Starting Line Ups
Center: Shelden Williams (6'9, 260) vs. Neil McDonald (6'10, 220)
Williams enters his junior season projected as a possible early entry candidate for the 2005 NBA Draft. Considered the best defensive big man in the country by many analysts, the Oklahoma native spent the summer refining his offensive game. Against McDonald and the X-men, he should have a chance to put those improvements on display. McDonald is hardly a bruising inside presence, preferring a finesse game that includes the ability to step out to 16 feet. As a sophomore he averaged just over 12 points and six rebounds in a league that doesn't feature a lot of size in the post. While he's not overpowering, McDonald is a good free throw shooter and can finish around the basket (.512 FG pct as a sophomore), but hasn't faced the kind of speed and size he'll see against Williams on either side of the ball.
Look for Williams to be established early by the Duke offense, though this will be a good chance to see if the Blue Devil big man has lost his tendency to pick up silly fouls as McDonald is smart enough to get good position on his opponent. If Williams can stay out of foul trouble, then Duke should have a field day on the interior as no one else on the St. Francis Roster is taller than 6'7.
Power Forward: Shavlik Randolph (6'10, 245) vs. Michael Baxter (6'6, 200)
It's probably a bit misleading to call Baxter the team's power forward, but as the fourth starter, it's probably the best we can do early on. At 6'6 Baxter isn't going to make a living inside banging. Instead he prefers to from wherever he can find a loose ball, and sometimes from the perimeter. Last season he came off the bench in the role of seventh man, contributing 11 points per game in 24 minutes of action. A very capable (48%) shooter from the perimeter, Baxter still likely attempt to take taller opponents to the perimeter for either long jumpers or slashing to the basket. He's also a ball hawk who crashes the board hard from the wing for rebounds.
Meanwhile Shavlik Randolph comes into his junior season with high expectations once again. For the first time in three years the 6-foot-10 junior from Raleigh is reportedly completely healthy. After a big performance in the NCAA Tournament including a perfect night from the floor in the National semifinals, Randolph appears ready to live up to the hype surrounding him as a high school All-Star. The first step will be becoming more comfortable in the Duke offensive scheme. Friday night should give him a chance to settle in nicely against a smaller opponent that shouldn't be able to muscle up against the taller and stronger junior.
In two seasons Randolph has only been a second tier option offensively, but has made nice contributions on the defensive end of the floor. However he has been foul prone and has shown a tendency to reach only to be whistled. This year he'll have a chance to play on the perimeter a bit more, but will also be called on to man the middle when Williams is out of the game. Early reports indicate that he's now comfortable with his frame and is showing a determination on offense not seen in his first two years. Against a team that has no ACC quality big men, that should be enough to take a positive step towards a big junior campaign.
Small Forward: J.J. Redick (6'4, 190) vs. Garry Gallimore (6'3 185)
Redick is widely considered the premiere perimeter sharpshooter in the country, and many expect his junior season to be his best to date after the 6'4 Roanoke product lost 15 pounds in the off season in hopes of improving his quickness. Early indications are that the lost weight has paid off as Redick appears quicker off his feet and lights out with his midrange game, something that has been lacking early in his career.
Lining up opposite of Redick will be 6'3 scoring guard Garry Gallimore, who tallied just over 11 points per contest as a freshman en route to freshman of the year honors in the conference. A good three point shooter, Gallimore makes his living off a quick first step and an ability to get to the rim. Usually he does this against teams without two shot blockers waiting for him inside, so it'll be interesting to see how the Blue Devil big guys impact Gallimore's scoring ability. The one thing Duke cannot afford to do is allow him to set his feet and spot up from the perimeter, as he's a lights out shooter when given time.
Gallimore has been asked to work on his defensive efforts this off-season and should get a good test from Redick, who will no doubt run him off screens for most of the game. If he allows the Duke junior to get open, it could be a long night for the X-men.
Shooting Guard: Daniel Ewing (6'3, 185) vs. Zach Russell (6'0 175)
Ewing enters his senior campaign as the player time forgot. He's spent most of his three seasons in Durham producing respectable numbers, but has always been in the background except for the 2003 ACC Tournament where he exploded to earn MVP honors. Considered by many coaches to be Duke's best pure player, Ewing will split time at point and scoring guard this year, but is still expected to produce around 13 points per game.
Russell enters his four year at St. Francis as the team's version of departed Chris Duhon. The team's returing assist leader, Russell usually has the keys to the X-men offense whenever possible. At an even six feet he can penetrate past most defenders, and can hit the perimeter jumper (40%) when called on. Like Duhon, his game begins with defense where he averaged nearly two steals per game as a junior to go along with 10 points and five assists per contest.
Look for Russell to draw the assignment of staying with either Ewing or Redick and making their lives rough with his ability to stay in front of them on the defensive end. He'll also look to run the St. Francis offense against a Duke defense that may or may not be able to employ the kind of trapping, high pressure defense that has become a calling card of Mike Krzyzewski coached teams.
Point Guard: Sean Dockery (6'2, 180) vs. Jonathan Bell (5'8, 155)
Fifth year senior Bell enters his final year as an X-man looking to continue a strong junior season that was cut short. Before being put on the shelf, Bell averaged 12 points, 2 3 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals per contest for St. Francis. Described as the same kind of player Andre Barret (Seton Hall) was, Bell uses quickness and a great handle to make up for his lack of height.
On the home side, the Blue Devils turn over the keys to the offense to junior point guard Sean Dockery. To this point Dockery has been noted for two things:
1. being a defensive spark off the bench
2. having real trouble with his jump shooting ability. Early reports out of practice were that Dockery's jumper has been retooled by the coaching staff with a better looking form and release. It seemed to be true as he hit all but one shot in the Blue-White scrimmage. Still the skeptics remain until he can consistently prove the ability to replicate that kind of performance against someone other than a teammate.
In his first official game as the lead guard for Krzyzewski's offense look for Dockery to attempt to work the ball inside and find either Williams or Randolph for dump offs and easy finishes around the basket. He'll also likely have a few chances to finish the play at the rim himself. The key will be his ability to minimize turnovers and run the offense without a hitch. Any point production will be a bonus for the Blue Devils, though they shouldn't need it against an overmatched opponent.
While the Blue Devils are without freshman scoring sensation DeMarcus Nelson, they should still have the advantage off the bench over the X-men. Freshman McClure will come off the bench and spell both forward positions, much as Chris Carrawell and Nate James before him. Melchionni, a 6'7 lefty shooter, will need to improve his rebounding to be a solid contributor, while fifth year senior Reggie Love will contribute inside thanks to his superior athletic ability and rock solid frame. Neither of the three is expected to come in and carry the load offensively or defensively, just to spell the starters, rebound, and provide quality minutes with the occasional basket.
Meanwhile the X-men have made a living with a large rotation in the past, though this season it's down to nine players who may see around 20 minutes of game time. None of the reserves have great size as only Stephen is taller than 6'2. The key to St Francis' game is speed and fundamentals. There is certainly solid help off the bench and there isn't much drop off from the starters in terms of understanding of the game.
What Duke Needs To Do:
This is simply a warm up for the Blue Devils before the season kicks off later this month. However, don't think that Krzyzewski isn't reminding his team at every turn that the entire nation looks at them as nothing more than an after thought in the ACC race. Ultimately there isn't much Duke can do that won't result in an opening night victory against a clearly overmatched opponent, but a win isn't the only objective. Duke needs Dockery to prove he can run the offense. They need the big men to prove they can stay on the floor and that each is capable of making plays on the offensive end of the floor. And most importantly the team needs to recapture the kind of on the court chemistry that propelled them to a Final Four last year. If those things happen, it should be a fun night in Cameron.
What St. Francis/Xavier Needs To Do:
Drive right at the Blue Devils and hope to get the big starters in very early foul trouble. Even then it probably won't be enough as the game would turn into a battle of the guards with Duke having a pair of All-Americans lining up on the wing and a former MDAA running the point.
The X-men are likely going to come out of this game with a pretty big set back, though they too can use this as a tune up for the season. After playing at Cameron they'll likely not have anything to worry about when it comes to playing in Canada.
St. Francis/Xavier - 64