6 Duke (10-1) vs. 22 Gonzaga (9-3)
New York, N.Y. - Madison Square Garden
9:00 p.m., ESPN2
Program Vitals Conference: West Coast Conference Nickname: Bulldogs Colors: Blue and Red Head Coach: Mark Few (8th year) Career Record at Gonzaga: 197-44
Projected Starters: 2 Jeremy Pargo (6-2, 215, So.) – 11.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.1 apg 5 Derek Raivio (6-3, 175, Sr.) – 20.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 47% 3PT 42 Josh Heytvelt (6-11, 235, So.) – 16.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg 15 Matt Bouldin (6-5, 210, Fr.) – 8.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.9 apg 25 David Pendergraft (6-6, 218, Jr.) – 5.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg Key Reserves: 4 Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes (6-0, 181, Jr.) – 5.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.8 apg 31 Abdullahi Kuso (6-9, 220, Jr.) – 5.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg 32 Sean Mallon (6-9, 218, Sr.) – 7.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg
How They Got Here: Duke enters Saturday's game with an 10-1 overall record and riding a six game winning streak. After a ten day lay-off, the Bleu Devils beat Kent State 79-72 at home on Tuesday night to earn victory number 10 behind a combined 54 points from Josh McRoberts, Jon Scheyer, and DeMarcus Nelson. Meanwhile the Bulldogs enter Madison Square Garden looking to rebound after suffering their third loss of the season, 96-83 to Georgia. In that game Georgia forced 21 Gonzaga turnovers (and converted them into 30 points) while controlling the tempo and holding Coach Few's team at arms distance the entire night as Georgia's lead would grow no smaller than seven points throughout the second half.
Thursday's game will be the first time the two programs have met. The Blue Devils have a 7-1 overall record against teams from the West Coast Conference.
A Year Too Late:
The long awaited match up between Gonzaga and Duke is coming a year too late according to most college hoop fans. Last season the two teams showcased the nation's most effective scorers in the form of J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison who waged a battle for the national scoring title.
Not Afraid Of The Big Boys:
In the last decade the Bulldogs have built a reputation of a power program on the West Coast. After losing Co-National Player of the Year Adam Morrison a season ago, along with J.P. Batista many expected the team to take a step backwards this season. Instead this year's group has continued their winning ways against the "big time" programs, already boasting impressive victories over #2 North Carolina (82-74), #8 Washington (97-77), and #25 Texas (87-77) this season.
A Trememndous Backcourt Test:
In their only loss of the season, the Blue Devils' defense was routinely and easily shred by Marquette's backcourt led by Wooden AWard candidate Dominic James. Since that time Duke has made efforts to improve the overall defense on opposing guards, which has corresponded with starting point guard Greg Paulus becomming healthier as time passes. A true test will come in the Garden against a group led by 6'3 senior scoring guard Derek Raivo (20.3 ppg). After serving as a secondary option to Morrison last year, Raivo has upped his scoring by nearly 10 full points per game this season while moving into more of a combo guard role that he shares with sophomore Jeremy Pargo. After scoring less than three points per game last year as a freshman reserve, Pargo has stepped up his production in a big way and has allowed Coach Few a chance to increase the Bulldogs' skill at fending off pressure defenses.
Will Duke's defense be up to such a test?
One of the hallmarks of Duke's early season success was the defensive pressure the Blue Devils had been able to assert on their oppponents. However, in two games this season (Marquette and Kent State), Duke has struggled mightily against teams with high quality guards that are able to penetrate and create their own offense - something the Zags have little trouble in accomplishing. The difference between the Golden Flashes, Golden Eagles, and Gonzaga is that Coach Few's team probably has more overall weapons than either of the previous two and Duke will not have the same margin for error.
Few Wants More From The Middle:
Sophomore big man Josh Heytvelt has been solid this season on the stats sheet (16.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg), but his peformance against Georgia drew the ire of his head coach. Even though he scored 15 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, Few wants his big man to work inside more than out. "Josh can shoot from out there, but we need more of a post presence from him," Few said. "Sean Mallon was active in the post against Georgia, but for us to win we need a contribution from everybody down there."
Coach K Looking For More Offense:
After Duke's struggles on the offensive end through the first 10 games, head coach Mike Krzyzewski has gone back to the drawing board in hopes of establishing an increased points per game number.
"I think the most obvious change for our team is to establish DeMarcus (Nelson) and Josh (McRoberts) with a number of shots and a number of touches and have Jon and Marty (Pocius) stretch defenses," said Krzyzewski this week. "We can't do all those things right away. The main thing we've tried to do in a limited amount of time is to try to establish a few better things for Josh and DeMarcus."
Before scoring 79 points against Kent State on Tuesday, season Duke was averaging an ACC worst 68.2 points per game - a full 5.1 points below 11th place Virginia Tech. Oddly enough, the Blue Devils were the conference's best perimeter shooting team at 43.4%. The Kent State game saw a more pronounced perimeter attack with Duke converting 8-of-17 attempts (47.1%), which opened the middle of the floor for sophomore Josh McRoberts, who put together his best game as a Blue Devil, and DeMarcus Nelson who remained steady with 18 points and six rebounds.
Another interesting statistic is that no Blue Devil player that attempted four or more shots on Tuesday shot less than 50% from the floor.
Throughout the season Josh McRoberts' overall play has been a mystery to most anyone who has followed Duke. While many hope that he will be come a consistent 17 point per game scoring threat, the reality is that McRoberts may be more suited to be stat sheet stuffer than just a scorer. Tuesday night he made such a case with 19 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 6 blocked shots in 36 minutes of action.
What Will Happen?:
For all the positives on the offensive end Tuesday night at home, the Blue Devils had serious trouble shaking off any kind of rust from the holiday season. In the same breath, Gonzaga struggled in their return to the court with a 13 point loss to Georgia. Duke's young roster will have to see if they can block out the relief of returning home for the holidays while also continuing to shake off the rust that was so evident against Kent State. On top of all that, they will be facing the best team they've faced all season long - and one that won't care about the name on the jersey. Gonzaga has already proven capable of beating anyone they step on the floor with and they've already downed better teams this season. Duke will need big games from Nelson, McRoberts, and Scheyer - and they'll need Greg Paulus to play well. If one of those things doesn't happen, Duke could be in trouble. In the end the Blue Devils will battle hard, but Gonzaga's back court will rule the day and Duke will learn a final lesson before they break for Christmas.