Preview: Duke (4-0) vs. Valparaiso (0-3)

With Michigan State behind them, the Blue Devils return to action Saturday against Valparaiso in Chicago. Last season Duke went on a three point barrage, hitting 15-of-26 perimeter jumpers en route to a blow out 97-63 at Cameron last year. This year the Devils travel to Chicago for the rematch. <i>TheDevilsDen.com</i> previews the match up.

Coming off back to back losses for the first time in years, the Blue Devils got some relief by pounding Valpo behind a balanced attack. The game also served as a wake up call for several Blue Devils including Shavlik Randolph, who scored 16 points, and added five rebounds and four blocks in the victory.

This year with Randolph again struggling to find his offensive role, the Blue Devils hope the game with the Crusaders can once again prove to be a starting point for a big run from several key players.

Valpo enters the game with three losses in three games including an 85-71 loss to Charlotte on November 27th. This team is not without its share of veterans, however the talent level isn't what it once was. The fact that the game is in the United Center will likely negate any perceived home court advantage coach Homer Drew may have hoped for.

Meet the Crusaders

Starting Lineup:

C- Kenny Harris (6'10, 310): Harris is a space eater in every sense of the word. Coming to school weighing more than 400 pounds, he's put in the time on the treadmill and has slimmed down to 310 pounds to start the season. As with any player who is playing his way into shape, Harris isn't going to log a ton of minutes without needed breaks on the bench, and that's proven true this year as he's only averaging 20 minutes per game.

In that time he's pulling down just over six rebounds while scoring eight points. Still, when on the floor Harris has proven effective inside. It'll certainly be the biggest opponent the Blue Devils are likely to face this year, which will force Shelden Williams to do more than try and over power his opponent.

Edge: Duke

PF- Dan Oppland (6'8, 225): Oppland is described as a poor man's version of former Georgia Tech power forward Ed Nelson. He's a 6'8 bruiser who compensates for any perceived athleticism problems by out-working his opponents and making hustle plays.

Last year Oppland led the team in scoring (15.7) and rebounding (7.2), while shooting 55% from the field and 78% from the free throw line. This year he's been getting more help from his teammates all around, which has produced a drop in his overall numbers (11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds), but he's still capable of making defenses who get lazy pay for it.

Against Duke Oppland will be facing a player who is unquestionably more talented in Shavlik Randolph. However, Randolph has struggled to be consistent this season on the offensive end, scoring just four points against Michigan State in the last outing. Last year Randolph had a strong game against Oppland, hitting the perimeter jumper and matching his hustle. Will it be a similar spark for the 6'10 Raleigh native this year?

Edge: Push

SF- Ron Howard (6'5, 185): Opie's namesake has struggled with several injuries since transferring from Marquette two years ago. Still he's managed to finally find his nitch in the Valpo offense and has quietly become the team's most versatile scorer.

Through three games he's tied for the team lead in points (12.3 per game) and has helped out on the boards (3.0), and with the passing game (1.7) while shooting 47% from the field and 38% from the perimeter. With a long frame and superb quickness, Howard's job will likely center on staying with Duke's J.J. Redick for much of the afternoon.

That's a tough task as Redick is coming off a terrific 29 point performance that keyed a Duke rally against the Spartans. After struggling with his perimeter jumper early on, Redick hit five of his first seven three point attempts while also driving to the basket to score in a variety of ways.

Edge: Duke

SG- Jimmie Miles (6'2, 185): Miles comes off a solid freshman season that yielded nearly seven points per game. After ranked in the top five overall for prospects in the state of Illinois in the class of 2003 and a top 120 prospect overall, Miles has begun to thrive under coach Homer Drew.

A quick two guard who has worked on his jumper, Miles is leading the team in scoring (12.3), while adding four rebounds per game. He's also shooting 42% from the field and 39% from the three point line. And, if you send him to the line, he'll convert with Redick like accuracy (91%).

Defensively Miles is still learning the game, which will probably translate into a learning session Saturday against Duke's Daniel Ewing. The 6'3 senior guard, who is making the transition to combo guard this year, is Duke's leading scorer and best overall player according to most analysts. After scoring 29 against Michigan State, including hitting a key three pointer with time winding down, Ewing has solidified himself as Duke's go-to-guy.

Edge: Duke

PG- Miguel Ali Berdiel (6'6, 210): Valparaiso's answer to Shaun Livingston, Berdiel is a true point guard in a very big frame. Unfortunately for the Crusaders he's struggled early on this year despite having high expectations coming into his senior campaign.

He didn't play in the Crusaders' loss to Charlotte after starting the first two games. In those two games he scored eight points per contest while handing out 4.5 assists per contest. However those solid numbers look, they don't tell the whole tale as Berdiel was also turning the ball over and amazing 7.0 times per game, good enough for a 1/1.6 assist to turnover ratio.

With trouble handling the ball, Berdiel will need drastic improvement against Duke's Sean Dockery, who excels at on the ball pressure defense. While Dockery's offensive game is slowly progressing, his value to Duke has been immeasurable this season thanks to a more confident approach to the floor.

With an eye on the future it wouldn't be overly surprising to see Dockery given the green light to shoot by Mike Kryzewski.

Slight Edge: Duke

Bench:

The Crusaders go with a young, but talented group off the bench headlined by four freshmen. Aris Williams (6'9 215) is a talented power forward, Jarryd Lloyd is a point guard who started in place of Berdiel against Charlotte, Shawn Huff is combo guard, and Vincent Humphrey is a 6'4, 200 lbs scoring guard. Sophomore big forward Moussa Mbayne brings international experience after being the captain of Senegal's national team.

Meanwhile the Duke bench is short on bodies, but perhaps long on talent. Junior forward Lee Melchionni has been an unexpected spark off the bench, able to hit three pointers and rebound to an extent. Senior Reggie Love fouled out in four minutes against Michigan State, but can bring toughness and athleticism to the interior despite his 6'5 frame. Freshmen DeMarcus Nelson and David McClure have shown flashes of being very good, but both have been hampered by inexperience early on, while Nelson has suffered through a town ligament and cumbersome brace on his shooting hand.

Slight Advantage: Duke

Bottom Line:

In three games against solid competition, Valparaiso has come away with three losses by an average of 15 points per loss. While Charlotte, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati are all very good programs, none are the caliber of the Blue Devils. Duke should win this game comfortably, and have the result secured by mid way in the second half at worst. If that becomes the case, it would be good for the Blue Devils to get Randolph, Dockery, Nelson, and McClure some touches on the offensive end as none of the four have yet to have the kind of break out game that sparks a strong season.

The key for Duke will be to go out with intensity and not play down to the level of their competition, which has been a problem for several high major teams this year already. Valpo is capable of pulling off the upset, but it would take a tremendous performance by the Crusaders and less than Duke's best game.

In the end it'll be a nice home-coming for Sean Dockery, who lit up the Chicago area prep scene for four years at Julian High School.

Prediction:

Duke-101
Valparaiso- 67


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