It's that time of year again. The St. John's Red Storm (9-11, 3-6) will travel down to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday to take on the Duke Blue Devils (17-3, 5-1), in a series that has been a perennial for a number of years. The young Johnnies will be faced with a tall task invading the hostile environment of the Cameron Crazies and "Krzyzewskiville."
Every Red Storm fan vividly remembers when these two squads met a year ago, when St. John's crushed then-#3 Duke, 93-78, at Madison Square Garden.
Twelve months later, both teams each present different looks. But you can bet that revenge will be on the minds of everyone in blue.
St. John's, after twelve years, still remains as the last non-conference opponent to defeat Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils at Cameron. The Red Storm squeaked out a one-point win over Duke behind Bootsy Thornton's heroics in February of 2000.
As the Johnnies get ready for this year's tilt with Duke, we at the Rumble get you ready as well. We were kind enough to be joined by Amogh Karnik of the great site Crazie Talk (on Twitter), who answered a few questions about this year's Blue Devils and what us New Yorkers can expect.
Amogh's answers, below the fold. The Rumble's answers are up on the Crazie Talk's post.
1. What is the general feel around this Duke team? Every year, Mike Krzyzewski sets the bar of expectations at a National Championship and settles for nothing less. Is it reasonable to expect this year's team to contend for the Final Four and ultimately the big prize?
Crazie Talk: Most Duke fans had tempered their expectations for this team at the beginning of the year, reeling from the losses of Kyrie Irving, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith. We had an influx of young talent (five freshmen) and a group of guys who simply hadn't played that much on the big stage up until this point in their careers. They've grown up a lot since the start of the season, and the identity of the team is still taking shape. We've seen flashes of brilliance from almost everyone on the team, so now it's simply a matter of putting it all together. But obviously, that's easier said than done. If they do put it all together, though, Duke will be very scary come March.
2. Austin Rivers, the freshman phenom, leads the team in scoring. Are you surprised that his development process has moved along so quickly? Can he lead Duke to the Promised Land? Is he and one-and-done?
CT: Yes and no. Austin has been fascinating to watch this season. He's shown flashes of his undeniable talent, and he's also made us shake our heads in disbelief with some of his decision making. He has certainly matured from the start of the season, and has continued to improve through each and every game, despite a rough start to the conference season. With respect to his mental game and maturity, yes, I am surprised he's progressed so well. On the court, I'm not surprised that he's started to come around offensively and defensively - because the guy has got some incredible talent.
That said, he still has quite a bit of work to do, and I don't believe that he'll be a one and done. He can definitely lead Duke to the Promised Land. I'm just not sure it'll be in 2012.
3. Duke seems like they haven't been as dominant at home as usual. They struggled to put away Belmont and Virginia at Cameron, and lost to Florida State last weekend. Is this a product of some tough competition or maybe the sign of a more beatable Blue Devils?
CT: I'd say it's a little bit of both. Like I said before, Duke is a team that has had a lot of guys playing major roles for the first time in their careers. Belmont, a team that returned all of its starters from a 30-win squad last year, was exactly the opposite. They played well, we didn't, and we were lucky to get a win. Virginia and Florida State are also very, very good teams and struggling through both of those games will help our guys in the long run. I can't stress enough that this year, Duke is a work in progress.
4. The St. John's defensive system is known to allow a lot of open perimeter looks. With Duke shooting 40% from behind the arc, how does Coach K get guys like Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, and Ryan Kelly shooting opportunities? Should the Red Storm worry about anyone else?
CT: Duke's offense thrives when the ball moves inside-out. Curry, Dawkins et al. are at their best when Mason, Miles, or Ryan cause defenses to collapse, leaving wide open looks on the perimeter. The scary thing about Duke's offense is that anyone can go for 20 on a given night. If St. John's is going to give Duke open looks outside, Curry, Dawkins, Kelly, or even Rivers will make them pay.
5. What is one thing that Duke struggles with that someone who doesn't watch them every game might not know about? How can St. John's exploit it?
CT: Uh, well...Duke has struggled mightily to play any sort of defense this year. In two of our three losses, opposing guards have lit us up and rightfully so. Duke has exactly zero guards who can shut down opposing team's top guard. But what Duke has truly struggled with, and it's masked partly due to the inability to play perimeter defense, is help defense. Maryland was able to get into the lane and make scoring plays with ease on Wednesday night, and Florida State did the same on their way to a victory at Cameron. While Mason Plumlee has evolved into an able defender, other guys on the team have really struggled with help defense on the inside. If St. John's can get into the lane and create opportunities for easy buckets, they'll do well.
6. Finally, the moment we've been waiting for. Who wins on Saturday. By how much? Remember, the Johnnies were the last non-conference opponent to win at Cameron!
CT: It's rare for Duke to lose in Cameron. It's even more rare for Duke to lose in Cameron twice in a row. It's not going to happen on Saturday.
Bottom Line: Duke 80 - St. John's 65.
Thank you to Amogh and the rest of the guys over at Crazie Talk for partnering up with us in preparation for this Saturday's game. It should be a fun one!