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PREVIEW: Duke (9-2) v. Elon (9-3)

Following the Christmas holiday break, the Blue Devils return to action on Monday night to face a red hot Elon team.

ELON PHOENIX
9-3 Overall, 0-0 Conference 

PROJECTED STARTERS

G- 01 Luke Eddy (10.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
G- 03 Tanner Samson (15.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
G- 02 Dmitri Thompson (9.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
F- 12 Christian Hairston (10.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
F- 41 Tyler Seibring (7.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg)

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STAR WATCH

Senior scoring guard Tanner Samson has been Elon’s most explosive scored throughout the season.  The 6-foot-4 Colorado native was the most decorated returning player for the Phoenix this season after starting all 33 games a season ago and leading the team and the CAA with a school record 103 made three pointers.  A season ago he hit a respectable 36 percent from distance.

Fast forward to 2015 and Samson began the season with strong performances before scoring just 10 points total against Syracuse and Mount St. Mary’s.  Since that time, however, Samson has been on a tear.  He’s scored in double figures in seven straight contests and has scored less than 14 just once in those games.  For the season he’s shooting 43 percent from long range.

Off the bench comes the heir apparent to Samson in the form of freshman Dainan Swoope.  The 6’0 combo guard has scored in double figures in 10 of the 12 games this season with a lot of his offense coming from the perimeter where Swoope shoots 39 percent.

THE STORYLINES

CARDIAC KIDS

Heading into Cameron Indoor the Elon Phoenix are winners of six straight games.  Perhaps no win was more satisfying than the victory over Kennesaw State.  While the name may not inspire any ideas as to why the win was so big, the circumstances certainly do.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Xp2RNJaXko

Elon was down by eight with 16 seconds remaining, only to rally to send the game into overtime.   That’s right, an 8-0 run in the final 16 seconds to avoid a loss.  It was quite an impressive feat, and represents the kind of team Duke is facing.  The Phoenix are tough, resilient, and able to score in bunches thanks to a number of perimeter scorers and very good free throw shooters.  

Certainly, Duke will have a massive natural talent advantage, but if the Blue Devils are only six players deep and a handful of those players are struggling from the field, Duke could be in for a tougher game than many expect.  There’s not a big chance of an upset, but some rust from the Christmas holiday plus a less than hostile Cameron, mixed in with an opponent who can shoot in volume (Elon ranks in the top 10 in 3-pointers made and attempted) from the perimeter and there could be a chance of some drama.

The Phoenix have won three of five road games, but were blown out in their only game against a ranked team, losing to then No. 24 Michigan by 20.   

DEPTH…WHERE IS IT?

Depth, or the lack thereof, continues to be the top story in Durham.  Especially following the loss to Utah when the rotation consistent of just six players aside from Chase Jeter’s six minutes of action.  And for a team that is the tallest in the Coach K era, only one player of those six were taller than 6’8.   When Marshall Plumlee got into foul trouble, Duke was left with five guards on the court. 

"It's a position where we have no depth or no experienced depth," said Mike Krzyzewski. "We have five perimeter guys who are really good players, and we had two really good bigs and a developing young big. And Amile's played the best of the bigs, so we're a much different team without him."

And without their best big, Duke can be vulnerable as displayed in the loss to Utah where the Blue Devils nearly stole a win despite shooting just 29.9 percent from the field.   In that loss four of the five starters missed at least 10 shots including Grayson Allen who shot a miserable 3-of-18 from the field while battling the flu.  

Jeter is expected to continue to earn more minutes as the season goes along, but the freshman has struggled tremendously with the speed and physicality of the college game to date.  And so…Duke’s forced to tread water until either Jeter gets his legs under him or Jefferson returns.  It’s anyone’s guess which will happen first.

"If there's only so many lifeboats on the ship, you know, you don't have a choice," Krzyzewski said.

Notebook:

- The Blue Devils have won an NCAA-best 123 consecutive non-conference home games. Duke is 254-3 in its last 257 non-conference home games.

- Duke ranks third nationally in offensive efficiency, averaging 120.3 points per 100 possessions, and ranks eighth in the NCAA in scoring offense with an average of 87.3 points.

- Grayson Allen’s average of 20.1 points per game ranks seventh by a player in the six major conferences. Allen’s six games of 20+ points are the most in the ACC this season.  

- Matt Jones has averaged a team-high 36.8 minutes per game over Duke’s last four contests. Over that same stretch, Allen has averaged 36.5 and Ingram has averaged 35.8 minutes per game.

- Duke’s all-time .708 winning percentage is the fourth-best in NCAA history, behind only Kentucky (.764), North Carolina (.736) and Kansas (.722) through Dec. 26.

- Behind a combined 4.4 offensive rebounds per game from Brandon Ingram and Marshall Plumlee, Duke is rebounding 39.6 percent of its own misses to rank 12th nationally in offensive rebound percentage.

They Said It:

"Either one would have been worthy of winning so I'm not disappointed in my team."  - Mike Krzyzewski on the loss to Utah

The Prediction

Elon wants to play small and fast.  At this point there’s really no other way Duke is going to play - either by choice or circumstance (or both).  The keys for Duke will be staying out of foul trouble and closing out on shooters all over the perimeter.   The Phoenix shoot from outside a lot and will have to be hitting from all over to have a chance at snapping Duke’s winning streak at home.  As with most teams, the Phoenix don’t have anyone to matchup with either Brandon Ingram or Grayson Allen.  We’d look for Duke to be in for a battle early on before building a working margin and maintaining same.  It would be nice to get some extended, positive minutes for Jeter, and there should be opportunities to do that.  The pick…

Duke - 85
Elon - 67


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