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Can the Blue Devils win it all without a big man?

Duke might struggle against top-tier centers

By Michael Moore

It's clear the Blue Devils will be a lot of fun to watch this year. But they will also be ulcer-inducing.

Duke is going to give up loads of points in the paint. Those defensive purists who think every score should come on a contested jumper should probably have some Tums on hand for each game.

The only true presence inside is Brian Zoubek, who showed little during the preseason to indicate that he could be any more of a factor than he was last year. His injury over the summer surely set him back along the developmental curve, so it's possible he could show strides later this season, but he still seems to be shackled by the chains of timidity and poor footwork.

In the Barton game, the Blue Devils looked most effective when Taylor King and Kyle Singler were playing the four and five spots. But freshmen have been known to wear down toward the end of the longer college season, and forcing undersized forwards to bang with some of the premier big men in the country will certainly expedite that process.

That leaves Lance Thomas, lanky and undersized, to battle an extremely talented crop of ACC big men. And it's not just the premier guys like Tyler Hansbrough and Brandon Costner. James Gist and James Mays are poised for breakout years at Maryland and Clemson, respectively. Rebounding machine Anthony King is back at Miami for a fifth-year after a medical redshirt last year. Georgia Tech's Re'Sean Dickey, who torched the Blue Devils last year in Atlanta, will likely be back in January.

Of course, this situation is not unprecedented for Mike Krzyzewski. In 1997, 6-foot-6 freshman Chris Carrawell spent a good deal of time guarding the opposing center, including a guy at Wake Forest by the name of Tim Duncan.

The defensive answer will almost certainly be pressuring the opposing guards in order to cut down on the number of quality post entries and then immediately doubling down. The Blue Devils will usually be at a disadvantage inside, and the X-factor will be if guards can handle Duke's pressure, making this Blue Devil team the type that could pull off some big wins but could also lose to just about anybody.

No big man? No problem for these Blue Devils

By Galen Vaisman

Reading over the predictions made by various college basketball prognosticators, there is one adjective that keeps popping up to describe Duke: small.

After listening to all this talk, you would think that the Blue Devils were putting a team of Lilliputians onto the court.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that sophomore Brian Zoubek is both the only center and player taller than 6-foot-8 on the roster-although the jury seems to be out on Kyle Singler, who could be anywhere from 6-foot-8 to 6-foot-10. Zoubek's lack of quickness has been a cause for concern, especially in situations where is matched up with more polished post players like UNC's Tyler Hansbrough and N.C. State's Brandon Costner.

But let's not forget that at 7-foot-1, Zoubek is taller than most big men in college basketball and can pose problems for other players just by holding his arms up.

Zoubek will also not be the only option at center, as he is expected to split time with fellow sophomore Lance Thomas. The Blue Devils have rarely run set plays centered around a post scorer, but Thomas should thrive in Duke's new offensive approach, in which players are always looking for an outlet pass. The key is freshman Taylor King and Singler's strength on the glass, and either of them can always put another body on an opponent if Zoubek or Thomas need help down low.

Singler's impact can also not be underestimated. The freshman may frequently find himself as the tallest Blue Devil on the court, but this is no cause for concern. He is more "ready" than any recent Duke freshman-including former standout Luol Deng. Even if the Blue Devils can't stop a dominating big man, they have the offensive firepower necessary to overcome this disadvantage. Between Greg Paulus, Nolan Smith, DeMarcus Nelson, Jon Sheyer, Marty Pocius and Gerald Henderson, Duke can put out a seemingly endless combination of guards that can provide a steady stream of scoring and perimeter defense.

And, don't forget, the Blue Devils have won a title without a big man before-Carlos Boozer missed the ACC Tournament and the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament during Duke's title run in 2001.


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