The independent news organization of Duke University

Beyond the Arc: Gameday Michigan

THE CONTENTS: No. 4 Duke continues its road swing through the Big Ten when it visits Michigan this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. at Crisler Arena. You can see the game on ESPN with Dave O'Brien and Jay Bilas and hear it on 620 AM.

Generic Script

THE EXPOSITION: The Blue Devils (8-0) are coming off their most impressive win of the season, a 76-60 dispatch of No. 9 Purdue in West Lafayette Tuesday night. Despite the ease with which Duke won, it's hard to say the team played its best basketball of the season, at least not on the offensive end.

Since Duke last encountered Michigan (5-2) in New York, the Wolverines beat up on Norfolk State, survived Savannah State by two, and blew a halftime lead in a road loss at Maryland Wednesday night. That means Michigan is 0-2 against the ACC and 5-0 against everybody else.

Duke and Michigan, of course, have a rich series history, including the last meeting two weeks ago, won by the Blue Devils 71-56 at the Garden.

THE PROTAGONISTS: I was a bit surprised to see all the pro-Duke stories in the media following Tuesday's victory over Purdue. Granted, it was an easy win on the road against a top-10 team, but I thought the game told us more about the Boilermakers' unreadiness for the national stage than it did about the Blue Devils.

That being said, it's tough to deny that Duke played some of its best defense of the season. The Blue Devils took Purdue out of its rhythm early, and at no point in the game did the Boilermakers look like they knew what they wanted to do offensively. Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler locked down on E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel, respectively, and Purdue couldn't do the same on the other end.

Offensively, "Searching for Gerald Henderson" continues, as the junior was just 1-of-8 from the field for two points (those two, though, were scored in tremendous fashion on an amazing drive to the basket that elicited a few oohs and shakes of the head on press row). Henderson made up for it on the defensive end, but if Duke wants to challenge No. 1 North Carolina--and an early theme of the college basketball season is, Can anyone challenge North Carolina?--it needs Henderson to step up and be a 15-18 ppg scorer.

THE ANTAGONISTS: Michigan gets a second crack at the Blue Devils, this time with homecourt but without the momentum it had in New York.

We pretty much know what the Wolverines are going to do offensively: shoot threes and run backdoors with Manny Harris keying it all. The key for Duke is to show defensive discipline--like it did in the first contest--and to dominate the glass like it did against Purdue.

Defensively, it will be interesting to see if the Wolverines mix it up at all or stick with their 1-3-1 zone. The Blue Devils dissected it well in NYC, working the ball to the corners and making diagonal cuts. That being said, Duke didn't shoot the ball all that well in that game and scored a season-low 71 points.

THE CONFLICT: The contest has the features of a trap game--last game before an extended break, coming off a big road win, against a team you've already beaten--but I think the environment in Ann Arbor will quickly wake the Blue Devils up if they come out flat. In other words, the Michigan crowd will remind Duke how big a game this is for them.

So, the conflict is this: Does Michigan change its gameplan at all from the first contest, and if so, how does Duke respond? The Blue Devils have spent the last few days prepping for the Wolverines' 1-3-1, and it might be the right time for John Beilein to switch it up.

IMPORTANT STATISTIC TO WATCH AT MICHIGAN THIS SEASON: Can the basketball team finish with fewer losses than the football team (nine)? I can't imagine that this is happened since at least 1993.

TIM'S FAVORITE PLAYER IN MICHIGAN HISTORY: I said it for the last preview against these guys, and I'll say it again: nobody was cooler to 7-year-old Tim than Jalen Rose.

WHAT'S TIM'S BIGGEST CONCERN HEADING INTO TODAY?: I really hope Michigan wears their maize uniforms at home. They're some of the nicest in the nation; as evidence, I own a pair of maize Michigan shorts.

IS IT ARGUABLE THAT JOHN BEILEIN IS THE BEST X'S AND O'S COACH IN THE NATION?: Yes, and I'd argue it. Beilein has done the cliched more with less than anyone else in the country the last five years at least. His teams at West Virginia didn't contain a single player drafted by the NBA, yet won five NCAA Tournament games in two years, with their two losses both of the heartbreaking variety.

I also love Beilein because his style allows for statistical anomalies such as these: In West Virginia's Elite Eight loss to Louisville in 2005, the Mountaineers shot 18-of-24 from 3-point range in regulation, and were tied. They finished the game 18-of-27 from beyond the arc and lost. Think about that: 18-of-27! And the Blue Devils thought it was rough when Rhode Island was 9-of-14 earlier this season from deep.

The next year, West Virginia lost to Texas in the Sweet 16 on a 30-foot buzzer beater by Kenton Paulino. The Mountaineers somehow managed to be in the game despite being outrebounded 42-14 in the contest. Tripled up on the boards, and they lost by three on a buzzer beating prayer.

In other words, I really enjoyed those Mountaineer teams. And if Beilein showed some flexibility--like in today's game--I'd have no hesitation calling him the best X's and O's guy in college basketball. (I mean, who are the other candidates?)

MICHIGAN WILL PROVE TROUBLE IF...: It hits threes, Manny Harris does what E'Twaun Moore couldn't, and the Blue Devils don't execute against the 1-3-1 as effectively as they did two weeks ago. If the Wolverines are in it late, it'll be interesting to see if Duke's rugged travel schedule early in the year catches up with it in the final minutes of a tight game.

THE DENOUEMENT: A tighter first half than Duke wants, but the Blue Devils slowly pull away after the intermission, their defense again leading the way. DUKE 78-64.


Share and discuss “Beyond the Arc: Gameday Michigan” on social media.