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Paulus' injury changes outlook

Greg Paulus' left foot may not slow just him down.

The sophomore point guard reaggravated a previous foot injury in practice Saturday, and there has been no timetable set for his return.

With a deep stable of wings, a number of smaller forwards and a mobile big man in Josh McRoberts, many expected the Blue Devils to employ a run-and-gun style of offense this season. A high-tempo game would likely mask Duke's youth and lack of an established go-to scorer.

But with the loss of last year's ACC leader in assists, the thought of pushing the tempo early in the season seems to be a lot less practical.

With Paulus out, the only true point guard on the roster is sophomore Jordan Davidson, a walk-on who played 11 minutes last season. Junior DeMarcus Nelson, who brought the ball up the court at times last season, and freshman Jon Scheyer will be the most likely candidates to see time at the point during Paulus' absence.

Even before the injury, one of the major questions facing the Blue Devils was regarding who would serve as Paulus' backup. Nelson and sophomore Martynas Pocius are clearly more comfortable operating from the wing, and Scheyer played off the ball throughout his high school career. Paulus' injury heightens the urgency of the question but will also likely result in its answer earlier in the season.

Against full-court pressure, don't be surprised to even see McRoberts serve as a pressure release, as the sophomore should be able to bring the ball up the court against almost any big man in the country. But Duke's coaches will likely want to avoid this scenario since it will delay McRoberts' ability to gain position in the low post, therefore slowing the initiation of the offense.

"We are one of those teams that's going to get better as the season goes on, and we find out who we are," assistant coach Chris Collins said last month.

That sentiment may be even more pronounced now that Paulus will likely miss time in the early season. There is a silver lining to the timing of Paulus' injury, as Duke still has 26 days until its first regular-season contest.

The Blue Devils will likely not be challenged until they get to the semifinals of the CBE Classic Nov. 20, giving them a pair of exhibitions and three regular-season games to get a sense of who can run their offense most effectively against weak competition.

But the lack of a floor general could become painfully obvious once the Blue Devils run into tougher opponents. In the finals of the CBE Classic, Duke may meet Marquette-a team which features the talented trio of guards Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews, who combined for nearly five steals per game last season.

Shortly after the CBE Classic, Duke has back-to-back home matchups against powerhouses Indiana and Georgetown.

The true fear for the Blue Devils, however, is not a few early-season losses but the possibility that this injury could hinder Paulus' play throughout the season. It is a re-aggravation of a previous injury Paulus had suffered, and Duke will need the sophomore to return to full health if the Blue Devils are to reach their full potential.

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