Preview: Duke (10-2) v. Long Beach St (6-8)

Fresh off a dominating offensive performance against Elon, the Blue Devils return to action less than 36 hours later to face Long Beach State in the final non-conference game of the season.

LONG BEACH STATE 49ERS
6-8 Overall, 0-0 Conference 

PROJECTED STARTERS

G- 02 Nick Faust (16.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
F- 05 Mason Riggs (3.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg)
F- 15 A.J. Spencer (8.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
G- 21 Justin Bibbins (8.8 ppg, 5.9 apg)
G- 24 Travis Hammonds (10.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg)

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STAR WATCH

Senior guard Nick Faust is the best player on the 49ers roster.  That’s hardly surprising considering the 6-foot-6 wing played three years at Maryland and averaged nearly 10 points per game over the last two seasons in the Big 10.  Now at a lower level (and as the primary scoring option, Faust has produced at an all-conference level.  He’s hit double figures in every game he’s played and leads the team in scoring at 16.2 points per game.  He also leads the team in minutes per game at 31.1.  Faust was named Big West Player of the Week after going for 22 points, six rebounds, and three assists per game during the week of December 7th.

Staring point guard Justin Bibbins is a version of Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis - a 5-foot-9 guard with a nice skill set and a high basketball IQ.  He’s a high assist, low turnover guard who ranks 14th in the country in assist to turnover ration and 15th nationally in assists per game.  He’s also just one of four players in the country to have 10 games of 5 points and 5 assists in the nation this season.

THE STORYLINES

ROAD WOES

Long Beach State has been very good at home, but when the 49ers go on the road things get rough.  LBSU has gone 4-1 at home, 1-2 in neutral sites (three games in Charleston’s preseason tournament), and a dreadful 1-5 in true road games.  Those games have produced a 7 point loss to UCLA, a six point loss to Oklahoma State, a 2 point loss at Pepperdine, a 21 point loss at Oregon, and a 15 point loss at Arizona.  

Things don’t get much easier at Duke where the Blue Devils have a 10+ year win streak consisting of 124 games against non-conference opponents.  One of those games was the 2009 matchup in which the Blue Devils held on for an 11 point win over the 49ers.     

OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION

Duke’s offense in the first half against Elon was unreal.  At one point the Blue Devils were averaging 2.000 points per possession on the way to scoring 70 points against the Phoenix before intermission.  After the teams battled to a 13-12 scoreline, Duke seemed to just flip a switch (into overdrive) and blew the game open. 

“I thought we just shared the ball really well,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.  “If you want to fast dance, your partner’s got to fast dance with you. They fast dance faster than we do, that’s what they do. They push it up every time. We played pretty good defense so we got runs, numerically-advantaged runs. And then we shared the ball. And then ‘boom, boom, boom.’ And then all of a sudden, you’ve got a lot of points.”

MAINTAINING ON MANY LEVELS

Without a lot of depth available for various reasons, Duke has been forced to consider how to prepare for pockets of the schedule and different challenges contained therein.   All while keeping an eye on continued development.  

The first piece of that puzzle is avoiding foul trouble.  The larger riddle has been to maintain health and avoiding further injury.  Amile Jefferson is done for months.  But Grayson Allen has been forced to play through illness, and is still not totally back to full health. 

“Grayson is still not 100 percent. He’s lost about eight, nine pounds. He was so sick against Utah. First three or four days at home he just had a fever and the flu and lost a lot of weight. He’s going to get better. But he’s knocking back. He played well [against Elon].”

Notebook:

- Duke employs one of the nation’s most lethal offensive attacks, ranking third nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency (118.4) and sixth in the NCAA in scoring offense (87.8).

- Duke has the best winning percentage (.837) and second-most wins (195) in the NCAA since the start of the 2009-10 season. The Blue Devils have won an NCAA-best 124 consecutive non- conference home games.

- Duke has scored nearly a quarter of its points this season at the free throw line (22.4 percent). The Blue Devils have made 48 more free throws (236) than its opponents have attempted (188).  

- Duke averages 9.0 three-pointers per game and shoots .402 from deep at home this season. Matt Jones ranks in the top five in the ACC in both threes per game (2.7) and three-point percentage (.444).

- Since Dec. 15, Brandon Ingram has averaged 22.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals.

- Despite playing four freshmen in its seven-man rotation, Duke ranks seventh nationally with an average of just 9.8 turnovers per game. The Blue Devils turn the ball over on just 13.8 percent of its offensive possessions, the fourth- best rate in the country.

They Said It:

“This is the ultimate test. For us, this is truly a preseason game and we are just trying to get better. To do that, it helps to be in this sort of environment.“  - Dan Monson

The Prediction

Much like Elon on Monday, the 49ers really lack any sort of gifted post player who could cause foul problems or otherwise for the Blue Devils on the interior.  Instead LBSU will look to match up with the Blue Devils on the perimeter with a four guard lineup.  Unlike Elon, the 49ers have a number of top end athletes including Faust who has produced at the high major level.  Duke struggled at times containing the Phoenix off the bounce, and LBSU will almost certainly be better at getting to the rim than was Elon.  They will drive whereas Elon decided to shoot from the outside.  It’s a different challenge, but not one that Duke shouldn’t be able to overcome.  We look for Ingram to have another big game, which will ultimately be the difference.  It’s likely a game that could be much closer for a lot longer than was Monday’s contest.  The pick…

Duke - 83
LBSU - 69


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