NCAA Preview: Duke vs. Va. Commonwealth

Previewing the Blue Devils and Rams who tip off on Thursday in the NCAA Opening Round

Duke (22-10) vs Va. Commonwealth (27-6)
Buffalo, N.Y. - NCAA First Round
7:10 p.m., CBS

Program Vitals
Conference: Colonial Athletic Association
Nickname: Rams
Colors: Black & Yellow & White
Head Coach: Anthony Grant  (1st year)
Career Record at VCU: 27-6

Projected Starters:
20 B.A. Walker (6-2, 160, Sr.) - 14.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.0 apg
 3 Eric Maynor (6-2, 165, So.) ˆ 13.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 6.3 apg
 2 Will Fameni (6-7, 240, Jr.) ˆ 9.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg
23 Jesse Pellot-Rosa (6-4, 195, Sr.) - 13.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg
24 Michael Anderson (6-7, 190, Jr.) ˆ 6.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg

Key Reserves:

24 Jamal Shuler (6-3, 180, Jr.) ˆ 8.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg
42 T.J. Gwynn (6-4, 190, Fr.) ˆ 5.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg
30 Calvin Roland (6-10, 245, Sr.) ˆ 3.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg
21 Frank Ndongo (6-7, 215, Fr.) - 1.2 ppg, 1.3 rpg

*- "VCU is a championship-level team. You have to start the tournament playing great basketball. When you play a 16 seed . . . you can beat them on talent or sometimes reputation. When you're where we're at now, you can't do that. The other team, they're not worn down. They're invigorated. They have great egos." - Mike Krzyzewski

*- "We don't have great depth and talent. We have really good talent and decent depth." - Mike Krzyzewski

*- "I'm rooting for both [Duke and VCU]. The team I root for most is Oklahoma. After that, those are my two favorite teams in college basketball." - Jeff Capel

How They Got Here:
The Rams ran through the Colonial Athletic Association this year - posting a 16-2 conference regular season winning record before battling through the CAA Tournament to claim the league's automatic bid. The Rams come into the game with Duke on a five game winning streak overall. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils enter March on a decidedly down note. Duke has already lost more games in 2006-2007 than in any year since the 1995-1996 season, and the team enters Thursday night's match up riding a three game losing streak.

Series History:
Thursday night will mark the first time the Blue Devils and Rams have played. Duke owns a 38-3 overall record against teams from the Colonial athletic association, and have not lost to a team from the CAA since William and Mary defeated Duke 85-82 in overtime during the 1952-1953 season.

Injury Report:
Jesse Pellot-Rosa suffered a sprained arch in his right foot during the CAA tournament, but played every game and is not expected to miss any time during the NCAA Tournament. Duke will get a shot in the arm with the return of freshman wing Gerald Henderson who was forced to miss the Blue Devils' opening round game against NC State in the ACC Tournament while serving a one game suspension for a flagrant foul on North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough.

Common Opponents:
The only common thread in the two schedules were the games against George Mason. The Blue Devils dispatched the Colonials in Cameron by a 69-53 margin, while the Rams swept all three games against GMU by an average score of 68-57.

Did VCU Overachieve or Were They Underrated:
With a new coach in town, the Rams were picked to finish sixth in the CAA Preseason poll, but VCU ran out to an 11-0 start in conference play and held off fellow NCAA participant Old Dominion to claim both the regular season and tournament titles. VCU defeated the Monarchs by five at home in January, but were taken to the woodshed in the return match, losing 79-63.

VCU Has Recipe For Duke's Demise:
One common thread in every Duke loss this season has been the strength of the backcourt of each oppponent who claimed victory. While the Rams' trio of guards may not have the national media attention, maybe not even the regional attention of some of the groups that have already beaten the Blue Devils - they are certainly good enough to replicate that result. Walker, Maynor, and Pellot-Rosa all earned all conference nods in the post season awards and all three have shown the ability to take over games throughout the season.

It starts on the defensive end for those players where each excels at applying pressure to opponents and forcing turnovers, which eventually lead to fast breaks and extra possessions for VCU. Maynor, who has broken the school record for assists in a season with 201 this year, is a quick guard with good floor vision who can score or dish depending on what is needed. The same is true of Walker, but Pellot-Rosa would prefer to remain on the perimeter and feast on teams collapsing on his fellow starters.

Inside the Rams rely on Fameni, an undersized power player who transferred in from Arizona State two seasons ago. At 6'7, 240 pounds Fameni can rebound and score a number of garbage points, but isn't going to create offense for himself from post moves. The other starter, Michael Anderson, is more of wing player than a power forward and will force DUke to guard from the perimteter in. The Rams' reserve post players rarely produce anything substantial, which leaves the focus of the VCU attack on the perimeter. 33 games into the season, it has been extremely successful.

Duke Needs McRoberts To Live Up To The Hype:
Having seen his NBA Draft stock sink from the lottery to the first round, big forward Josh McRoberts will enter March on a mission. The 6'10 sophomore will likely be the only big on the floor for the Blue Devils during long stretches as Duke runs a smaller lineup against the smallish Rams. McRoberts has been steady as a contributor, but has not been dominant since collecting 18 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and three steals against Boston College on February 14th. McRoberts has failed to hit greater than 50% of his field goal attempts in four of his last six games.

What Will Happen:
Duke enters the game with VCU looking to rebound from what has been a disappointing couple of weeks. The Blue Devils' last win came all the way back on February 25th. Duke will get a boost from Henderson's return and will be forced to play a smaller lineup for most of the game. Look for Nelson to draw the assignment of Maynor defensively. If Duke can break the VCU press and trapping style of offense, it should be a comfortable victory for the Blue Devils. McRoebrts should be able to score inside as well. In the end VCU will rally to make it a game late, but the talent differential should be too much to overcome.


Duke 71
Va Commonwealth 63

The Devils Den Top Stories