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November 29, 2005Duke will carry the ACC banner into Bloomington's Assembly Hall tonight as the Devils meet Indiana in the climax game of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
This event has been very kind to Duke in its six year history, as the Devils have claimed a victory each year.
The goal tonight is to add Indiana to their list of victims, which currently consists of Illinois (1999, 2000), Michigan State (2003, 2004), Iowa (2001), and Ohio State (2002).
The Hoosiers will be playing for the fifth time in the event. The Hoosiers have compiled a 2-2 mark, with wins over North Carolina (2001) and Maryland (2002) and losses to Wake Forest (2003) and North Carolina (2004).
The IU team Duke faces tonight is being billed by Hoosier head coach Mike Davis as the best of his Indiana teams, including the 2002 squad that upended Duke in the Sweet 16 and went on to play in the national title game against Maryland.
The Hoosiers are averaging better than 100 points per game with an up tempo style of play, however it's fair to point out that the offensive outbursts haven't exactly come against top flight competition.
Indiana's three wins over Nicholls State, Florida A&M, and Western Illinois don't exactly generate talk of a national title, but it's impossible to ignore the personnel Davis possesses.
The presence of Auburn transfer Marco Killingsworth has given Indiana a dominating, athletic presence under the basket.
Though a couple of inches shorter than Shelden Williams, Killingsworth will be a challenging matchup for The Landlord.
Killingsworth's 20 points and 10 rebounds per game averages are impressive regardless of the competition, especially considering he's played on average less than 30 minutes per contest in IU's first three outings.
He certainly doesn't do the job alone, as Indiana has two other starters, Marshall Strickland (19.3) and Robert Vaden (14.0), averaging well into double figures.
Each team will be missing a key component to their scheme. Indiana is playing without forward D.J. White who has a broken foot, while Duke will be minus DeMarcus Nelson, who suffered an ankle injury in the NIT semifinals against Drexel.
Indiana is expected to welcome back guard A.J. Ratliff, who has been out with an injured thumb but has been cleared to play with a soft cast that will allow him to handle the ball without any discomfort.
It's a matchup of two of the most storied programs in college basketball and a rare opportunity to see Duke in a non-ACC road environment.
Assembly Hall is sure to be exploding with excitement as organizations on campus are calling for all fans to wear white to the game to create an impressive scene for the ESPN national television audience.
Here's Devils Illustrated's list of what to watch for as the Devils look to stay unbeaten and move to 6-0 on the season:
The big men
Killingsworth and Williams. This should be fun to watch. Williams has deservedly received several preseason All-America honors, but Killingsworth shouldn't be too far removed from that consideration.
Neither player can afford to get in foul trouble. Killingsworth is still missing a potent sidekick with White out of action and Williams needs to be in the game to provide stability in the lane for the Devils, who are still waiting on a breakout game from freshman Josh McRoberts.
Without Williams, Duke wouldn't have beaten Memphis for the NIT title. While he may not need another 30 point outing, he will need to be very productive down low for Duke to get the win.
Indiana is pushing the tempo this year, a deviation in style from most of Mike Davis' past teams. Their lineup is small but athletic, with starters ranging from 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-8.
Normally, Duke would welcome the challenge from an opponent that wanted to run up and down the floor, but this time it may be different.
Mike Krzyzewski has yet to utilize for extended minutes some of the youth available to him on the bench. With Nelson out, Duke played just seven players in the Memphis game.
If Coach K wasn't comfortable with Eric Boateng and Jamal Boykin at Madison Square Garden, it's hard to imagine them all off a sudden getting major time at Indiana.
The Devils answered this challenge last year very well, defying logic by overachieving with a short bench. With a backcourt of Sean Dockery, Greg Paulus, and J.J. Redick that is in great shape, it's probably not smart to doubt them.
Will Duke try to force more of a half court tempo for at least part of the game? The answer to that question likely depends on how the game begins and what type of foul situation exists as the contest progresses.
For the most part though, it should be a fast paced game, as both teams generally will be looking to make things happen in transition.
Could this be Josh McRoberts' breakout game?
The hot topic of conversation so far for Duke fans has been trying to figure out who will emerge as the team's regular number three scoring threat.
The clear first answer has to be McRoberts. The guy is just too skilled and athletic to defer to teammates just because he is a freshman. For the Devils to win the national title, he needs to become a regular double digit scorer.
With Paulus having somewhat of a coming out party against Memphis, McRoberts could see some better opportunities to score, as Paulus has proven beyond a doubt that he can deliver the ball on time to open men.
McRoberts needs to be smart on the defensive end, not pick up any cheap fouls, and attack the rim when he gets his chances. His free throw shooting has been a concern early this season, but one has to figure the law of averages will reverse some of those ugly numbers.
He has the type of game that could be the difference in victory. Motivation shouldn't be any problem, as he will be playing in front of the home state fans he spurned to join the Duke program.
This will be a mental challenge for McRoberts, as he is likely to get an unwelcoming reception from the crowd. Not only did he go to Duke, but he also turned down the chance to play in the Indiana/Kentucky High School All Star Series back in June. That didn't make Indianans happy with the Carmel native.
Sounds like as good of circumstances as any for McRoberts to play his first really great game.
The Devils have shown really good stretches of defense this season, but they've also had some lapses that generate concern as they embark on their first major road test.
Duke has to be at their best defensively from the opening tip, because the IU crowd will be ready to explode if the Hoosiers make an early charge against Duke.
As difficult as it is to imagine, it's conceivable the Devils could be blown out if they start the game sluggish defensively. Overcoming slow defensive starts at home against Boston University or in New York against Drexel is one thing, but battling back on the road against a top 20 team is another.
It happened to Wake Forest at Illinois last year, and while it's foolish to predict a similar occurence for Duke, it's also foolish to dismiss the possibility completely.
Duke needs their best defensive game against Indiana, a challenge magnified by being without Nelson.
The Hoosiers have experience in the backcourt with seniors Marshall Strickland and Lewis Monroe at the controls. The Devils need to figure out a way to force them out of their comfort zone handling the ball and force some turnovers.
Strickland has been great so far this year, with a better than 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. Again, those numbers were recorded against competition far inferior to Duke.
How he performs making transition decisions and setting up IU's offensive sets will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
Another big stage for Paulus
The freshman won over a lot of Duke fans with his play against Memphis. Though never lacking for confidence, he now knows beyond a doubt that he can (to borrow a phrase from Dickie V), flat out play at this level.
He's the type of guy that wants the big stage. For regular season college basketball, they don't come much bigger than what he will be on tonight.
On a team with some serious offensive punch, he's content to be a distributor of the ball.
He will likely be called on for a ton of minutes again tonight, following up on his 39 minute effort Friday night in New York.
If he can similarly penetrate the lane, especially in transition or on the secondary break, he'll have a great chance to make several more big plays.
If, on top of that, he knocks down some open perimeter looks, he will be well on his way to establishing himself as the next hated Dukie, as Redick has appointed him.
Overcoming the rush
Assembly Hall will be crazy tonight. There's no disputing that.
However, this is Duke we are talking about here, a program that has been on every big stage and in every big game anybody can think of.
However, there are young guys that will be playing significant roles tonight, particularly Paulus and McRoberts, perhaps Martynas Pocius.
As long as Duke overcomes the IU adrenaline in the first five to eight minutes of the game, it should be a great opportunity to big up a signature road win.
How good is this Indiana team? We don't know the answer to that just yet.
We do know they are a good team and Davis is probably accurate by saying it's his best Hoosier team since he took over the program, especially when D.J. White's return gets factored in.
Are they good enough to beat Duke, though?
No matter what kind of skill or depth Indiana has, it's still mightily difficult to defend the likes of Redick and Williams, college basketball's most lethal inside/outside punch.
Though the Devils have certainly shown they can be beaten, we're not going to pick against them until it actually happens.
Also, Indiana's 74-73 upset of Duke in 2002 aside, Duke fans have to like Coach K versus Davis.