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Carlos Previews NC A&T

North Carolina A&T comes into Durham as potentially the weakest team on the Blue Devil’s schedule. The Aggies have a 2-5 record with an RPI ranking that would be worth $6 million a year if it were your batting average. The two wins for the Aggies were over Texas Southern and Elon, two teams that aren’t going to be making the big dance anytime soon.

The Aggies probably shouldn’t have harbored any illusions about emerging from Cameron with a victory when they looked at the schedule in September. But if this year’s team carries the same attitude as last year’s squad they will come to Durham believing they can win. Still, what A&T realistically hopes to get out of the game is much like what Duke hopes to get out of the game- the opportunity to prepare the team for the remainder of the season. While A&T hopes to expose their team to a level of competition they won’t see for the remainder of their schedule, Duke hopes to use the afternoon to expose their bench to more game experience.

Duke’s desire to develop their bench beyond sixth man Chris Duhon may have been intensified by the outcome of their last game. In that contest Duke squandered away a commanding performance against third ranked Stanford as the Cardinal repeatedly scored down the stretch to steal away the victory. During that time Duke was forced to alter both their lineup and their style of play due to foul difficulties. In particular, the Blue Devils will want to get more out of their frontcourt reserves than the 6 minutes they accounted for in that game.

The Aggies are led by former Tar Heel, Curtis Hunter who has had the "interim" removed from his title at the end of last year after guiding the team to a 14-15 season. One of those 15 losses was a 41 point drubbing in Cameron Indoor Stadium where A&T played tough in the first half before succumbing to the eventual Blue Devil onslaught. This year, the Aggies have struggled out of the gate with three straight losses of 20 points or more. The best team they have faced has been Pittsburgh, a 5-3 team that started the Aggies’ season with a 35 point blowout. They are likely to be somewhat rusty when they square off against Duke as they have not played an actual game since their December 8 victory over Elon. To help prepare the team for Duke and the opening of MEAC play, the Aggies scheduled an exhibition game this week.


A&T’s frontline is anchored by Jafar Taalib, a 6-8 junior who prefers to face the basket. He possess a decent mid-range jumper, but at 215 lbs., Taalib is a bit on the small size to compete in major Div. I ball. That can lead to some foul difficulty when he comes up against teams like Duke. In last year’s game in Durham, Taalib fouled out in 10 minutes of play. This year he picked up 4 fouls against Pittsburgh and fouled out against Virginia Commonwealth. This is a guy who is so foul prone that his finest moment in Cameron came in the 1999 game when he refused to sit down after fouling out, thereby depriving the semester-break depleted student section the opportunity to bid him adieu.

Flanking Taalib up front are Bruce Jenkins (6-6/205) and Terrell Robinson (6-6/220). Jenkins, a junior, is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder from the power forward spot. He uses his quickness to hit the boards, particularly on the offensive end where he’s grabbing nearly 4 rebounds a game. Jenkins is not particularly efficient, as his 33% field goal percentage would indicate. But what he does do is play with a Moses Malone type dedication on the boards to finish plays. His aggressiveness on the boards also take him to the free throw line nearly 6 times a game. Jenkins doesn’t stray too far from the basket and almost never takes a three point shot.

Robinson is a senior who plays a similar game to Jenkins. He is a quick player that likes to stay close to the basket. For the year he has yet to attempt a three point shot. Instead he scores points off the offensive glass and limits his shots to drives or low post moves. Robinson is the team’s second leading rebounder and third leading scorer. He was originally bound for SC State out of high school but did not meet NCAA qualifying levels and consequently spent a year at Bonner Academy in Raleigh. Robinson is a good enough player to have drawn attention from the College of Charleston and the University of Minnesota before deciding on A&T.

Off the bench, junior college transfer Andre Jackson (6-6/210) gives the Aggies more outside firepower from the frontline. He’s currently averaging just under 8 points a game and hits on 45% of this three point attempts. The Aggies may need to rely solely upon Jackson for frontcourt depth as Travis Totten, a 6-8 junior, has been slowed this year by injuries. When healthy, Totten gives the Aggies a physical low post presence at 225 lbs. However, his play this year has been limited to just 2 minutes due to an ankle sprain and a strained abdominal muscle. A&T could also turn to Abraham Traore, a 6-10/250 lbs. junior who sees occasional duty. Traore, much like Duke’s Casey Sanders, has not been playing basketball for very long. He picked up the game as a senior in high school and is the quintessential "project" player.

For Duke, the frontline will enjoy a size advantage at every position. In last year’s game the team started off by pounding the ball inside to Boozer on every possession. At 6-9/270 lbs. he presents a size mismatch that the Aggies cannot answer. Coming off from his 4 point, 4 rebound, 5 foul outing against Stanford where he shot 1-6, Boozer needs a big game to get his confidence back on track.

While Boozer may be facing some motivational challenges the same cannot be said for senior captain Shane Battier. Against Stanford, Battier did everything but stay in the game. He complimented his 26 point performance with blocks and steals although he struggled to rebound against the bigger Stanford frontline.

Rounding out the frontcourt is Mike Dunleavy, whose two missed free throws late in the Stanford game overshadowed an otherwise fine performance. He finished that game with 13 points on 6-11 shooting, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 1 blocked shot, and 0 turnovers. And 0-2 from the free throw line.

For Duke though, this game is not so much about the starters as it is about the reserves. Duke fans are watching the development of their frontcourt bench with a nervous eye coming off the Stanford loss in which Duke lost both Boozer and Battier to fouls. The bench depth, already weakened by sophomore Nick Horvath’s reoccurring ankle and foot problems, took another hit this week when Krzyzewski suspended freshman forward Andre Sweet. Although Sweet was eligible by NCAA standards, the coaching staff felt it best for his long term development if he were to sit out for at least half of the next semester to focus on academics. His absence reduces the Duke frontcourt bench to two scholarship players and a walk-on from the football team.

Of those players, it is 6-10 sophomore Casey Sanders who many fans hope to see emerge. Sanders has many things going for him- he can run and jump as well as any big man in the league. Unfortunately, the guy who holds that raw athleticism has only been playing basketball for 6 years. While you are likely to see Sanders get down the floor and make a dramatic play in transition you are also likely to see Shane Battier dragging him around to position him on defense.

The other option for reserve size is Matt Christensen, who while lacking Sanders’ athleticism does have a better understanding of the game. Nothing could underscore that more than when Coach K elected to insert Christensen into the waning moments of the Stanford game after Battier fouled out.

The player on Duke’s bench who offers the best balance between a guy like Sanders and a guy like Christensen is Nick Horvath. Horvath is a big (6-10) player with a good set of offensive moves. He needs more exposure to actual game action to develop a comfort with playing the game at this pace, but he has the talent to make that adjustment over time. Unfortunately for the Devils, Horvath has been off the court this year more than he has been on the court and there is no set date for his return.

The wildcard in the Duke lineup is 6-4 freshman Reggie Love, a walk-on from the football team. Love is a good enough basketball player to have attracted the attention of several mid-major schools for a basketball scholarship. He is a strong, slashing player with an impressive 40-inch vertical leap. With the loss of Sweet there is an opportunity for Love to see more playing time.


For the Aggies, the depth in the backcourt is much like their frontcourt. They had hoped to use that a strength of the team but that depth has been severely depleted by the loss of an expected contributor. 6-2 senior Marque Carrington (a local product out of Cary, NC) was projected to be a team leader this year. Carrington saw his scoring average fall in his junior thanks to a chronic back problem that has fully sidelined him this year. His loss takes away a guy who could score, play defense, and provide team leadership.

Without Carrington, A&T has moved 6-5 junior Anthony Debro into the starting lineup. Offensively Debro isn’t much of a drop off from Carrington. At 6-5 he gives the team some size at the shooting guard and he uses that on the boards where he averages 3.4 rebounds a game. However, unlike Carrington, Debro is a disinterested defender at best.

Starting at the point guard spot will be James (J.J.) Miller. The diminutive Miller (he’s listed anywhere from 5-5 to 5-11) is a very steady point guard who can score. He’s hitting nearly 38% of his three point attempts and is steady from the free throw line. Miller’s assist to turnover ratio is below 1.0, which is never a good sign for a point guard facing Duke.

With the loss of Carrington, the Aggies count on two reserves in the backcourt. 6-2 sophomore Jelani Dukes, a transfer from Hagerstown Community College, sees the most minutes off the bench. Dukes is a dangerous three point threat, hitting on 43% of his attempts, but he does not score well inside the arc. He’s only taken 9 two-point field goal attempts all year, dishes out just one assist per game and has only attempted on free throw attempt for the season. He’s obviously not the kind of player who breaks down defenses with dribble penetration.

For more of a traditional backup point guard Hunter can turn to Landon Beckwith a 5-11 sophomore. Beckwith is not much of a shooter but does give A&T a steady ball distributor. Also coming off the Aggie bench is 6-1 junior Jermaine Price.

Duke doesn’t have much depth in the backcourt either, but what depth there is, is exceptional. Starting point guard Jason Williams continues to play like the best guard in college. Like Dunleavy, Williams played a brilliant game against Stanford only to have a key error coming down the stretch. In Williams’ case it was difficulty in executing the delay game that overshadowed a thoroughly dominating performance.

Starting alongside Williams is senior Nate James who struggled from the field against Stanford but was effective on the glass. At 6-6, James has the size to matchup with most perimeter opponents. Duke would love to get James back in the groove from the outside where, after a strong start to the season, his 3-point shooting percentage has fallen to 35.5%. Despite (or perhaps because of) his long range shooting difficulties, James has been contributing everywhere else on the court. He is the team’s leading offensive rebounder and the leading free throw shooter.

Chris Duhon, a 6-3 freshman, comes off the bench to work at both guard spots. Although he has yet to show the consistent shooting touch he displayed as a high school player, he remains one of the top freshmen in the ACC. He leads the team in assist to turnover ratio and is tied for second in steals. But more than anything else he has impressed observers with his all around defense that is remarkable for a freshman.

Finally, sophomore Andre Buckner should see some playing time against the Aggies. Buckner’s primary role is as a practice player but on occasion he can come in for defensive pressure.


This is not a game that will be measured by if Duke wins or by how much they win. In reality they should win and win big. Duke is 5-0 against the Aggies and in their last 3 meetings they have won by an average of 37 points. What’s more important for Duke is how they win and what they do in the game.

The long layoff (9 days) since the Stanford game may leave the Devils a little rusty at the outset but they should be able to play their way out of that quickly. The team will probably want to exorcise the demons from that game and A&T is the unlucky team to be next up on the schedule. Duke will try and jump on the Aggies early by going inside to Boozer and by turning up the defensive pressure. A&T comes into the game averaging over 18 turnovers per game after playing a schedule that doesn’t feature any team with a defense like Duke’s. Sanders should see some playing time early as the team attempts to get him used to playing with the first unit players. Last year Sanders played 18 minutes in the A&T game. That figure could go up this year with the absence of Horvath and Sweet. Love and Christensen should also see ample minutes. From a team standpoint, the Devils may run some clock in the second half to practice the delay offense.

This marks the start of a 5 game stretch of games of increasing difficulty as the Devils transition into the ACC schedule. Following A&T are Florida State, Clemson, NC State, and Virginia. Sanders, Christensen, and Love will all see extended minutes in the A&T game. For Duke, the challenge is to keep avoid a significant drop in those minutes as the games progress.