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PREVIEW: Duke (0-0) v. Siena (0-0)

The regular season is finally here with college hoops tipping off tonight in Durham as the Blue Devils host the Siena Saints in the first non-conference game of the year. Here's what you need to know.

SIENA SAINTS
0-0 Overall, 0-0 Conference 

PROJECTED STARTERS

F- 00 Javion Ogunyemi (9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 5.1 apg)
F- 31 Brett Bisping (8.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
F- 24 Lavon Long (10.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
G- 03 Ryan Oliver (7.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
G- 01 Marquis Wright (12.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg) 

LINKS: ROSTER | SCHEDULE | STATISTICS | SCOUT SITE 

STAR WATCH

The lead guard and floor general for the Saints, Marquis Wright led his conference and finished 36th in the country in assists per game a season ago.  Only a junior, he’s also been named a team captain for the third straight season.  

As the 2015-2016 season begins, Wright has selected as a second team all-conference selection.  Last season he scored over 20 points three times and hit double figure scoring 21 times.  

Keep an eye on freshman Nico Clareth, a 6-foot-5 scoring guard from Baltimore who scored 24 points to go along with seven rebounds and five steals in the exhibition season’s only game.  

THE STORYLINES

STARTING OFF STRONG…IN OPPONENTS 

A season ago the Saints went 11-20 on the season.  Meanwhile, Duke ended up winning the program’s fifth national title by beating Wisconsin in the National Title game.  

This year the Saints are going to get a good look at last year’s champions by opening the season against the defending champions on Friday and then flying out from Durham to Madison to face the Badgers on Sunday.  Winning either game would be a monumental upset for a Saints program that has never defeated a ranked team on the road.  Since joining Division I in 1976, Siena has only defeated three ranked teams - the most recent coming against Vanderbilt in 2008.

As Duke played and defeated the reigning Division II national champions in the exhibition season, Siena defeated Division II national runner up, Indiana University (PA) by an 82-73 margin.  

GET WELL, DUKE

The Blue Devils were impressive in the preseason, averaging more than 115 points per game against Florida Southern and Livingstone.  And while it was fun to watch the video game numbers lighting up the Cameron Indoor scoreboard, there were patches of concern as well.

Concern number one was clear:  Duke lost Matt Jones in the first game to a groin injury and then lost Amile Jefferson in the second game to an ankle injury.  That’s two-thirds of the team captains, and the two most productive returning players on a roster that’s very young.  

Both Jefferson and Jones were back at practice this week and are expected to start on Friday night, but the worry of the injury bug visiting was felt in a big way.  While the Blue Devils are one of the more talented teams in the country (and feature more McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster than some conferences), they are young and inexperienced…and have a game against Kentucky next week. 

WHO STARTS?  WHO PLAYS?  WHEN?  WHERE?

When you replace four starters from a national title team, it’s no surprise that setting the starting lineup the following season could take some time.  With Jones and Jefferson both healthy again, Duke will likely start the four returnees (Jones, Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, and Grayson Allen) along with Brandon Ingram on Friday. 

But is that the lineup that will remain throughout the season? 

Probably not, but it all depends on what Duke needs on a game by game basis.  Will freshman point guard Derryck Thornton continue his improvement to the point of taking the reigns as the team’s only true point guard?  Will Coach Krzyzewksi replace Grayson Allen’s slashing and attack-minded style with more shooting in the form of Luke Kennard? 

And what about the post?  Will Marshall Plumlee’s early strong play against exhibition opponents translate into a virtuoso fifth year senior performance that lasts throughout the year and against better opponents?  If not, Duke will be asking questions of Rice transfer Sean Obi as well as high school All-American, Chase Jeter inside.  

DEFENSE WINS.  BUT WHICH ONE?

This is one of the three tallest teams in the program’s history.  And so, there’s an argument to be made that Duke should play some zone at times.  They showed some of that in the exhibition season with a  1-3-1 press that put Ingram and his 7-foot-3 wingspan at the top of the defense.  The result was a ton of deflections, pressure, and more.  Sure, it was against lesser competition, but it was interesting that the Blue Devils were looking to evolve from the traditional man-to-man in some instances.  Then again, Duke shocked the world last year by playing a lot of zone in the middle of the season beginning with the must-win game at Louisville.

NOTEBOOK:

- The Blue Devils have won 15 consecutive season openers (dating to 2000) and are 33-2 in season openers under Mike Krzyzewski. 

- Duke has the best winning percentage (.837) in the NCAA since the start of the 2009-10 season. The Blue Devils have also won 185 games this decade, second-most in the NCAA. 

- Mike Krzyzewski owns a 1,018-310 record over 40 seasons as a head coach, including a 945-251 mark at Duke (35 seasons). 

- Duke has won an NCAA-best 116 consecutive non-conference home games. The Blue Devils are 95-4 (.960) at home since 2009-10, the third-best home winning percentage in the NCAA this decade. 

- Duke has posted an 832-154 record in Cameron, including a 474-59 mark under Coach K. The Blue Devils have 18 undefeated home seasons, including 11 under Coach K and four in the past six years. The Blue Devils have won 279 of their past 298 games in Cameron. 

THEY SAID IT

“I’m not just saying this because it’s a good school. They’re the most educated fans. They do all their homework. They kind of know what you’re going to do. They have players bios, etc. When you come out, they’re on you right from the start.” - Siena coach Jimmy Patsos on Cameron Crazies

“It’s a great place to play. It’s small, it seats 9,000, and it’s tight. I’ve said this before, I think it’s one of the last great venues with Boston Garden gone and (the old) Yankee Stadium gone. I think it’s the last great venue and they do everything right there … It’s good for the players.” - Patsos on Cameron

The Prediction

Much like the exhibition season, this starts with the talent gap.  And that’s huge.  A season ago the Saints were not an overly strong team, and the record and statistics showed as much.  This year the Saints are better, and DUke’s probably not as good as they were a season ago.  Still, Duke’s a lot better, and the Blue Devils have far too many weapons to lose this game absent a major, major surprise.  The Saints may have enough to hang around for a little while, but in the end Duke should be able to pull away and win by more than 25 points.  

The pick…

Duke - 88
Siena - 62


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