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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Duke-Princeton Prognostication

So much has been written that I don't feel a need to go into overdrive about the issues that Duke is facing or how well (or not) Princeton is playing. Yes, the two teams play tonight, at Duke, at 7 p.m. on ESPN. Not ESPN the Deuce, mind you, but the real enchilada, ESPN.

You've heard about Duke's issues, how they're short, how they're missing Shavlik Randolph, how strong (if not too tall) forward Reggie Love is out with a broken foot, and how, well, Princeton might have a chance because the height differentials aren't too pronounced.

Well, of course the Tigers have a chance. They always do. But here are a few main issues for them:

1. They get called for a lot of fouls. They cannot afford to have senior co-captains Judson Wallace and Will Venable get into foul trouble. Wallace will present a challenge for Shelden Williams, and Venable is really the only Tiger guard athletic enough to stay with the Duke guards. They need to be on the floor for most of the game, and with all of the media timeouts, they should be. If the Tigers keep their fouls to say under 22, they'll be in the game.

2. They start two freshmen, Noah Savage and Matt Sargeant. Both are inconsistent. Savage is a shoot-first forward who can tend to be a matador at times on defense and then commit silly fouls. But he can shoot. Sargeant has one good game and then a bad one, but he can shoot fairly well and is a decent passer. It's hard to rely on two frosh starters on the road, and look for the Tigers to substitute soph G Max Schafer for Sargeant and soph F Luke Owings, perhaps their best shooter, for Savage.

3. Their senior F, Andre Logan, remains a bit of a mystery. He's been plagued by injuries throughout his career, and he looks a little rusty, although his big steal against Davidson in the second OT sealed the victory for the Tigers in a hard-fought contest. If the Tigers are to challenge Duke tonight, they'll need a solid 10-15 minutes from both Logan and backup C Mike Stephens, who looked like a vintage Kareem Abdul Jabbar and even pushed Williams around a pit in the paint in the first half of last year's contest at Cameron.

4. Defense. The Tigers play very hard-nosed defense but can be a little lax inside and sometimes fail to step into the lane in front of the other team's quicker guards. That said, Wallace took two big charges down the stretch against Clemson, and Venable is a defensive magician. The Tigers will have to be at their best against Duke's guards and not let J.J. Redick beat them off of screens.

5. Speed/Athleticism. The Tigers have to be concerned that Dukes Gs (Ewing, especially, and then Dockery and Nelson) can out-athlete them (okay, so I invented a word). The Tigers do have 4 Gs to throw at Duke, so they can put rested players on Duke's guards, but they'll have to work hard to stay with them. They probably can guard J.J. Redick, but if they really concentrate on him, then Ewing can get open, and he can kill you. Also, Princeton G Scott Greenman is only 5'9", and opponents have exploited height differentials in the past. Look for Duke to try to overmatch Greenman.

6. Rebounding. The Tigers need to stay close here. They might have a good chance, but they'll have to watch out for Duke's guards crashing the boards. They need to keep the guards off the offensive glass.

7. And, finally, outside shooting. If the Tigers can shoot 38% or higher from behind the arc, they just might well win the game (if they also can keep their turnovers down).

I don't look for this to be a high-scoring game, especially given the relatively low final score of the Duke-Clemson game on Sunday night.

I think Princeton's effort against Davidson will buoy the Tigers tonight, and they'll come into Cameron with one more year's experience and benefitting from last year's game in Durham, and they're coming into Cameron against a weaker Duke team than last year's. Okay, enough by way of full disclosure.

I still think that Duke's guards and Williams (not to mention F Lee Melchionni, a good F in his own right) will prove too much for Princeton. Call it Duke 64, Princeton 56.

But, if Princeton keeps its turnovers to 12 or fewer, has say 20 or fewer fouls, gets outrebounded by no more than say 7, shoots 38% from behind the arc, 46% for the game and 75% from the foul line, well, the Tigers can pull off the upset. After all, Bucknell beat Pitt at Pitt the other night, so an upset is possible for a lower-end mid-major.

All typos are mine.


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