Duke welcomes last year’s Cinderella to Cameron this afternoon for a Noon game that will provide the Blue Devils with another opportunity to get their offense in working order before heading to Madison Square Garden for a major test against Gonzaga.

 Previews galore:

 > Herald Sun

> The Chronicle

> Rocky Mount Telegram

> Winston Salem Journal

> The Devil’s Den

How They Got Here:
Duke enters Saturday’s game with an 8-1 overall record and riding a four game winning streak. During those four games the Blue Devils have a +13.0 average margin of victory, though that state is somewhat skewed by a 28 point defeat of Davidson. Since then Duke has won by margins of 3, 9, and 12 points. The Patriots enter Saturday’s game with a 4-3 overall mark. In those seven games George Mason has alternated wins and losses throughout, never winning or losing more than one game in a row.

Series History:
The Blue Devils lead the all-time series with the Patriots 2-0. The last time the teams met was back in 1983 with Duke prevailing 90-79 at home on January 3rd.

Patriots Still Basking In Final Four Glow:
In this crazy era of college basketball, it’s odd to think that George Mason has been to a Final Four more recently than Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, and so on. But that’s the case as the Patriots shocked the college basketball world a season ago with victories over Michigan State, No. 10 North Carolina, Wichita State and No. 2 Connecticut to reach the 2006 Final Four. It was the first time in 27 seasons a ‘mid-major’ program had reached the season’s final weekend. Though they were easily defeated on the big stage by eventual national champion Florida, the Patriots served notice that even smaller programs who keep their players for four years on average, can compete with the big boys.

This season the Patriots have adjusted to having somewhat of a target on their backs as teams look to make a statement against a recent Final Four program. To make matters tougher for Coach Larranaga, he’s replacing three starters (Jai Lewis, Tony Skinn and Lamar Butler) from last year’s team and replacing them with players who aren’t nearly as proven or reliable. Thusly, the Patriots have been consistent in their incosistency.

Offensive Scoring Woes Not Limited To Duke:
Losing so much fire power from the backcourt was always going to be rough, but so far the Patriots’ outside attack hasn’t been able to keep opponents honest. As a team the Patriots are averaging 17.4 three point attempts per game, but are only making 5.4 – a shooting percentage of just 31.1%. Only Jordan Carter, who has made 3 of his 5 perimeter shots on the season, is shooting above 33% for the season. The regular rotational players like Smith, Campbell, and Norwood are shooting 33%, 28.6%, and 28.6% respectively. Instead the Patriots rely on driving and attacking the basket, but have struggled to score against teams with size. More accurately the Patriots have struggled to score against most teams, averaging just 62.9 points per game while topping 66 points just once (79 in the season opening win over Cleveland State).

Under-sized Big Men Boarding:
Starting big man Will Thomas isn’t overly tall at just 6’7, but he is strong and he has a nose for the ball. During the NCAA Tournament he quietly led the team in scoring and showed that despite his size, he could match up with most collegiate big guys inside. This year he’s become the focus of opponents’ defensive strategies, but has worked his way clear to the tune of 13.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 63% from the floor. As the primary big guy, Thomas has stayed out of foul trouble so far, averaging a hair under 37 minutes per night while logging a season high three fouls in one game just twice in seven contests. Redshirt junior Jesus Urbina (also only 6’7) missed all of last season due to injury, but has given the Patriots a second inside presence to date. Though he’s not the scorer Thomas is, Urbina has proven very capable at handling the blue collar battling under the boards. He’s pulling down six rebounds per game, but is taking just 2.6 shots per game, and hitting only 37.5% of those shots. Backup Darryl Monroe (6’7, 260) has more weight to throw around, and averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds a season ago in the JUCO ranks.

Blue Devils Awaiting Offensive Chemistry:
After putting together a strong second half rally against Georgetown, many Duke faithful were hoping the Blue Devils would parlay that scoring prowess into a blitz of Holy Cross on Wednesday. Unfortunately that didn’t happen as Duke’s offensive woes continued to force the team to rely on defense and the opposition to miss open looks. For the season Duke is scoring just 69.5 points per game, and has topped the 65 point mark just once since November 20th. The 69.5 points is the second lowest total in the Mike Krzyzewski reign. Only the 1981-1982 team which scored just 64.0 points per night were lower. Much of the problem has been traced to the inconsistent play of the freshman class, as well as the struggles of sophomore point guard Greg Paulus, who is averaging just 3.9 assists against 3.7 turnovers while scoring only 5.8 points per game. Paulus has logged more assists than turnovers twice in nine games this season.

Getting Defensive:
Of course the flip side to that argument has been the stellar defensive numbers this team has posted. Duke is holding opponents to an amazing 52.3 points per game. That is nearly 12.0 points lower than the best team of the entire Coach K era, the 1997-1998 team that limited opponents to 64.1 ppg. That defense has allowed Duke to hold a very impressive 17.3 average margin of victory – which ranks fifth of all the Krzyzewksi led teams.

Nation’s Best Win Streak:
With Villanova knocking off Oklahoma on Wednesday night, the Blue Devils now have the nation’s longest home court winning streak against non-conference foes. The Blue Devils have beaten 47 straight non-ACC foes in Cameron. The next closest streak is 37 straight non-conference home wins by Utah State.


Duke 71
George Mason 55