The No. 2 Blue Devils will begin NCAA tournament play against No. 15 Lehigh tonight at 7:15 p.m. in Greensboro, N.C. The Mountain Hawks earned an automatic bid to the tournament by capturing the Patriot League tournament championship, making their second trip to the big dance in the past three seasons. Although Duke has won eight of its last 10, Lehigh enters the matchup on an eight-game winning streak of its own—Feb. 9 marks the last time the Mountain Hawks lost a game.
The Blue Devils faced much stronger competition in the ACC than Lehigh did in the Patriot League, but the Mountain Hawks played their fair share of tough non-conference opponents. They even gave top-seeded Michigan State a scare back in December, leading the Spartans by three points at halftime before collapsing in the second half and losing 90-81.
G Austin Rivers (15.4 ppg, double-figure scoring in 16 straight games)
G Seth Curry (13.4 ppg, 39.4 3-point%)
G Tyler Thornton (at least one made 3-pointer in last 5 games)
F Miles Plumlee (61.3 FG%, 10.8 rpg in last 9 games)
F Mason Plumlee (10.9 ppg, 55.6 FG%)
G C.J. McCollum (21.9 ppg, 2.6 spg)
G Mackey McKnight (3.7 apg, 2.07 assist/TO ratio)
F Jordan Hamilton (6.6 ppg, 81.0 FT%)
F Gabe Knutson (12.1 ppg, 50.2 FG%)
F John Adams (43.4 3-point%, 75.0 FT%)
Questions to consider:
1. How will Duke contain C.J. McCollum?
Lehigh’s offense revolves around Patriot League Player of the Year McCollum, who ranks fifth in the nation in scoring at 21.5 points per game. He also leads the Mountain Hawks in rebounding and steals while using over 32% of the team’s possessions. The legitimate NBA prospect feasted on Patriot League defenders but didn’t fare as well against St. John’s, Iowa State and Michigan State, shooting a combined 18-for-49 in those fall non-conference games. If Duke succeeds in shutting McCollum down, Lehigh will probably struggle to keep pace with the Blue Devils’ shooters. The task of guarding the 6-foot-3 junior will likely fall to Austin Rivers since the freshman has the size to bother McCollum. Although Rivers has improved defensively over the course of the season, multiple teams shredded Duke’s perimeter defense during the regular season. And if McCollum can penetrate the lane, expect him to knock down midrange jumpers or get to the line (82.1 FT%).
2. What does the absence of Ryan Kelly mean for Duke’s offense?
Ryan Kelly’s ankle continues to heal, but head coach Mike Krzyzewski still does not feel comfortable playing him for more than a possession or two at a time, according to the New York Times. With Kelly only available for “spot duty,” Duke certainly becomes more predictable on offense. The 6-foot-11 forward’s ability to stretch the floor and draw opposing big men away from the basket gives the Blue Devils a valuable inside-out weapon—and leads to more open looks on the perimeter for Curry, Rivers and Andre Dawkins. Now Lehigh can afford to clog the paint, pester the Plumlees with double teams and close off Rivers’ driving lanes. Josh Hairston has seen extended minutes in Kelly’s absence but doesn’t offer the same offensive skill set, even though he knocks down the occasional baseline jumper.
3. Will Andre Dawkins break out of his shooting slump?
The shooting guard with the silky 3-point stroke exploded for 20+ points four times this season, but lately Dawkins seems virtually invisible on the court. He has shot only 1-for-12 from beyond the arc in the last five games since his 22-point outburst against Florida State on the road. Krzyzewski has subsequently decreased his minutes, and Dawkins’ confidence understandably seems lacking. With Dawkins struggling and Kelly sidelined, Duke only possesses two reliable 3-point threats: Rivers and Curry. And both of those guards did not shoot the ball well during the ACC tournament. If the Blue Devils stray from feeding the Plumlees inside and continue forcing up perimeter shots like they did against Virginia Tech and Florida State last weekend, Lehigh can stay within striking distance.