Meet the Rockets:
C- Allen Pinson: (6'10, 235): Considered a project out of high school, Pinson fell in love with facing the basket throughout high school before coming to school and manning the post for the Rockets. While he's struggled with the offensive end, the sophomore has the physical tools to make an impact against any opponent thanks to a terrific wingspan and good athleticism.
Still, he hasn't lost the ability to face the basket and pull his man away from the hoop, and has shown the ability to hit the perimeter jumper when given the chance (67%). He's also a good rebounder and can use his length on both the backboards and when blocking shots.
Match Up: If the Blue Devils can feed Shelden Williams early, it'll be a long afternoon for Pinson inside. Williams has far too much strength and power to be bothered by this lanky opponent. However, Pinson has proven smart and hasn't been in foul trouble throughout the year. Edge: Duke
PF- Floretino Valencia (6'5, 240): Built like a tree stump., Valencia was considered one of the best 125 prospects in the country in the class of 2002 by most recruiting services. The reason he didn't get more high major attention was his lack of height. Still, that hasn't stopped him from stepping in and working himself into a tremendous player for the Rockets.
Through the first four games he's leading the team in scoring (15.5) and rebounding (7.0) while shooting 57% from the field. However he's also had tremendous struggles at the free throw line, hitting just 10-of-21 attempts on the season. Still, he's proven himself to be a very good inside presence for the Rockets, who understands positioning and physicality while maintaining control over his fouls.
Match Up: The Blue Devils will go in a different direction on Saturday, starting 6'6 205lbs David McClure at the power forward position in place of 6'10, 240lbs Shavlik Randolph. While Randolph would be more likely to present a defensive problem for Valencia, his inconsistent play has relegated him to a back up role at this point in the season. Meanwhile McClure has exceeded expectations, playing well defensively and always seeming to come up with loose balls on the court. Against Valencia, the freshman will face a stiff test as he'll certainly be out-muscled inside, but will still need to help out Williams on the board and with help defense. Hopefully Randolph will respond positively and earn some minutes. Edge: Toledo
G- Sammy Villegas (6'6, 210): Despite having the perfect frame to become a big time slashing guard, Villegas has fallen in love with the three pointer. To his credit he's been successful from the perimeter in the past, and actually made three per game last year. However, when the shots aren't falling it really takes away from his overall offensive game.
That's been the story this year as he's averaging just 10 points per game while shooting a dreadful 29.7% from the field and just 32% from the perimeter. He's also been reluctant to crash the boards, and that lack of aggressive play, along with the Rockets' terrific depth, has limited his minutes.
Match Up: Villegas will have the job of checking Duke's leading scorer, J.J. Redick to start on Sunday. That's proven difficult for each opponent this year as Redick has continued to score from all over the court, and has recently begun to find his range from the perimeter. Edge: Duke
G- Keith Triplett (6'3, 185): After a brilliant junior season, Triplett has established himself as one of, if not the, premier players in the MAC. At least that was the thinking heading into the season. With a game that resembles Duke's Daniel Ewing, the 6'3, 185 pounder scorched opponents for 20 points, five rebounds, and four assists last year while breaking down any opponent he faced.
However this year the word is out and Triplett has been the focus of opposing defenses. The attention has resulted in the senior scoring 14.5 points per game while grabbing four rebounds and handing out five assists. Not bad numbers, until you arrive at his perimeter shooting, which has been woefully bad (12%). However the Toledo coaching staff believes their senior leader is too good of a shooter to be in a rut for long, and a break out could be forthcoming.
Match Up: If Triplett resembles Daniel Ewing, then he'll get to see how he matches up with the real thing on Sunday as the Blue Devil senior has seen his role expanded from just a converted point guard to more of a combo guard with the improvement of junior Sean Dockery. It's a more comfortable role for the senior, who has shown the ability to drive and hit from the perimeter while breaking out from the shadow of fellow scorer Redick. Defensively, Ewing is still considered one of Duke's top on the ball options, and watching him against Triplett will likely determine if the Rockets will make a game or be blown out early. Edge: Slightly Duke
G- Justin Ingram 6'2, 180: The sophomore floor general has a full season of starting experience under his belt and has developed into a reliable ball handler for the Rocket offense. Still, he's had trouble staying in front of opposing guards on the defensive end, and has had problems with his jump shooting so far this year, shooting just 32% from the field and 33% from the perimeter.
Match Up: Ingram will have to continue to take care of the ball in a big way when he's checked by Duke's top on the ball defender, Sean Dockery. The 6'2 junior has really improved over last year, showing the ability to knock down the outside shot and continuing his high intensity defense, while limiting his fouls. It's precisely what the Blue Devils need from him, and to this point he's delivered. While Dockery isn't likely to score in droves, he could throw an early wrench in the Rocket offense by pressuring the ball and not allowing the ball to be worked around for open looks.
One luxury the Rockets have is depth, though not as much as originally budgeted for in the preseason. Still, the Rockets have three players averaging 14 or more minutes in reserve duty led by 6'4, 220lbs wing Keonta Howell. Howell's rock solid frame allows him to bull through smaller opponents, but he's also got a good looking jumper from the perimeter (43%) when given an open look. 5'9, 160lbs Kashif Payne provides relief for Ingram at the point guard spot, while 6'7, 235lbs Kareem Milson relieves the front court primarily.
Meanwhile the Blue Devil bench has a new look with Randolph likely replacing David McClure in this week's lineup. That addition of the 6'10, 240lbs junior forward means the Blue Devils can elect to go big or spell Williams with another potentially solid scorer inside. In addition, Duke got more good news last week as freshman DeMarcus Nelson shook off some rust accumulated from an injured thumb to score a career best 17 points against Valparaiso. His improvement and continued scoring punch will eventually push him closer and closer to a starting role. Senior Reggie Love has stepped in early and provided help inside for the Devils despite some serious foul trouble.
Toledo's guards have mostly struggled in the early season, leading to the 1-3 start. If the outside shots start falling in a big way, then the Rockets become an extremely dangerous team who could give the Blue Devils a scare. However the inside presence of Williams will likely prove too much, while the ball pressure applied by Duke's guards won't allow the Rockets too many open looks, which has spelled disaster for them against much lesser opponents to date.
As has been the key to date, the Blue Devils will look to get production off the bench in spots, and hope that Randolph will react positively in his new role and enter the game with renewed fire and vigor, as he should have a chance to do some damage inside for the Blue Devils.
Toledo - 71