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December 7, 2005

Duke/Penn preview

It will be hard to follow up on the excitement of Duke's thrilling 77-75 victory over Virginia Tech Sunday night.

However, Devils fans will be more than happy if Duke puts visiting Pennsylvania away early tonight and last second heroics aren't necessary.

Duke is not only battling individual opponents on a game by game basis, they are also battling public perception that they should dominate in every contest. Several observers are questioning just how good Duke is, despite their undefeated record and consensus number one ranking.

The next test for the Devils comes tonight at Cameron Indoor Stadium against the always tough Penn Quakers.

Fran Dunphy's team is the unanimous preseason pick to win the Ivy League championship, which would put the Quakers in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in the last eight years.

Just like every other team on Duke's schedule, they will have this game circled and will bring their best effort to knock off the nation's number one team.

Devils Illustrated's list of things to watch:

Three ball

Three point shooting will be the single most important statistic in tonight's game. Penn will jack as many long range shots as they possibly can.

Penn has four players averaging more than three attempts per game from three point range, led by their three starting guards, Ibrahim Jaaber, Eric Osmundson, and David Whitehurst.

Jaaber is unquestionably the biggest threat, pumping in better than 20 points per game and shooting nearly 60 percent from the field through five games. Of the Quaker guards, he's the most adept at creating a shot for himself inside the three point line.

Penn is jacking up more than 22 three point attempts per game but so far are only making them at a 27 percent clip.

Duke's perimeter defense has taken a hit with the absence of DeMarcus Nelson.

It will get another test tonight against a quality opponent.

Help is overrated

Penn will look to use quick motion in its offense to set up their shooters in an attempt to get open looks off kick outs from dribble drives.

Duke's first defensive key tonight will be to shut down any dribble penetration. However, if the Quakers do slip by Duke's perimeter defense, the Devils will probably be better served to not drop outside defenders in the lane to help.

That's exactly what Penn wants opponents to do so they can kick it out for a good look from behind the three point line.

With Shelden Williams patrolling the lane, he should be able to deter any Quakers that get inside the paint without relying too heavily on additional help.

Penn is not going to beat Duke by scoring inside, so there's no reason for the Devils to give them outside looks by over helping on any movement toward the basket.

Get in transition

Anytime a team shoots a lot of threes, there will by necessity be several long rebounds. Duke's guards should have a few opportunities to grab a rebound and start a fast break without the added time needed for an outlet pass from a post.

Duke's best formula for a rout tonight will be to force Penn to take contested outside shots, then run with the long rebounds to put up quick transition baskets.

If they can put Penn in a hole early, it will force Dunphy's squad to resort to even more three point shots, which would continue to play into Duke's hands as long as the Devils can sufficiently guard the perimeter.

Dominate the paint

Penn's biggest player is 6-foot-8, 225 pound forward Steve Danley. Their starting lineup is three guards, a 6-foot-6 forward, and Danley.

When transition opportunities aren't present, there's no reason for Williams and Josh McRoberts to not touch the ball on nearly every halfcourt possession.

There's no answer for them under the basket. If Williams gets the touches he deserves, he could easily duplicate or surpass Sunday's 21 point performance against Virginia Tech.

Penn will likely employ a similar defensive strategy as the Hokies used Sunday, hawking J.J. Redick on the perimeter and slumping everybody else down on the big men.

Sean Dockery showed in the second half Sunday that he can make an opponent pay for using that strategy. However, even if Duke's outside shots aren't falling, Williams and McRoberts will be fine as long as they keep the ball high to avoid the pesky hands of Penn's smaller defenders.

Clean the glass

Penn's lack of size kills them in the rebounding department. Through five games, they are being outrebounded by more than seven boards per game.

Tonight needs to be the breakout rebounding game for McRoberts. The freshman pulled down 10 boards in the season opener but since has not had more than six rebounds in a single game.

With his length and athleticism, there's no reason he shouldn't be all over the offensive glass against a team as undersized as Penn.

Mike Krzyzewski said after Sunday's game that McRoberts needed to be more active rebounding the ball.

The Penn game tonight presents a great chance for him to answer his coach's call.

Final analysis

Will Sunday's game be a wakeup call for Duke? Or will the Devils perhaps come out a little flat after the last second heroics against Virginia Tech?

The best guess here is that Duke comes out with an extra intensity tonight.

This is the type of game that seems like it will either be a Duke blowout or another close contest. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground considering how many threes Penn is going to launch.

If the Quakers can hit from deep, they have a chance to be very competitive. If they can't, Duke might hold them under 50 points.

Williams hasn't been his usual self defensively, having allowed big performances against Indiana's Marco Killingsworth and Virginia Tech's Coleman Collins. However, some of that may be attributed to Nelson's absence, as opponents have had cleaner looks at entry passes and less perimeter pressure without DeMarcus on the floor.

Duke needs a statement game on the defensive end to show that they can be just as dominant defensively without Nelson.

Tonight is the night.

Duke 81-51

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