"The young players will definitely play a lot early to get them ready for conference play," said McCaffery, "which is crucial to our chance for success."
So far that's been the case as UNC-G has started one freshman and rotated four more in the regular rotation. Those young players will certainly get a lesson in big time hoops when they face the Blue Devils backed by the Cameron Crazies on Saturday.
C/F- Ronnie Burrell (6'8, 215): Burrell may be a bit undersized to play in the post, but he's the most experienced big man on the roster and thus gets the nod as the man in the middle.
Possessing a long and wirey frame, Burrell is the team's second leading scorer (17.0) and second leading rebounder (8.5). He's also smart, having yet to pick up a personal foul despite playing 32.0 minutes per contest.
Against Duke Burrell will certainly have his hands full with Shelden Williams who should be able to receive the ball inside and go to work on the offensive end. So far Burrell hasn't been foul prone this year, however that will likely change if Duke can establish Williams in the paint. Though Burrell is quick off his feet, he cannot muscle up with Williams.
F- Kyle Hines (6'6, 230): Despite being a bit short, Hines has established himself as a tenacious rebounder who can use his sturdy frame to get and hold position inside. To date he's pulling down an amazing 11.0 boards per game, while scoring 15.5 points.
To top it all off, Hines is just a freshman. In fact he was considered the jewel of the UNCG recruiting class after averaging 23.5 points per game at Timber Creek last year, earning first-team All-South Jersey and second-team all-state honors.
Hines will match up with Duke forward Shavlik Randolph, who should be able to have some success inside given his four inch height advantage. Randolph has struggled with consistency so far this year, looking terrific at times and then timid inside on the next play. This game could be a confidence booster for the Raleigh native, who should be able to go up and finish strong against the smaller opponents. Still, Hines has the muscle to push Randolph around and will test his desire to go up strong.
F- Josh Gross (6'6, 195): Gross is the third of four players averaging more than 15 points per game for UNCG. Playing as a prototypical wing, he's shown the ability to drive the basket while also looking comfortable knocking down the long range jumper (50%) when given a good look. In addition he's also putting in time on the glass, pulling in an impressive 7.5 rebounds per game.
Those are huge improvements from a year ago when Gross came off the bench for most of his junior season. Still there were flashes of his ability as Gross averaged 6.0 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. He came off the bench in the season opener at Indiana to score 10 points and grab six rebounds. He also scored a season-high 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds at home against Chattanooga, one of two double-doubles he had on the season.
Gross will line up against Duke's David McClure, who has earned the surprising role of starter through the first two games of his career. McClure's game is to defend and earn the loose balls and hustle points for the Blue Devils. He's yet to really expand and show his offensive game, but that will come as he continues to get acclimated to the Duke offense.
G- Ricky Hickman (6'3, 175): As a freshman Hickman appeared in all 28 games, starting 16 of them in his rookie campaign. He averaged 5.5 points per game and 2.1 rebounds per game.
Over the summer he spent most of his time working on expanding his scoring capacity and so far the results are showing. In the early going he's the team's leading scorer (18.5) while shooting 50% from the field including 57% from the perimeter. Hickman has also shown the ability to be an aggressive on the ball defender, averaging 3.5 steals per game. He's also able to man the point guard role when required and has done so adequately to this point with a 1.5/1 assist to turnover ratio.
Against Duke Hickman will have the responsibility of checking sharpshooter J.J. Redick, who will spend most of the evening running him off screens in hopes of getting open looks from the field. So far Redick has shown a newfound ability to drive to the basket and finish at the rim, while still retaining the ability to knock down any open looks he gets while weaving through the maze of screens and picks of the Duke offense.
G- Ray Bristow (5'10, 190): Bristow enters the season as the team's new point guard after a strong late season showing in which he committed just one turnover in the final five games of the year, while keeping defenses honest by shooting at a 38% clip from the perimeter. The transition from backup point to starter has been relatively smooth though the increased minutes and responsibility has resulted in a higher degree of turnovers.
Bristow's defensive prowess has been adequate as he's kept his first two opponents in single digits while coming up with nearly two steals per game.
His opponent will be Duke senior guard Daniel Ewing, who enters the game as Duke's leading scorer, and is making a successful transition to point guard after being a scoring guard for the past three seasons.
Notables Off the Bench:
North Carolina Greensboro uses a huge rotation of as many as 11 players. However only freshmen Brian Beckford (6'6, 190) and Dwayne Johnson (5'9, 180) see double figure minutes off the bench.
Johnson was a first-team All-Queens selection at Cardozo HS, averaging 10.1 points per game last season. Meanwhile, Beckford, a product of Christ the King HS, earned second-team all-city and first-team All-Queens as a senior, averaging 11.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. He was regarded as one of the Top 20 seniors in New York City last year
Meanwhile the Blue Devils will once again bring in junior guard Sean Dockery, who is coming off an MVP performance against Davidson that saw him score a career high 15 points. It was an unexpected offensive outburst for Dockery, who's been recognized in the past as one of the best on the ball defenders in the ACC. Coach K can also bring in freshman scorer DeMarcus Nelson, who didn't see much action against Davidson, but opened the year with 10 points and nine rebounds against Tennessee-Martin. Nelson's injured thumb continues to heal, and he's had trouble gripping the ball in his first two games, but as that problem continues to improve, he'll likely see an increased role in the Duke offensive system. Post reserves Reggie Love and Patrick Johnson continue to earn minutes in the early season, and should see a lot of action against the Aggies.
Duke was tested in Charlotte against Davidson, as the Wildcats not only held a seven point lead midway through the first half, but also cut a 20 point lead down to four in the second half. The Spartans have similar offensive capabilities and will hang around if the Blue Devils let them. However, that's hard to imagine with the game being back at Duke and Coach K and company having had a chance to work on the problems exposed by the Wildcats for the last week.
Look for the Blue Devils to try and put together a complete defensive effort. They'll have to as the Spartans have several players capable of scoring 20 or more if given the chance. It's a good warm up before the Michigan State Spartans come calling next week with their arsenal of athletes and scorers.
Duke should be able to pull away in the first half and earn the reserves such as Reggie Love, Patrick Johnson, Sean Dockery, and the freshmen a chance to earn more time next week in a truly big game. Given the size advantage on the interior, the Blue Devils should expect big games from the junior big men.