Princeton enters the game sporting an 8-4 record complete with wins over Davidson (80-78 OT) and Bucknell (61-48), who just bested Pittsburgh last week. Aside from those victories, the Tigers have played Syracuse tough and lost to Temple by a basket. The calling card remains tough defense and disciplined offense, as the Tigers are scoring 55 points per game while surrendering just 53.
This year's group has lofty goals as many expect them to roll through the Ivy League for a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Returning the entire roster, save one starter, from a 13-1 conference team last year, the Tigers know that anything less than another bid to the Big Dance will be considered a disappointment.
C- Judson Wallace (6'10, 240, SR) – Wallace entered his final year as one of the top contenders for Ivy League Player of the Year honors after posting over 15 points and six rebounds last season. A true center, Wallace shoot better than 50 percent from the floor, but has also shown the ability to step out and knock down perimeter jumpers comfortably. He's also comfortable operating in the post, where he has a good array of post and back to the basket moves. Still, he's not a terrific athlete by any stretch, and that limits him against bigger or faster opponents.
This year he's converted 15-of-44 from the perimeter for 34%, while hitting for 14.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest. Last year he was guarded by Duke's Shelden Williams, who held him to just seven points and six rebounds as the Blue Devils won by 18.
Match Up: This year Williams and Wallace will match up again, only with Wallace having more help inside. Meanwhile Duke is down to one capable player in the post, and should Williams pick up cheap fouls early, it could allow Wallace room to operate in the post without worry. Last season Williams was slowed by a first half injury that limited him to just 19 minutes in which he scored just six points along with seven rebounds.
G/F- Noah Savage (6'5, 215, FR) – Savage came to Princeton with the reputation as a jack of all trades. So far he's been able to do the little things that coaches love all over the court. At nearly 6'6 he's long enough to bother shooters and gritty enough to mix it up inside, though he's not a terrific rebounder. Instead he picks his spots and will pick up the loose balls and garbage points, but isn't considered a major offensive threat at this point in his young career.
Still, he can hit the open three pointer (20-of-47 40%) and understands the game plan. Despite being just a freshman, Savage is turning the ball over just once per game while shooting 80% from the free throw line. Where his inexperience shows is at the defensive end where he's picking up over four personal fouls per game, and 49 in just 12 games.
Match Up: Duke will likely go with 6'7 junior Lee Melchionni, who is coming off a big performance against Clemson where he hit a pair a crucial three pointers to keep Duke within striking distance when the rest of the offense was staggering. It will be the junior's first career start, and he'll be called on to once again look for his offense while helping out on the glass.
G/F- Matt Sargeant (6'4, 195, FR) – Another freshman who battled his way into the starting lineup after Luke Owings went down and then to the bench, Sargeant played a career high 33 minutes against Davidson, but was ineffective from the field, scoring just one point. Where he makes up for it is handling the ball. With great size and good fundamentals, he's given Princeton an extra ball handler and tough defender.
Still, the lack of offensive production is cause for concern, especially for a team that averages just over 50 points per game. Then again he is the team's fifth option on offense. However, he did score a career high 14 against Monmouth on New Year's Eve, earning him a look in the starting line up against Davidson.
Match Up: Using his size, Sargeant will have the chance to check the ACC's top scorer in J.J. Redick. Redick is coming off a terrible first half against Clemson, but was still able to score a game high 24 points after hitting for 20 in the second half. Perhaps the most noticeable change in Redick was his willingness to rebound after Reggie Love went down with an injury, something many hadn't seen out of the junior sharp shooter. He'll certainly need to do more of that going forward.
G- Will Venable (6'3, 200, SR) – Another contender for conference Player of the Year honors, Venable enters the game as Princeton's most versatile player. He's second on the team in scoring (10.8), rebounding (5.0), and leads the Tigers in assists (2.8) and steals. All while shooting nearly 53% from the field.
Though a talented scorer, Venable isn't going to beat your from the perimeter. Instead he prefers to post up smaller opponents and go to the basket with power moves. If his defender is a bigger player, he'll simply take him outside and penetrate to the basket where plays strong in the air and can finish. In short he's a mid-major version of Duke's DeMarcus Nelson.
Match Up: Duke will counter with senior combo guard Daniel Ewing, who struggled to find his offensive rhythm against Clemson. After that 10 point (4-of-14 FG), it's hard to believe the former ACC Tournament MVP will continue to struggle with his offensive game. Perhaps that's because, quite frankly, Duke can't afford for him to have many off nights.
G- Scott Greenman (5'9, 165, JR) – the team's defacto point guard and also the best three point shooter on the roster, and one of the top in the conference, Greenman has struggled this year with defenders keying in on him. Without great rise on his jumper, he's having more and more trouble getting his shot off, resulting in just a 32% shooting clip so far this season. Despite the troubles shooting the basketball, Greenman has continued to perform as a solid on the ball defender, averaging nearly 1.5 steals per game and he takes care of the ball, with a 2.5/1 assist to turnover ratio.
Match Up: Duke will counter with Sean Dockery, who is suffering from a hip flexor sustained in practice last week. Despite the injury, Dockery seemed ready to go against Clemson and played a serviceable role against the Tigers. Wednesday night his quickness and defensive prowess will put Greenman to the test. At times this year Dockery's ability to get a steal and take off for the basket have proven to be sparks for Duke. Against Princeton's slow paced style of play, it'll be critical.
The Tigers don't employ a very deep bench, but do make use of center Mike Stephens, a 6'10, 250lbs senior who has size, but isn't a gifted athlete and hasn't recorded more than five rebounds in a game over the last three seasons. Aside from Stephens, Princeton can call on Luke Owings, a 6'6 slashing forward who is averaging just under six points and four rebounds per game. Then there is 6'1 sophomore guard Max Schafer, who is a better defender than offensive player.
Match Up: The Duke bench, which was considered serviceable a few weeks ago, is now down to the bare minimum as far as what's available. Gone is Reggie Love, the team's second best option at power forward, and gone is 6'11 240lbs Shavlik Randolph from the starting line up. That leaves just David McClure and DeMarcus Nelson as Division One players. Nelson is, arguably, the team's second best rebounder even when the entire roster is healthy. His high level of athleticism and long wingspan allow him to battle inside as well as many bigger players. His offense has struggled early on, however. Then there is 6'10, 230lbs walk on Patrick Johnson, who is learning in a trial by fire role as a big body with five fouls and the ability to take up space and spell Williams.
The good news for Duke fans is simple: It's highly unlikely that this group can play much worse than they did against Clemson on the offensive end. Another ray of sunshine was the defensive effort, which held those Tigers to just 32% shooting on the night. A similar defensive effort and an improved offensive showing should allow the Blue Devils their 10th consecutive victory on the year. Continuing to shake off any rust and keeping everyone healthy should be the top priorities on Wednesday.