Although it feels like longer, it's been just less than a month since No. 2 Duke's last matchup with a ranked foe—when the Blue Devils fell to Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational final.
But unlike the Bulldogs, 12th-ranked Texas Tech should give Duke a real test on the defensive end. The Red Raiders will head to New York looking to keep their undefeated record intact after ripping off 10 straight wins to begin the 2018-19 campaign.
So with the Blue Devils' penultimate nonconference matchup on the horizon, here are five things to watch for when Duke takes on Texas Tech Thursday at Madison Square Garden:
They go to Jarrett
There's little question which Red Raider poses the greatest threat to the Blue Devils: Jarrett Culver.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore—currently fifth in KenPom.com's Player of the Year standings—leads Texas Tech in points, rebounds, and assists per game, and is the only player back from last year's Elite Eight team that averaged more than 20 minutes a night. Culver is not as talented a shooter as Zhaire Smith, who wound up a first-round selection in last year's NBA Draft, but the former ESPN 100 recruit can score from all over the floor.
Even more important for the Red Raiders, Culver can handle the ball, works well off the bounce and seems to find lanes at will. Even when Texas Tech's star doesn't have the rock, the Blue Devils will have to keep an eye on Culver and prevent him from getting into the lane where's he's most effective.
Take it easy
It's cliché, but Thursday night will feature a clash of styles in the Big Apple. The Red Raiders will try their hardest to make it a slugfest at the Garden, leaning on their top-ranked defense and their ultra-slow pace—good for 263rd out of 353 Division I teams—to control the flow of the game.
By comparison, Duke is 21st in adjusted tempo and the Blue Devils haven't played a game with 70 or fewer possessions all season long—Texas Tech has reached that plateau in just two of its 10 contests. Although the Red Raiders are not especially tall, typically putting Culver at the 4 and using either 6-foot-8 Norense Odiase or 6-foot-10 Tariq Owens down low, they have the length to slow opponents down. And Duke has struggled with its half-court offense much of this year, something that should only further play into Texas Tech's hands.
Get a handle on things
Although Culver is the Red Raiders' leading assist man, Texas Tech uses a trio of players to share ball-handling duties. The true point guard among the group is Matt Mooney, a grad transfer from South Dakota who logged just three points on 1-of-5 shooting when the Coyotes visited Cameron Indoor last December.
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6-foot-2 guard Davide Moretti also brings the ball up the floor some of the time, but the sophomore is more of an off-ball option. As a whole, the Red Raiders don't have any dominant scorers beyond Culver—Mooney is the only other player to average double-figure points thus far.
Tariq of Terror
The Blue Devils have never matched up with Texas Tech on the hardwood, but there will be yet another familiar face on the other sideline. Tariq Owens, the Red Raiders' best post player, was part of the St. John's side that stunned Duke last February on the exact same floor before transferring this summer and heading south to Lubbock. The Red Storm were led by Shamorie Ponds' 33 points that fateful Saturday, but Owens chipped in 17 of his own along with four boards en route to the upset win.
At 6-foot-10 and just 205 pounds, Owens shouldn't be an overly tough matchup for the Blue Devils. But he's fierce on the glass, especially on the offensive end, as he ranks 112th in the nation offensive rebounding percentage. Texas Tech is not a dangerous team when it comes to scoring, yet extra chances for the Red Raiders could give them a chance to upset Duke.
The numbers tell most of the story here: Texas Tech is just 2-5 in program history when it plays at Madison Square Garden, better known as the World's Most Famous Arena. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, are 34-18 all-time in the venue, but have won 29 of their 40 games there during the Coach K era.
And to boot, Duke should have plenty of support when it returns to New York as the Blue Devil faithful always pack into the Garden. So while it may be listed as a fourth neutral site game for the Red Raiders this year—they've yet to play a true road contest—Thursday night will likely be about as close to a Duke home game as it can get outside of North Carolina.