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Game 21: St. John's at Duke Blue Devils

The St. John's Red Storm, at 9-11, are coming off a very promising performance in a win over West Virginia. St. John's enjoyed their most efficient performance of the year, coupled with very good defense and some nice play from the team's stars, D`Angelo Harrison and Moe Harkless. The Johnnies showed that they are a different, much more deadly squad when they can force miscues and run.

The Duke Blue Devils (17-3), however, are a much tougher challenge. For one, the game is in the close confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Duke has won 93 straight non-conference games - last losing to St. John's in 2000, 12 years ago.

For two, the Blue Devils are one of the largest teams in the country.

For three, they are a top-ten team whose offense has been clicking.

But the Red Storm have almost always given a great effort in their matchups against Duke. Can the freshman-laden Red Storm bottle some of their Garden magic and knock off Duke on the road? The Red Storm enter one of college basketball's most storied venues for the first time, looking for a marquee win.

Mood Music: B.Dolan, Leaving New York (video, opens in new window)
Tip Off: 12:00 PM, Eastern
Vs: Duke Blue Devils (17-3, 5-1 ACC)
Location: Cameron Indoor Stadium , Durham, NC
TV: ESPN | ESPN3 Radio: Bloomberg 1130
Opposition blog/ message board: Crazie Talk | Duke Basketball Report | Duke Hoop Blog

Pomeroy page ($)

See also: 5 questions (+1) on Duke basketball with Crazie Talk (pregame Q & A)

Storm Warnings: Duke

The Duke Blue Devils are stocked with offensive talent at every position. They can spread the court with three-point bombers and generate offense in the paint with their size. Austin Rivers - a top-ten rated freshman by the recruiting rankings - leads the attack, drawing fouls and able to score off of the drive. Seth Curry can also attack off of the dribble; the other guards concentrate on three-point shooting. As a team, the Blue Devils take 38% of their shots outside of the arc in conference play.

For a team that can score so well, the Blue Devils don't rack up a ton of assists.

That makes freshman point guard Quinn Cook important. Yes, the Blue Devils have the ability to score, but Cook's passing ability adds a different dimension. Cook was been sidelined with a bruised knee, and his status is unknown for tomorrow (we will add updates as we find them).

The Blue Devils, on defense... are less impressive. In ACC conference play, Duke is ninth in the 12-team league in defensive efficiency. There have been good performances against Clemson and out of conference against Kansas... and there were defensively questionable performances against Belmont, Wake Forest, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Michigan.

Strengths/ Weaknesses

Blue Devil strength: Interior scoring. The Plumlees (or PlumTrees) bring active height to the Blue Devils. The two of them alone provide much of the team's rebounding on both ends - and they draw fouls and block shots. Mason Plumlee is the more offensively active of the two - good in the post and able to draw fouls.

Blue Devil strength: Perimeter versatility. Taking 26% of the team's shots, Rivers has tempered much of his wildness over the course of the season, and along with Seth Curry provides a versatile perimeter attack. They are backed up by Andre Dawkins (who hits 41% of his threes) and Tyler Thornton (who hits 45% of his threes). meanwhile, Ryan Kelly adds sharp shooting from the mid range and the perimeter (50% inside the arc, 47% outside the arc). They can spread the floor.

Blue Devil weakness: Containing on the perimeter. Teams shoot solidly against them inside the arc (48%), despite their interior height. The perimeter defenders often gamble or get beat off the dribble, and the help defense isn't always there - even at the basket. Teams can get open shots at the rim.

Blue Devil weakness: Ending possessions. It's not that the defensive effort isn't there for the Blue Devils, but their scoring ability obscures a team-wide inability to end possessions. Duke is solid at stopping three-point shooters, but teams aren't forced to take threes.

On top of that, the Blue Devils foul opponents, don't force turnovers, and don't end opponents' possessions with defensive rebounds.

Keys to the Game

Bother the paint. The Blue Devils are dangerously efficient inside the arc; and St. John's is short. The interior defenders - especially Sir`Dominic Pointer and God`sGift Achiuwa - have to keep Mason Plumlee and the others off of the low block, and deflect passes and drives inside the arc to disrupt the Duke offense.

Get out in transition. The Red Storm looked efficient against West Virginia as they did against Providence - because they got out in transition. Amir Garrett and Pointer are developing finishers who are best in space; and speeding up the pace will also mean less offensive impact from the Plumlees.

Rebound. The Blue Devils are bigger, and will attack the glass against the smaller Red Storm. Any good Johnnies performance has to start with an emphasis on boxing out, not allowing tip-ins or extended possessions.

Great performances. D`Angelo Harrison and Moe Harkless have to continue to bring their efficient, attacking best if the Red Storm are to defeat Duke. Phil Greene needs to keep making the right passes and continue to improve against defensive pressure.

Defend the three. The Blue Devils can catch up with any team - or put a game out of reach - with their multitude of three-point shooting options.

Predictions: Duke at home, with their offense? I'd predict a Duke win, 77-64.

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