Preview: Duke (7-0) vs. Oklahoma (6-1)

The Blue Devils travel to Madison Square Garden on Saturday for what could be their toughest test of the season against Oklahoma. The Sooners started strong last year, jumping out to a 10-0 record before faltering down the stretch, eventually landing in the NIT thanks to some key injuries. This year the Sooners are once again starting strong, and this time they are healthy.

Despite being healthy, the Blue Devils will see the Sooners without 6'6, 210lbs reserve scoring guard Brandon Foust, who will not travel with the team due to personal issues off the court. So far this season Foust had averaged just 2.8 points, 1.0 rebounds, and 1.0 assists while playing nearly 12 minutes a game for the Sooners.

Still, the Sooners aren't without weapons and have proven as much while racing out to a 6-1 record on the year, with the only loss coming at No. 23 Washington, 96-91, back on November 26th. Since then Oklahoma has won four straight including wins over Minnesota and Purdue.

Meet The Sooners:

Starting Lineup

Kevin Bookout (6'8, 260lbs JR): Bookout has earned the reputation as a workhorse during his time in college, albeit a fragile one. After finishing second to Shelden Williams for most post season honors as a senior in high school, Bookout went on to a freshman season that saw him average nearly 10 points and six rebounds per night. However, injuries limited him to just 13 games last season. This year he's back into form, healthy, and averaging 13.7 points and six rebounds per game for the Sooners.

The scouting report on the big Oklahoma native is simple: He's a huge load inside who is very smart on the offensive end. He's not going to take a bad shot, and he loves to bang and get positions on the interior where he can finish with either hand. One thing he lacks is superior quickness, but he compensates for that by staying home and not attempting to force the offense. On the boards he could be better, especially given his size, but he's a capable rebounder.

Match Up: Bookout will be reunited with Williams, who has evolved into one of the nation's top big men. Coming off another dominating performance against Illinois-Chicago, Williams will be called upon to once again give Duke the needed inside attack to fuel the outside barrage. The 6'9, 255lbs junior will need to be on the court, and avoid fouls, for a good amount of minutes against the Sooners as they can go deep into their bench with quality big men. Advantage: Duke

F- Taj Gray (6'9, 235lbs, JR): Last season Gray was tearing up any and all competition on the junior college circuit, where he was the runner-up in the NJCAA's National Player of the Year balloting last season at Redlands (Okla.) Community College after averaging 18.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.3 blocked shots as a sophomore while leading his team to a 35-2 record.

This year he's made a smooth transition for the Sooner and enters Saturday's game as the team's best scorer and leading rebounder. While he's not going to wow you with superior athleticism, Gray has shown that he's one of those players who just knows how to win. So far he's scoring 14.0 points per game while pulling in seven rebounds, and he's shooting 59% from the floor and 73% from the free throw line. Gray is also a good defensive player, averaging nearly two blocks per game.

Match Up: Duke will send out Shavlik Randolph, who has seen his stock rise and fall throughout the season. The 6'11, 245lbs Raleigh native has shown flashes of the player many expected out of high school, and yet he still seems tentative at other times. The Blue Devils may not need him to score in droves, but they will need him to stay on the floor and play good defense (averaging nearly three blocks per game). Randolph would also benefit from some early baskets falling for him, which could provide the confidence he needs to become more assertive. Advantage: Oklahoma

F- Terrell Everett (6'4, 185lbs JR): Yet another JUCO transfer on the roster, Everett is a converted point guard who made the transition to the wing once arriving on campus. As a sophomore in the JUCO ranks, he averaged 19.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.7 steals.

Despite his lanky frame, Everett is a smooth guard who can get to the rim and finish if given the chance. He's also "sneaky strong" and can crash the boards as well as many bigger players. So far he's hit for 12.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game despite struggling (6-of-18) from the perimeter. Defensively he's got a nose for the ball and good quickness, which makes him a threat to steal any errant dribbles.

Match Up: Everett's quickness and length should provide an interesting match up for Duke's J.J. Redick. The team's leading scorer at over 21 points per contest, Redick will be key for the Blue Devils in MSG. If he can get free by running his defenders off screens, the 6'4 junior will be able to have enough open looks to catch fire. Given Oklahoma's willingness to play a physical game, Redick may also benefit by a number of trips to the line thanks to this year's ability to drive to the basket. Advantage: Duke

G- Jaison Williams: (6'3, 181lbs SR): Sticking with the JUCO theme, the Sooners start Williams at the shooting guard position. Better known for his defensive abilities than his offense, Williams makes his living on the free thrown line first (92%), and would much prefer to be there than taking jumpers where he's failed to really catch fire at the Division One level (32% from the perimeter).

Despite the poor outside shooting numbers, Williams has a textbook jumper and the ability to get hot from the perimeter, though he needs a bit more time to get his feet set and get off a good shot. One thing he has improved on is his midrange game where he can "stop and pop" going in either direction.

Match Up: The Blue Devils will counter with combo guard Daniel Ewing, who has made a solid conversion to the team's lead guard role, albeit with some reservations. Ewing's scoring ability is still there, but he's had some trouble with his handle at times, but is slowly getting the hang of that. He's also learning when to defer to teammates and when to attack the basket and look for his shot, which is tough for a guard who was given the green light so frequently earlier in his career. Advantage: Duke

G- Drew Lavender (5'7, 153lbs SO): To be just over five and a half feet tall and on the roster of a major program takes talent. To be the team's starting point guard and the top returning scorer takes a whole lot more. That's the case with Lavender who has made use of his quickness and basketball IQ to become one of the nation's toughest match ups.

A capable shooter from the perimeter (38% as a freshman and 44% this year), Lavender excels at pushing the ball up the court and can turn the corner on nearly anyone he faces. He's certainly the quickest and most elusive players Duke will have seen this year. Another 90 plus percent shooter from the foul line, Lavender's ability to get into the lane and kick out or dish off, will prove key to the Sooners' offense. If he can get inside and force the defense to collapse, it'll result in precarious positions for the Duke front court, which could lead to foul trouble.

Match Up: Sean Dockery, Duke's best on the ball defender will get his shot at containing Lavender. Dockery has curbed his foul rate this year and has dramatically improved his jumpshot, hitting over 60% from the field on the year. Much of that comes from improved shot selection and decision making. Still, against Oklahoma he'll likely see more ball handling responsibilities as well as take the initial task of keep Lavender in front of him. Advantage: Slightly Oklahoma


The loss of Foust takes away some of the Sooners' depth on the wing, but head coach Kelvin Sampson still has enough fire power on the pine to make things rough on most teams, including Duke. The first scoring option off the bench is usually Lawrence McKenzie, a 6'2, 175lbs senior who is one of the team's top three point shooters (48%). Freshman David Godbold provides depth on the wing and can score from the perimeter or off the dribble. In the post, 6'8, 225lbs Johnnie Gilbert (2.8 pts, 2.7 rbs), a left handed post presence has filled in admirably so far this season after starting the final half of last year and proving to be a good defender and capable offensive threat inside. Freshman Longer Longer, a 6'11 220lbs native of the Sudan is considered a project with good upside.

The Blue Devils can't match Oklahoma for size, but the bench has been a surprising factor early on this year. Freshman DeMarcus Nelson continues to rebound after a thumb injury robbed the 6'3, 195lbs freshman of his first preseason. The results have steadily improved as Nelson has shown the ability to get to the rim repeatedly while also hitting the boards hard. Once his thumb is completely healthy, and he can grip the ball, Nelson will likely re-discover his jumpshot, adding yet another way to score. David McClure, a 6'6 freshman has proven to be a capable defender and heady rebounder, while providing a few acrobatic layups, and midrange jumpers here and there. Senior Reggie Love continues to get his basketball legs under him, and has proven useful in spelling the big guys off the bench. Rounding out the rotation is 6'7 junior forward Lee Melchionni, who has improved his jump shooting and rebounding to earn time as a back up wing and spot big forward.

Match Up: Duke has more scoring punch and potential off the bench, but Oklahoma has more size. The key for Duke will be to keep the starting front court healthy and out of foul trouble, while pressuring the less talented Oklahoma backcourt into mistakes. If the game turns into a physical battle inside, Duke has a problem with only Love able to compete inside, and he's just 6'5. If Duke can hide that weakness, and keep Williams and Randolph in the game and on a high level, then it's a big advantage for Duke. Another aspect to consider is that Oklahoma can send Williams and Randolph to the line quite frequently…both need to hit their free throws.

Bottom Line:

This is certainly a mine field game for Duke. On a national stage in Madison Square Garden, the Blue Devils need a win to keep positive momentum heading into the ACC season. The key to the game will be Williams' ability to operate inside and own the paint on both ends of the floor. If he plays well and doesn't get into foul trouble, it'll open a lot of doors for Duke including open looks from the perimeter for Redick, who is looking like an All-American more and more. Should Oklahoma get the Duke interior into early foul trouble, it'll be a tight game with the Sooners seeming to have a real shot at knocking off the Blue Devils. Duke will need another scoring threat aside from the big three of Williams, Ewing, and Redick; the most likely candidates are Randolph and Nelson, both of whom have yet to have that huge break out performance this year. There's certainly no better place than Madison Square Garden.


Oklahoma- 81

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