Game Preview: Duke Blue Devils vs. Elon The Phoenix

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Game Preview

Duke Blue Devils (8-0, 0-0] vs. Elon The Phoenix (5-4, 0-0]

Monday, December 15. 2014 • 7:00 PM • ESPNU • Durham, N.C. • Cameron Indoor Stadium (9,314)

By Randy Dunson

1. Snapshot

Duke

Duke (8-0) returns to action after an 11-day hiatus between games to host Elon (5-4) Monday, December 15 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Tipoff is set for 7:00 PM with ESPNU televising the contest. Duke enters the game ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll. The Blue Devils are 114-18 when ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll. Elon is unranked in both polls.

The Blue Devils have won an NCAA-best 37 consecutive games at Cameron Indoor Stadium entering Monday’s contest. Duke has won 26 straight games in the month of December dating back to a December 2, 2009 loss at Wisconsin.

The Blue Devils have shot 50 percent or better from the field six times this season and are second in the NCAA in field goal percentage (.539). Duke has won each of the first eight games by 10-or-more points, marking the first time since the 2002-03 season it has accomplished that feat. The Blue Devils opened the 2002-03 campaign with nine straight double-digit wins. Duke is looking to open the season with nine straight wins for the 22nd time in school history. Coach K-led teams have started 9-0 15 times at Duke.

Elon

For the third straight year, the Elon University men’s basketball team will face a nationally ranked Duke squad in December. Monday is Elon’s 21st game against a nationally ranked team since transitioning to Division I. Elon is 0-20 in those contests. The Phoenix faced three nationally ranked teams last year – #7 Duke, #21 Colorado and #15/16 UMass. Elon’s game against UMass last year at Alumni Gym marked the first time in school history it hosted a nationally ranked team. Last year’s 10-point margin of defeat against UMass is the closest Elon has been in any game versus a nationally ranked team. Currently, Elon does not have another top-25 team on its schedule.

The 2014-15 season marks the sixth year at Elon for head coach Matt Matheny. Matheny enters Monday’s game with a career record of 82-86. Matheny was voted by the Southern Conference media as the Coach of the Year and was a finalist for CollegeInsider.com’s Hugh Durham award in 2012-13, which honors the nation’s top mid-major coach.

 

2. Team Seasons Thus Far

Duke Blue Devils

In its last outing, Duke had an impressive 80-70 win at No. 2 Wisconsin Wednesday, December 3. The Blue Devils shot 65.2 percent (30-of-46) to become the first visiting team to shoot over 60 percent from the field in the 18-year history of the Kohl Center. Tyus Jones led four double-figure scorers with a season-high 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Rasheed Sulaimon (14), Quinn Cook (13), and Jahlil Okafor (13) also scored in double figures.

 

Overall, several notable trends and highlights continue to emerge as the season progresses:

 

Team Highlights

  • Duke has won each of the first eight games by 10-or-more points, marking the first time since the 2002-03 season it has accomplished that feat.
  • The Blue Devils opened the 2002-03 campaign with nine straight double-digit wins.
  • The Blue Devils have trailed for just 4:54 through the first eight games of the season.
  • Duke’s largest deficit this season has been four points.
  • Duke is averaging 102.0 points per game on 58.8 percent shooting (151-of-257) at Cameron Indoor Stadium this season.
  • The Blue Devils have scored 90-or-more points in all four home games with a pair of 100-point efforts.
  • Duke went 15-of-21 (.714) from the field in the second half of its road win over No. 2 Wisconsin.
  • The Blue Devils are now shooting 55.5 percent (151-of-257) from the field in the second half of play this season.
  • The Blue Devils are one of 10 remaining undefeated teams in the NCAA. Duke and Kentucky are the only teams in that group to win each game by 10 or more points.
  • Duke is 51-8 all-time against teams currently in the Colonial Athletic Association, including an active 26-game win streak.

Individual Player Highlights

  • Eight different Blue Devils have scored in double figures this season with senior guard Quinn Cook and freshman center Jahlil Okafor reaching double figures in all eight contests.
  • Freshmen Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, and Justise Winslow have started all eight games for the Blue Devils.
  • Mike Krzyzewski has started three or more freshmen in a game 43 times at Duke, including 27 times during the 1982-83 season.
  • Duke’s top-rated freshman class, Grayson Allen, Jones, Okafor, and Winslow, combines to average 45.9 points per game while shooting an efficient 53.6 percent (128-of-239) from the field. The group has accounted for 18 of Duke’s 33 double figure scoring games this season.
  • Cook has scored in double figures in all eight games and ranks ninth in the ACC in scoring at 15.3 PPG. He leads the ACC in three-point field goals (2.88 3PG), while also ranking among the conference leaders in three-point percentage (.442 – 6th) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3.63:1 – 3rd).
  • Okafor, a three-time ACC Freshman of the Week selection, ranks second in the ACC in scoring (17.1 PPG) and field goal percentage (.646), while also ranking among the league leaders in rebounds (12th – 7.6 RPG), offensive rebounds (T-5th – 3.5 ORPG) and blocks (9th – 1.5 BPG). He is averaging 20.3 points per game on 77.1 percent (37-of-48) shooting in four home contests.
  • Freshman guard T. Jones is averaging 19.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per game over the last two contests. He is 11-of-19 (.579) from the field and 13-of-16 (.813) from the foul line in that span.
  • Junior forward Amile Jefferson continues to be active on the glass, averaging a team-high 8.3 rebounds per game (9th in the ACC). He has collected 29 offensive rebounds and is tied for third in the league in that category (3.63 ORPG).
  • Sophomore guard Matt Jones is averaging 7.0 points per game, while shooting 55.6 percent (10-of-18) from three-point range. As a freshman, Jones was just 3-of-21 (.143) from behind the arc and averaged 1.8 PPG.
  • Duke’s post rotation of Jefferson, Okafor, and junior center Marshall Plumlee combines to average 29.6 points and 19.0 rebounds per game while shooting 67.1 percent (100-of-149) from the field.

 

Elon

In its last outing, The Phoenix narrowly pulled out a 19-point comeback upset at MIzzou on Thursday, December 11, but could not get over the hump late in a 78-73 loss. Luke Eddy scored a career-high 27 points and was instrumental in pulling the Phoenix back within one point with less than 30 seconds to play. Eddy missed a pull-up jumper in the waning moments and Tanner Samson could not connect on a corner three that would have tied the game late. Elon outscored Mizzou 46-32 in the second half and ended the game with a 40-37 edge on the glass. It marked the first loss against an SEC team for the senior class of Austin Hamilton, Ryan Winters, and Kevin Blake (2-1 vs. SEC teams).
The Phoenix is coming off an 18-14 campaign in the Southern Conference under sixth-year head coach Matt Matheny. Elon welcomes back starters senior guard Austin Hamilton (6.2 PPG, 2.5 APG) and junior guard Tanner Samson (9.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG), while returning 10 non-starters. Senior guard Kevin Blake (4.7 PPG) and senior forward Ryan Winters (3.0 PPG) join Hamilton to make up this year’s senior class. The team welcomes five newcomers to the squad this season, including forward Jack Anton, guard Elijah Bryant), forward Collin Luther, guard Dmitri Thompson, and forward Jack George.

 

Overall, The Phoenix are off to a 5-4 start and following are a few notable events that have occurred in the early going:

  • With three makes from behind the three-point line at Mizzou, Samson now sits at 173 in his career, good for seventh all-time in Elon history. Samson recently passed current Phoenix assistant Chris Long on the all-time chart and needs eight more to pass Drew Spradlin for sixth in program history. Samson leads the CAA in threes made with 34, good for eighth nationally.
  • Elon scored 100+ points in back-to-back games against Virginia University of Lynchburg and Central Penn last week, marking the first and only such occurrence since the 1982-83 season.
  • Samson’s eight triples against Northwestern are tied for the second most in a single game since Elon made the transition to the Division I ranks
  • Elon’s 67 rebounds against VUL on December 2 marks only the third time since 2005 the team has grabbed 60+ rebounds in a game.
  • Elon ranks first in the CAA in opponent three-point field goal percentage at 27.6 percent.
  • Elon’s 6.6 steals per game ranks fourth in the league, while the Phoenix is second CAA in turnover margin at +1.89.


3. Head-to-Head

Monday marks the 27th all-time meeting between the Phoenix and the neighboring Blue Devils. Duke leads the series, 19-7. Monday marks the fourth time the two schools have met since Elon moved to the Division I ranks. Last year, seventh-ranked Duke topped Elon, 86-48, on New Year’s Eve at the Greensboro Coliseum. Elon’s last trip to Cameron was December 20, 2012, when it dropped a 76-54 decision to top-ranked Duke. Duke has been ranked in the top seven in each of the last three meetings, including twice at No. 1.

In terms of a few key offensive and defensive statistical parameters, Duke leads in all except for RPG, which gives the Blue Devils a significant statistical edge head-to-head.

 

Duke 2014-15 Regular Season Key Stats Comparison Elon
89.1 (+28.6) PPG (Scoring Margin 77.9 (+9.2)
60.5 Opponents PPG 68.7
61.3 Effective FG% 49.5
53.9 FG% 43.4
40.0 Opponent FG% 40.6
40.0 3PT FG% 37.2
26.8 Opponent 3PT FG% 27.6
38.1 (+8.8) RPG (Rebound Margin) 40.7 (+3.7)
29.4 Opponent RPG 37.0
19.0 APG 13.1
8.5 SPG 6.6
9.4 (+4.8) Turnovers Per Game (Margin) 13.8 (+1.9)
14.1 Opponent TOPG 15.7
3.8 BPG 0.9

 

4. Four Factors to Winning

[If you wish to learn more about how the four factors are calculated and implemented, a description can always be found here, http://www.dukeblogger.com/four-factors-winning/.]

As in the Army game, although the opponents each team has faced to date vary considerably, they are remarkably similar when looking at each of the four factors. Duke has the advantage in all four.

Duke holds a definite edge in all factors. When looking at eFG%, it is 61.3% to 49.5%. In terms of handling the ball, the Blue Devils have the edge in (13.9% vs. 18.3%). In offensive rebounding, the edge is 39.1% vs. 31.1%), and finally, when it comes to getting to the free throw line (40.2% vs. 30.8%).

4 Factors

 

5. Key Points to Consider

First, a few points regarding both team’s overall profile at this point:

Duke

  • Makes the most of its possessions
  • Hard to score against
  • Commits few fouls

Elon

  • Unselfish, balanced offense
  • Struggles offensively
  • Sends opponents to the line frequently

Now, a few key points to consider from Duke’s perspective. These may often carry over to future games but keys specific to a current opponent will always be mentioned.

  • Fast start – Duke once again needs to jump out of the blocks quickly as they haven’t played competitively in 12 days
  • If shots arent falling, find other ways to score…getting the ball in the post is essential, getting easy shots at the rim should the 3-point shots aren’t falling is a lesson this team will need to learn going forward.
  • X-factor – Rust (see Endgame)

6. Endgame

The Endgame for this preview addresses a key factor that any team has to worry about when facing long periods of inactivity between games, and that is being able to recharge after the absence of competing on a regular basis. Coach K addressed this very important reality during his weekly TV program on Fox Sports South last Saturday.

Even powerful college basketball teams need to occasionally recharge before attempting to dominate more opponents, and that is exactly what the Duke Blue Devils will be doing until December 15.

Duke last played at Wisconsin on December 3 and are just now taking the court again tomorrow night against Elon. That means 12 days off only a few weeks after the start of the season, which may seem unusual, but Duke often takes these breaks during exams. It allows the players to focus on schoolwork without having to worry about preparing for top-notch competition. The flip side of that is the potential for rust to creep in because playing in a game is much different than merely practicing for two weeks.

What’s more, if you believe in momentum, this break could not have come at much worse of a time for the Blue Devils. They are dominating on the floor right now and have a sparkling 8-0 record to show for it. They also controlled the entire game against Wisconsin in Madison, which was all the more impressive because so many expected a Badgers win in the Kohl Center including yours truly. Throw that on top of double-digit-point wins over Michigan State, Temple and Stanford, and the Blue Devils have an argument to be the No. 1 team in the nation. They are currently ranked No. 2 in the AP Top 25 poll.

There are also the impressive performances from individual players that stood out, and one has to wonder if there will be any lost momentum in that regard.

Jahlil Okafor is a rock, and there is a reason DraftExpress considers him the front-runner for the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. While he may be somewhat rusty when he returns, his game and confidence level should still be sky-high when he takes the floor again. Dominating down low with strength and athleticism does not require as much rhythm as shooting from the outside or running an offense either.

The long layoff is perhaps more concerning for Tyus Jones, simply because he is playing at an All-American level and likely has all the confidence in the world right now. He was the best player on the floor for either team in the Wisconsin win and scored 22 points, dished out four assists and grabbed six rebounds. All of those numbers were game highs for the Blue Devils.

Another potential concern is that Okafor, Jones, and Justise Winslow are all freshmen and just starting to get accustomed to the speed of the college game through eight contests. An extended break could throw off some of that timing the next time they take the floor, which would then throw off the entire team considering these are the best three players on the roster.

However, there are plenty of silver linings to these 12 days off that should outweigh the concerns about rust.

Once Duke reaches the NCAA tournament, it could find itself with a similar type of schedule. Theoretically, the Blue Devils could play a round of 32 game on a Saturday and not take the floor again for the Sweet 16 until the following Friday.

While this current break is longer than that hypothetical, it is solid preparation for a young team that has never experienced a full college basketball season before. It also gives the Blue Devils an opportunity to rest and recover from a few grueling early-season games against the physical Spartans and Badgers.

Krzyzewski has seven players averaging 18 or more minutes a game and four of them have been on the floor for more than 25 minutes a game. There is a steep drop-off after those first seven in terms of playing time, and a shorter rotation means Duke is more reliant on its main pieces and will need them to be as fresh as possible in ACC play.

While this break was less than ideal from a momentum standpoint, the Blue Devils will fortunately have a game to chip off any lingering rust before they play Connecticut on December 18. In its first game back from break in what should be an easy victory against Elon. The Blue Devils could treat that game much like a marquee college football squad does a season opener against an FCS squad before the competition heats up again. Krzyzewski generally schedules a game with the likes of an Elon after the break by design for that very purpose. What’s more, Duke has another 11-day break right after the Connecticut game.

This time off between Wisconsin and Elon will give the Blue Devils some practice on how to deal with that break on the horizon because ACC play will be right around the corner after they return from that second chunk of time off on December 29. Even if rust is a problem for the Blue Devils when they return to the floor, it will not impact their overall season and win-loss record. They will certainly be ready to go against Connecticut after what should be an easy warm-up win over Elon.