Duke Blue Devils (1-0, 0-0] vs. Fairfield Stags (1-0, 0-0]
Coaches vs. Cancer Classic • Saturday, November 15, 2014 • 8:00 PM • ESPN3 • Durham, N.C. • Cameron Indoor Stadium (9,314)
1. Snapshot[This preview covers the second of two games held at Cameron Indoor Stadium as part of the annual Coaches Versus Cancer Classic. Duke is serving as one of four host sites along with Stanford, UNLV, and Temple.]
Duke (1-0) hosts Fairfield (1-0) at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday, Nov. 15 in its second game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Tipoff is set for 8:02 p.m. with ESPN3 showing the contest. Duke, ranked No. 4 in the AP Preseason Poll, has been ranked in the AP Poll for 137 consecutive weeks. The last time Duke was not ranked was the final poll of the 2006-07 season. The Blue Devils are 5-2 all-time in Coaches vs. Cancer contests, including last night’s win over Presbyterian. Duke has won its last five games in the event capturing the 2008 Coaches vs. Cancer title in the process. Duke is playing its second game in as many nights and is opening the season with five games over a nine-day span. The Blue Devils opened the season with a 113-44 victory over Presbyterian.
It’s an exciting 24 hours for the Fairfield University men’s basketball team. After starting the 2014-15 campaign with a hard-fought 71-63 win over Central Connecticut, the Stags now turn their attention to the fourth-ranked team in the country. Fairfield plays its first true road game of the year when it takes on Duke University at Cameron Indoor Stadium this evening.
The Stags opened the year with a strong game against Central Connecticut, erasing big deficits, holding big leads, and making plays down the stretch that secured the win. After falling behind 8-0, the Stags fought back to take the lead at 14-12. Fairfield built double-digit leads in the second half, but saw its lead nearly evaporate following a run by the Blue Devils. After Central Connecticut came as close as two points, the Stags reeled off another run with under two minutes remaining to keep the win in reach.
Speaking of his team’s victory on Friday night, Coach Sydney Johnson said, “It’s great to start the season with a win. Playing a top-five program like Duke tomorrow night on their court is not an easy task. It was important for us to get some confidence heading into that game and we accomplished that tonight.”
2. Team Seasons Thus Far
Duke Blue Devils
It was clearly a freshmen night. All those freshmen at Duke made it look easy to score in their first college game. It helped when everyone kept making those extra passes. Preseason All-American Jahlil Okafor scored 19 points in his debut, and the fourth-ranked Blue Devils had 30 assists in a 113-44 rout of Presbyterian on Friday night in the opening round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. All four members of a heavily hyped freshman class reached double figures for Duke (1-0); Grayson Allen had 18, and Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones had 15 apiece. Duke shot 61 percent and hit 16 3-pointers, and its assist total was three shy of the school record, and its most since 1998, in the third most-lopsided victory in school history. The huge assist total “means good basketball, and it’s just a lot of fun to play that way,” said Jones, who had a team-best seven assists. The freshmen effectively ended this one by halftime. Those four had 30 of Duke’s first 40 points and the Blue Devils led 57-19 at the break. Quinn Cook, the only scholarship senior on Duke’s roster, had 14 points with four three and Junior SG Rasheed Sulaimon scored 12 points. Desean Murray had 14 points for the Blue Hose (0-1). The Blue Devils are counting on one of the nation’s top recruiting classes to replace Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, who jumped early to the NBA after last season. They sure did not get much of a test from Presbyterian. Duke built a 20-point lead in fewer than 10 minutes and went up by 30 with 6 minutes before the break. The freshmen combined to score Duke’s first 12 points and an upperclassman did not even attempt a shot until Amile Jefferson missed off the glass roughly 4 1/2 minutes in. Okafor, the third freshman in five years picked to The Associated Press’ preseason All-America team, was clearly the most dominant player on the floor. His 9-of-10 shooting night included a series of dunks, layups and jumpers, including one jump shot while falling down that pushed Duke’s lead to 38-8 with 6:10 before halftime.
In the 2014-15 season opener, Junior Forward Amadou Sidibe posted a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds as the Stags posted a 71-63 decision over Central Connecticut State University Blue Devils at TD Bank Sports Center. Sidibe posted 10 points and nine rebounds in the second half. The game was the first contest in the Connecticut 6 Classic, hosted by Quinnipiac University. The opening minutes of the game did not go the way Coach Sydney Johnson had planned as the Blue Devils scored the first eight points of the contest to take command early. Sophomore Guard K.J. Rose stopped the run with a three-point shot at the top of the arc which started a 14-4 spurt that would give Fairfield its’ first lead at 14-12 with 13:57 on the clock after Junior Forward Marcus Gilbert’s three-point field goal. Fairfield scored the first basket of the second half, a jumper from Rose, to secure its first double-digit lead at 37-26. The Stags would build that lead a little larger at 46-33 at the 12:58 mark, but the Blue Devils still had plenty to give over the next five minutes. Central Connecticut tallied the next eight points to come within five points, 46-41, with 10:59 remaining. The Stags reestablished control by registering the next four points for a 50-41 lead but once again Central Connecticut fought back and made it a two-point game at 55-53 following a three-point field goal. Following the script of this game, the Stags put together nine straight points to pull in front by 11 points at 64-53 with 1:44 remaining. Junior Forward Johnson and Sidibe each posted three points during that run. The Blue Devils would not come closer than seven points for the remainder of the game. Junior Forward Gilbert led all Fairfield scorers with 21 points and added eight rebounds, while Johnson added 17 points off the bench. Sophomore Guard Rose also reached double figures with points and dished off four assists without a turnover.
Duke has played the Fairfield Stags three times, claiming victories in all three contests. They last met in 2004 with Duke claiming a 99-58 home win.
4. Four Factors to Winning[Will be displayed when more games are played with substantive statistics available.]
5. Key Points to Consider (Overall Season)[More substantive single game thoughts will be provided after Duke has played at least four games.]
If we look at the worst case scenario, like last year, the group just will not jell. The youth on defense could be a problem again, and the Blue Devils might not get a stops late in games when they need them most. In addition, the youth could result in as many road losses as last season (five). Then, the season ends with another surprisingly early exit from the NCAA tournament, and the speculation is abuzz in that Krzyzewski just cannot win with the one-and-done model that returns louder than ever.
One point that analysts always point to is the ‘X Factor’. Remember when Sulaimon came to Duke as a freshmen and there was talk that he could wind up leaving early for the NBA? Obviously, his career has not played out along the best-case scenario route. Moreover, he has turned in frustrating performances this preseason too. “He is our best on-ball defender,” Krzyzewski said of Sulaimon. “At 6-foot-4, he’s an outstanding athlete, that’s what he does the best. So concentrate on that as your staple, as your foundation, and the other things will come.” If Rasheed does that and can rediscover his mojo, Duke will be better for it.
If we look at where to attack, until proven otherwise, make Duke’s guards stop cutters into the lane. That was a season-long problem last year. Obviously, Okafor will help defend the rim, but he is a freshman who will have to play defense at a higher level than he ever has. What if drivers get past Duke’s guards and into the lane and then kick the ball back out to open shooters? It could be problematic.
Let us look at a magic number, 7.4. That is the Duke season record for average assists per game, set in 1991 by Bobby Hurley. Tyus Jones is a pass-first point guard who could threaten that mark if Duke has a dream-type season.
Okafor became the third freshmen in the last five years to be selected to the preseason AP All-American team, and since Coach K doesn’t expect Okafor to stick around Durham for long, every game Okafor gets to play for the Blue Devils is pretty much a must-see. He leads a top-rated freshmen class for Duke this season and the exhibition games already showed just how good these new guys can be.
In the team’s exhibition wins over Livingstone and Central Missouri, the freshmen class of Jones, Winslow, Allen, and Okafor combined to averaged 51.5 points, 19.0 rebounds, 13.5 assists, and 6.0 steals.
A couple of things to look for in Duke’s opener is how well can Jones and Cook play together, and what kind of role would Sulaimon have this season with the amount of depth now in the backcourt.
Duke should again win this game with ease. However, they may be pushed to play even harder by the Stags depending on how tired they are after playing Friday then flying to Durham in the span of approximately 24 hours.