Wendell Carter Jr. will look to break out in his first regular season college games against Elon ...

X-Factor: Do Elon and Utah Valley have the post presence to compete with Duke?

After finishing their preseason with two dominant exhibition game victories, the Blue Devils will look to open their season on the right foot this weekend. Duke will play both contests in the cozy confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium, taking on Elon Friday before returning 24-hours later to face off against Utah Valley. Here is a look at a key player from each team who could be the difference-maker in the game:

Duke: Forward Wendell Carter Jr.

All the focus this weekend will be on the debut of No. 1 overall prospect Marvin Bagley III and Grayson Allen’s maturity and ability to keep his emotions in check—his most recent tripping incident came last season against Elon on guard Steven Santa Ana. 

But the player to watch is not either of them—it's Wendell Carter Jr.. In two exhibition games, he averaged a double-double with 17 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game while shooting an otherworldly 80 percent from the field on an otherworldly 80 percent shooting.

Lining up as one of the tallest teams in the country, the Blue Devils will very often have opportunities to exploit mismatches in the post and finish up possessions with offensive rebounds and second-chance points. Defenses have been focusing on Allen and Bagley in the early going, and with both Elon and Utah Valley starting lineups with only one player above 6-foot-10, Carter will be set to benefit. 

Look for the freshman forward to exploit smaller opponents and record a stat-line similar to that of the exhibition games, with a large number of offensive rebounds leading to easy second-chance buckets.

Elon: Forward Karolis Kundrotas

Although the Allen's matchup against Santa Ana will draw much scrutiny, Karolis Kundrotas is the primary player on Elon who could help lead the Phoenix to a stunning win. With Duke’s size, the 6-foot-11 forward will be expected to step up in a big way, being forced to guard either Bagley or Carter and pull down defensive boards against a Blue Devil team that had 29 offensive rebounds in its exhibition games.

Kundrotas will look to emerge as a threat for the Phoenix after only averaging about 10 minutes per contest last season, contributing just 5 combined points and rebounds per game. The only way Elon can conceivably pull off an upset and halt the Blue Devils’ 132 non-conference home winning streak is if Kundrotas outperforms expectations.

Utah Valley: Forward Akolda Manyang

The only player taller than anyone in Duke’s starting lineup this weekend is Utah Valley’s Akolda Manyang. The redshirt senior—who transferred from Oklahoma—will look to the stop the Blue Devil big men and prevent head coach Mike Krzyzewski from recording his 1,000th victory with the program (assuming a victory against Elon).

Manyang, who averaged 2.5 points per game and 2.1 rebounds per game off the bench for the Sooners last season, will try to emerge as the primary scoring option for the Wolverines. If he can lock down the paint for Utah Valley, he could spoil what figures to be a big night for Krzyzewski. 

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Chronicle.