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December 31, 2005

Devils back in action against Spartans

The last significant break in the 2005-06 schedule has come and gone for the Duke Blue Devils.

After an off week for final exams, Duke returned to action to dispatch Valparaiso and St. John's to improve to 11-0 before taking the last 10 days off for the holiday break.

Returning to the court against UNC-Greensboro will accomplish a couple of things for the Devils.

One, it will get them back in game action in the first of two games before the ACC schedule begins in full.

Two, it will get them a game in the Greensboro Coliseum, a venue that should help simulate a first round NCAA Tournament matchup and will also help breed familiarity for the end of year ACC Tournament.

The Spartans don't figure to provide a stiff challenge to the top ranked Devils. The Spartans have not played a ranked team this season and have blowout losses to Wisconsin-Green Bay, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina already on their ledger.

The Spartans rely on mainly on three players for their offensive output.

6-foot-3 shooting guard Ricky Hickman leads the way with 18.6 points per game and is the team's second leading three point shooter.

The top long range bomber for the Spartans is Kevin Oleksiak. The 6-foot-4 off guard is averaging about 2.5 three pointers per game and is third on the team in scoring at 14.4 points per contest.

The other offensive threat of note is 6-foot-6 forward Kyle Hines. Hines does most of his work in the paint, playing mostly the four spot because he's the second biggest member of the Spartan starting five at 230 pounds.

Hines rarely ventures far outside the lane on either end of the floor. He's a 54 percent field goal shooter and also leads the team in blocks at nearly three per game.

Despite having three solid scoring threats, the Spartans have gotten into trouble offensively because of ball handling struggles.

Averaging nearly 20 turnovers per game, they are stuck at under 70 points per contest due in large part to their inability to consistently care for the ball.

Duke will definitely be looking to exploit that weakness with their always tough pressure defense. If the Devils force an up tempo game and several turnovers early on, it will turn ugly in a hurry for the Spartans.

This should be a game where the Devils get to play several people.

Already ranked number one in the country, Duke needs somebody to come on with a strong second half of the season.

Most eyes will certainly be on Josh McRoberts to be that guy. Coach K has started to push him a bit more, even benching him for the beginning of the second half of the St. John's game.

He responded with an outburst of acrobatic dunks when he was inserted back into the game. Duke hopes that is a sign of things to come as the full ACC slate draws near.

With Greg Paulus coming more and more into his own, Duke needs only McRoberts to perform more consistently to really start clicking as a dominating team.

Keys to the game

1) Force early turnovers: It's always important to put an inferior opponent away early. The easiest way to do that against UNCG is to exploit their weakness by making them handle the ball against pressure.

2) Dominate the boards: With a distinct size advantage, Duke should control the glass with ease. The Devils need a game where they control the boards from start to finish. This is the game to do it.

3) The three ball: The Spartans have the capability of getting hot from three point land, but they will have no prayer of staying competitive if Duke defends the perimeter tightly. On the opposite end, UNCG is giving up nearly 40 percent from three point range defensively.

That likely means good news for J.J. Redick and company.

Prediction

The Devils may have to chip off a little rust, but the Spartans haven't played in ten days either. Duke will roll in this one, giving them a good taste at the Coliseum, which could very likely host the Devils in the first two rounds of NCAA Tournament play.

Duke 93-51


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