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Duke welcomes PNIT trip to familiar arena

The No. 1 team in the country takes its show on the road this week to the World's Most Famous Arena.

The Blue Devils (3-0) will travel to New York City's Madison Square Garden for the final two rounds of the NIT Season Tip-Off, including Wednesday's 7 p.m. semifinal game against Drexel (3-0).

The games at the Garden, an arena that has become a second home of sorts for the team in recent years, will be Duke's 10th and 11th games at the New York venue in the past seven seasons. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski owns a career 11-5 record at Madison Square Garden, including a pair of victories last season.

The matchups have included three away games played against St. John's, two Dreyfus Classic games, one appearance in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic and one previous showing in the Preseason NIT.

"Whether it be the preseason or the postseason, it means you have the chance to play in the Garden," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Playing in the Garden was something every player wanted to do.... You could do a good 'Field of Dreams' type of thing there with all of the great action."

Krzyzewski schedules non-conference games every year in large venues such as the Garden. This season, the Blue Devils will also play games at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia and the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro. The big arenas give the Blue Devils a chance to adjust to tournament-like environments.

"It's obviously exciting," freshman point guard Greg Paulus said. "Growing up you watch [Duke] play on TV, you see them play in the Garden, you know all the stories and memories that go on in the Garden. It's kind of the unspoken truth about coming to Duke, you get to play in the Garden and other big arenas."

Participating in the semifinals Wednesday and potentially the finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off Friday will prepare the Blue Devils for the tournament atmospheres they'll face at the ACC and NCAA Tournaments in March. In particular, the single day of preparation between the two games will be an adjustment for Duke's younger players.

Last time the Blue Devils played in the Preseason NIT was in 2000-later that season the team took home its third National Championship.

"It's our first chance to win a championship this year," sophomore guard DeMarcus Nelson said. "We're a team and everyone's going out there with that mindset."

But for the freshmen like Paulus, this week's games serve as more than just an opportunity to play under the bright lights of New York City. For them, it is the first road trip they will take as college athletes.

Freshman forward Josh McRoberts said the coaching staff distributed a packing list and a full itinerary for the trip to make sure the whole team was on the same page. Paulus said he plans on asking the older players a lot of questions about the logistics of a road trip.

The Blue Devils's semifinal opponent, Drexel, knocked off Princeton in the first round of the tournament and Sam Houston State Nov. 17 in the quarterfinals. Near the end of the second game, Drexel fans chanted "We want Duke" and then stormed the court after the 72-61 victory.

"For them to win two games like that, they're a quality team," Paulus said. "We have to be sharp and ready to go right from the start."

No. 11 Memphis (2-0) squares off against No. 16 UCLA (3-0) in the nightcap of the double-header Wednesday.

All three potential Duke opponents are known for their athleticism and ability to play pressure defense. So far this year, Duke has not faced a team that has consistently pressed or trapped in the backcourt. Paulus said the Blue Devils worked on that in practice Monday as a way of preparing for all three teams.

Even though Duke comes in as the heavy favorite Wednesday, the team is not looking past Drexel.

"We're not going to look past Wednesday to Friday," Nelson said. "We need to take care of business Wednesday first, and then we'll look to Friday."

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