PREVIEW: Duke (7-1) v. Buffalo (4-3)

Duke returns to action on Saturday afternoon to face a Buffalo team with a history of playing ranked teams tough on the road. Will the Blue Devils see more from Brandon Ingram while extending their non-conference home winning streak to 122 games? Here's a pre-game primer.

BUFFALO BULLS
4-3 Overall, 0-0 Conference 

PROJECTED STARTERS

G- 01 Lamonte Bearden (13.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
G- 04 Jarryn Skeete (8.4 ppg, 3.4 apg)
G- 11 Willie Conner (10.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
F- 05 Rodell Wigginton (12.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg)
C- 31 Ikeena Smart (2.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg)

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STAR WATCH

Sophomore scoring guard Lamonte Bearden has been an instant impact guy for the Bulls ever since he stepped on campus a season ago.  As a freshman he played in all 33 games last year, starting 31 times.  He earned All-MAC Freshman team honors and was the league leader in assist to turnover ratio.   Now, as a sophomore, Bearden has been asked to help carry the scoring load for his team.   

He’s done well in that expanded role and leads the Bulls in scoring while playing just 28 minutes per game. At times, however, he’s been guilty of pressing the action which has resulted in a team high 15 turnovers.  He’s also struggling from the outside, shooting just 28 percent from long range.  Bearden is also a barometer for the Bulls’ success this season.  When he scores 13 points or more the team is 4-1.  When he scores less than 13?  0-2 with a -20.5 scoring differential.

The Bulls will also rely on super sixth man, Blake Hamilton.  A transfer from Mt. San Antonio College, where he averaged 13.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, Hamilton has appeared in all seven contests and ranks second on the team in scoring at 12.3 points per game.  At 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, Hamilton can play either the three or four if needed and contributes on the boards with six rebounds per game.  He’s also able to extend the defense to the perimeter where he shoots 40 percent.

THE STORYLINES

BULLS GETTING THE HORNS

After an early season slate against lesser competition, Buffalo is experiencing major step up in competition with back to back games against Duke and Iowa State.  The Bulls are traveling to Durham for a Saturday afternoon game before boarding a place to head to Ames, Iowa to face the Cyclones on Monday night.  

Last year the Bulls faced three ranked teams under head coach Bobby Hurley, and lost each of those games.  However, those games were competitive for longer than expected as Hurley’s troops led at the half against then No. 1 Kentucky and again when visiting then No. 6 Wisconsin.  Both the Wilcdats and Badgers rallied and won comfortable, but it wasn’t the same for West Virginia which scrapped and clawed to just a six point win in the NCAA Tournament’s second round.

Still, Duke has won 121 consecutive games against non-conference foes at Cameron, so for Buffalo to pull off the upset seems to be a stretch.  

AGGRESSIVE BRANDON INGRAM

In his first seven games Duke freshman Brandon Ingram had a few strong performances, but those game against lower level competition.  Against high major opponents, however, many were left wondering if the adjustment to the college game was going to take a lot longer than expected for the Blue Devils’ latest potential one and done recruit.

Then Ingram torched Indiana for 18 first half points on his way to posting a new career high of 24 on Thursday night as Duke raced past Indiana in the program’s first real significant home game of the season.  So will the success continue for Ingram after the 6’9 freshman who attempted seven shots for just the second time in his career, and who hit four of six from long range after missing 19 of his previous 25?

Well, his senior captain and fellow starter thinks so…

"He can have one of these games every game, I think," said Jefferson. "He can shoot the ball unbelievably. With his (6-foot-9) size, his length, he can almost get his shot off on anyone.”

"... He shoots freely because who can block his shot? And if there's a guy out there who could block his shot, he's too slow to stay in front of him. So it's not a lot of guys like him out there."

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKING…FINALLY?

A season ago the mantra “eight is enough” was born after the Blue Devils dismissed Rasheed Sulaimon from the program and were left with just eight scholarship players.  Fast forward a year and Duke has 10 scholarship players on the roster, but so far only seven have played in every game.   

The odd man out of the eight man rotation has been freshman big Chase Jeter.  The 6-10 Nevada prospect has been singled out as a player who could play starters minutes by Coach Krzyzewski, but so far has not found a way to break into the regular rotation.  He registered his second DNP against Indiana after playing 13 minutes against Utah State last weekend.  The Bulls should afford Jeter a chance to earn some crucial minutes inside in relief of Jefferson and Marshall Plumleee.  

Notebook:

- Duke currently leads the nation in adjusted offensive efficieny (points scored per 100 possessions) at 120.3.

- Duke is averaging 5.8 blocks per game in 2015- 16 after swatting just 3.8 per game a year ago, thanks to Marshall Plumlee and his team-leading 2.1 blocks per game (62nd nationally). 

- Paced by Grayson Allen’s 47-of-51 effort from the line, Duke ranks sixth nationally in free throws made and eighth nationally in free throw attempts. The Blue Devils’ 152 made free throws are also the most in the ACC this season. 

- Amile Jefferson ranks third nationally in offensive rebounds per game (5.3) to lead a Duke squad that has a 41.2 offensive rebound percentage and averages 16.9 second-chance points per game.

- Luke Kennard has averaged 12.3 points in Duke’s last four games to lead a corps of reserves that is providing the Blue Devils with an average of 22.1 points per game for the season.

- Duke has been ranked in the AP Poll an NCAA- best 159 straight weeks.

They Said It:

“Marshall Plumlee, Brandon Ingram ... all of these players. They are so multi dimensional and get high volume from a lot of different guys. They have multiple pros on their team.” - Buffalo Coach Nate Oats

“It is not like you are going to take away everything Duke does. You have to play hard. They are going to score, obviously. We play fast usually, and are going to try to get some transition if we can. If not, you don’t want to get into a running game all game with them. They have too many athletes.” - Oats on Duke

The Prediction

Duke is going to win this game.  And the Blue Devils will probably do so going away.  The question(s) for the team will be more in the details than the final result.  For instance, will Brandon Ingram continue his strong and assertive play in a game where the opponent has nobody to match up with him?  Will Chase Jeter find some meaningful minutes?  Will Derryck Thornton continue to learn the system and provide positive minutes as he did against Indiana?  Can Duke work to get Luke Kennard more and more involved in the offense (i.e. coming off screens for open looks).  And so on.  We look for the Blue Devils to have a battle for the first few minutes before putting together a handful of runs that leave the Bulls resigned to a somewhat lopsided loss on Saturday evening   The pick…   

Duke - 95
Buffalo - 66


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