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PREVIEW: Duke (9-1) v. Utah (8-2)

The Blue Devils will return to action on Saturday afternoon in Madison Square Garden to face the Utah Utes, a team that played Duke extremely tough a season ago.

UTAH RUNNING UTES
8-2 Overall, 0-0 Conference 

PROJECTED STARTERS

C- 42 Jakob Poelti (19.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg)
F- 21 Jordan Loveridge (14.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
F- 35 Kyle Kuzma (10.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
G- 15 Lorenzo Bonam (9.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
G- 11 Brandon Taylor (7.9 ppg, 3.8 apg)

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STAR WATCH

A season ago the Blue Devils and Utes featured two of the better big men in college hoops.  Duke, of course, lost Jahlil Okafor to the NBA Draft.  Utah, on the other hand, will get another year out of sophomore center Jakob Poelti, a true seven footer who is considered a potential lottery pick in the upcoming draft.  

So far the seven-foot, 250 pounder has looked the part of a future pro, averaging 19 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game.  He’s scored in double figures in all 10 Utah games this season and has recorded double figure rebounds in five of the 10 contests.  Only three times has he failed to grab at least nine boards.  

The best match-up for Poelti will be Marshall Plumlee, who has played well as a fifth year senior this season.  The key for Duke will be to keep Plumlee out of foul trouble as the post depth behind him is severely lacking.  

On the wing the Utes will rely on senior forward Jordan Loveridge who has averaged 14 points per contest.  At 6’6 Loveridge has range past the perimeter arc and is shooting 45 percent from downtown while attempting six three-pointers per game.  In the last two contests, however, he’s cooled off considerable, shooting just 2-of-9 from the field and scoring at just a 7.0 point per game clip.

STORYLINES

DUKE STILL LEARNING TO COPE

Without Amile Jefferson the Blue Devils are a different team.  That goes without saying and was certainly something to watch against an overmatched Georgia Southern team earlier this week.  For a while there was little in the way of post defense, and the entire team seemed unsure of what to do on the defensive end.  It’s something that Coach K specifically addressed in the post game.

“Look, it’s a huge period of adjustment for us. You don’t lose Amile and then, okay, everything’s good. We had seven guys that were playing, Amile was our best big guy – he’s right there with anybody with a double-double. It’s a huge loss for us.” 

In Jefferson’s place was Brandon Ingram, the skinny freshman who has become an offensive force over the last few games.  It continued against the Eagles as Ingram went for 26 points and 14 rebounds while playing a role that’s all too familiar for Coach K teams - the stretch four.

“We’re trying some things at the four where there are some positives because that four position, we have a scorer there. It’s been since Danny Ferry –  we’re the ones who invented that. We’ve been doing that for almost 30 years. We do it with the U.S. team – that’s where I put LeBron [James] and [Kevin] Durant.”

Against Utah, it’ll be interesting to watch how Ingram deals with his opponents.  On offense he’s a mismatch, but opposing coaches are going to make him work on both ends of the floor, hoping that the defensive toll will take away from his offense. 

DEPTH…WHERE IS IT?

Last year the “eight is enough” mantra worked.  Mainly because that eight included three professionals spending their mandatory one year in college.  Aside from Okafor, Winslow, and Jones, Duke had Quinn Cook playing at an All-American level.  A season later, and Duke doesn’t have those luxuries at the moment.  And yet, the rotation is even shorter.  Now it appears to be down to just over six players with Chase Jeter hoping to make it seven.

“We’ve got slim pickings right now and we’ve got to be really careful,” said Coach K following the game against Georgia Southern.  “How we play defense will be a key so we can keep our guys fresh and out of foul trouble. We don’t have that plan yet.”

The Blue Devil coach continued…

“We have to take a look at how we play defense, what do we do on defense because not every team is going to have four perimeter guys. They’re going to have big guys. The wear and tear, a huge difference for us will be what we do in practice. We can absolutely have no contact in practice. The worst thing that can happen to us is to lose a guy on an injury in practice. We have to take good care of ourselves. What does that mean? How do you do that? How do you condition? We’re going to eventually look at ways of conditioning unconventionally, not just sprints and things like that that will wear on their legs, but water, elliptical. We haven’t come up with a plan yet, but we have to look at all those things.”

Notebook:

- Winners of seven in a row, No. 7/6 Duke will square off with Utah in the Ameritas Insurance Classic at Madison Square Garden, where Mike Krzyzewski-led Duke teams are 28-8 (.778).

- Duke has the best winning percentage (.840) and second-most wins (194) in the NCAA since the start of the 2009-10 season.

- Duke leads the nation in offensive efficiency, averaging 120.3 points per 100 possessions, and ranks 10th in the NCAA in scoring offense  

- Grayson Allen’s average of 21.4 points per game ranks fourth by a player in the six major conferences. Allen’s six games of 20+ points are the most in the ACC this season.

- In Duke’s last four games, Brandon Ingram has averaged 20.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. He is shooting .617 from the floor and .571 from the arc in that stretch.

- Behind a combined 4.6 offensive rebounds per game from Brandon Ingram and Marshall Plumlee, Duke is rebounding 41.7 percent of its own misses to rank seventhth nationally in offensive rebound percentage.

They Said It:

“It’s an opportunity to play in the mecca of basketball and play one of the marquee programs in the nation”  - Larry Krystkowiak

The Prediction
This game is going to come down to which team can impose its style on the game.  Utah has struggled against smaller, faster teams this season.  Duke, almost by default, will be smaller and quicker than the Utes.  But there’s not a lot of depth for Duke and that could result in some defensive approaches that will allow Utah some easier baskets.  And, if Marshall Plumlee gets into foul trouble, Duke is in real trouble as the Utes will be able to pound the ball inside without a ton of resistance.  Duke could be against the wall here, but that seems to be when Coach K and company come up with some sort of fix.  It happened a year ago against Louisville, and we think it’ll happen on Friday in New York.   It won’t be easy, but we can see Duke coming away with a tough, tough win.

Duke - 76
Utah - 72


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