University of Lynchburg. In that contest Elon recorded 67 rebounds (the third time in a decade they’ve grabbed more than 60 boards in a game). Absent that contest, the numbers paint a different picture with Elon recording 299 rebounds in eight games against their opponents’ 302.

How will that play against Duke? It’s an a key point to track as Elon’s starting front court is severely overmatched, especially in the middle where the Phoenix will counter Duke’s Jahlil Okafor (6’11, 270) with 6-foot-7, 220 pound Tony Sabato. As a program Elon has just two players taller than 6’7 with both Brian Dawkins and Jack George registering as non-factors in the rotation.

Throw in Amile Jefferson (6’9) and Marhsall Plumlee (7’0) and Duke should have a clear advantage both in the paint and on the boards. It’ll be a win for the Phoenix to stay within seven rebounds.

Question To Be Answered

Rusty?
We last saw the Blue Devils in action against then No. 2 Wisconsin as part of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. In that game Duke played well enough to beat the Badgers by double figures on their home court while playing as efficient an offensive game as has ever been played by an opponent in Madison. Since that time the team has gone through the rigors of the exam period and has mixed in some practice sessions between those arrangements. But, it’s still be nearly two full weeks since Duke has played.

Which could mean some rust and sloppy play. Throw in the rest of the student body being out of town for the holiday season, and this game could be one of the less attractive performances of the season.

Against Wisconsin and throughout the season to date the team has shown a maturity that defies the age and experience of most of the rotation. It’ll be an interesting measuring stick to see if the team can come out and put the game against an overmatched opponent away early in an environment that will likely be somewhat less intimidating than previous games, and following an extended period away.

Notebook:

- This will be the 27th time the two programs have met. Duke has won 19 of the previous meetings. Recent history has been decidedly one sided with Duke owning a 29 point average margin of victory against the Phoenix under Coach K.

- Coach K will win his 1,000th game at some point this season. His career record is 991-306 while his Duke mark stands at 917-247.

- The Blue Devils have won an NCAA-best 37 consecutive games at Cameron Indoor Stadium entering Monday’s contest. Duke has won 26 straight games in the month of December dating back to a Dec. 2, 2009 loss at Wisconsin. Duke is looking to open the season with nine straight wins for the 22nd time in school history. Coach K-led teams have started 9-0 15 times at Duke.

- Last season Duke and Elon played on New Year’s Eve in Greensboro with the Blue Devils winning by 38, 86-48. Duke on by 22 the last time Elon came to Cameron on December 20, 2012. The Phoenix have never beaten a team ranked inside the top 25.

- Elon will honor the memory of the late Jesse Branson all season long by wearing #40 patches on its uniforms. Elon’s all-time leading scorer, Branson passed away on Nov. 2. His #40 jersey was retired in 2009 and hangs from the rafters at Alumni Gym.

They Said It:

“Preparation doesn’t change very much. We’ll prepare the same way.” - Coach Matt Matheny

“If we do what we can do, we’ll be alright no matter who we go against. We truly believe that. No matter who our opponent is, we focus on ourselves more than the opponent.” - Tanner Samson

The Prediction

Not a lot to think about with this one. Duke was a bad matchup for the Phoenix a season ago when they won by nearly 40. A season later and it’s worse as the Blue Devils now have even more size and ability inside and Elon has no answer. Look for Duke to key in on Samson’s perimeter shooting and to thoroughly dominate inside with Okafor getting big numbers, but not playing more than 22 minutes or so. Coach K will have the opportunity to use his 10 man rotation, and the Blue Devils will roll on to the game against Connecticut later in the week

Duke - 101
Elon - 54

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