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Three points: Minutes off the bench, size advantage will help Blue Devils achieve victory against Elon

AJ Griffin has steadily improved since coming back from his knee injury and figures to be a crucial part of the Blue Devils' scheme this season.
AJ Griffin has steadily improved since coming back from his knee injury and figures to be a crucial part of the Blue Devils' scheme this season.

No. 2 Duke men's basketball is set to play their third matchup in five days Saturday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium. After two opponent cancellations due to COVID-19 protocols, Duke will now face an Elon squad hungry to end their seven-game losing streak against the Blue Devils:

Let Griffin Fly

After a tumultuous start due to a preseason knee injury, forward AJ Griffin is finally acclimated to college basketball and the Duke system. In Duke’s sole loss to Ohio State, Griffin only saw the floor for two minutes. During the Blue Devils' home stretch since then, however, he’s produced the most offensively of any bench player, with 19 points against South Carolina State and 11 points against Appalachian State. In limited playing time so far, the sixth man might just be the most efficient player in Durham given his ball security and his extended shooting range; he’s making 45.8% of his threes on the year and averages only 0.2 turnovers per game. As a bonus, the freshman has also cashed in on all five of his free throws this season. Griffin’s presence provides the depth the Blue Devils need to challenge the top teams in the nation, and Krzyzewski should make sure to develop his talents with increasing minutes now that he’s healthy.

Dominate down low

Mike Schrage’s team is a small ball attack, with its five top scorers coming from the backcourt. The team regularly starts four guards and a single forward, 6-foot-8 Michael Graham. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, are anything but short with 6-foot-10 Paolo Banchero and 7-foot Mark Williams down low. Elon’s defense will likely struggle to contain the Blue Devils’ size and will rely on shooting to keep the game close. However, the Phoenix's three-point shooting efficiency is nothing to boast about, as they’re shooting a mediocre 36.4% from beyond the arc for the year. Size will make the difference on both ends in this contest, and Duke’s 5.1 blocks and 38.1 rebounds per game should be enough to limit an offense that lacks a prolific shooter.

Spread minutes, stay healthy

Virginia Tech comes to Cameron on Wednesday, and Krzyzewski is keen on perfecting his process with today’s final tune-up game before conference play begins. Now that Griffin and Theo John have returned from their knee and back injuries, respectively, the Blue Devils are heading into the thick of the season at near 100% health. Given that today’s game nearly didn’t happen and the Omicron variant continues to ravage the college basketball schedule, it’s imperative that Duke gives role players minutes and keeps its stars healthy. Health in 2022 will likely come at a premium and there’s no telling when a player could test positive, leaving the team with a shortened roster. Spreading the minutes to other contributors is injury prevention in and of itself, but it will also develop the bench players with game-speed minutes in preparation for starters potentially missing games due to COVID-19 or injury.

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