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Carlos Previews The Cats!

If you get the feeling that the Duke-Kentucky game played at the Meadowlands this Tuesday evening seems like an NCAA tournament game, you won't be alone. One of the things Coach K loves to do is find a way to simulate NCAA tournament games at points during the regular season. It's no accident that Duke is facing off against Kentucky just two days after playing a home game to NC A&T. In fact, that's exactly the same thing that happened in 1999 when the Devils and Cats met up in the Jimmy V Classic.

Last year it was a game against Stanford in the Pete Newell Classic coming just days after a matchup with Portland. The formula is pretty simple: face off against a strong opponent shortly after playing a earlier game, just like you would see in the big dance. Krzyzewski takes that one step further, and tries to schedule these games right after the exam period, when the team is apt to be physically and emotionally drained like they will if they make a run late into the tournament.

If Coach K was looking for team to simulate an NCAA tournament game, he couldn't have found a better choice than Kentucky. The two teams have faced off against each other in enough epic contests to give the ESPN Classic guys the programming to fill a Sunday. The Cats come into the contest riding the crest of a 6-game winning streak after a shocking season opening loss to Western Kentucky. The team is currently ranked 9th and could easily be undefeated and ranked in the top 3 had they not lost Jason Parker to a knee injury before the season started. The team has plenty of size up front, but Parker would have given them more toughness up front.

But before you start feeling sorry for coach Tubby Smith, you need to remember two things. He still has Prince and he lost the guy who looks like Prince. The latter means he no longer has his son Saul on the team, so he can now play his best point guard without jeopardizing domestic harmony. The former means he has one of the best players in the country. Call it a win-win situation for Tubby.

When you look at the Duke schedule there are a handful of games that stand out as much for their potential individual matchups as they do the team matchups. There's the battle of the backcourts with Jason Williams and Chris Duhon squaring off against Ryan Sidney and Troy Bell of Boston College. There's Carlos Boozer facing Lonny Baxter of Maryland. And then there's Mike Dunleavy and Tayshaun Prince.


There are a number of talented forwards in college basketball this season, but few have the versatility of both Prince and Dunleavy. Like Dunleavy, Prince has both range and size, making him a tough matchup for almost any defense. Anyone who witnessed the opening barrage of three-pointers Prince rained down on the Tar Heels knows how explosive he can be. Duke will need to pick up Prince the minute he passes over the top of Jimmy Hoffa and deny him the ball as much as possible in the halfcourt sets.

Parker's injury, as well as the disappointing performance of perennial "just about to break out" performer Jules Camera, have forced the Cats to play Prince at the power forward spot. In that lineup, 6-9 junior, Marquis Estill usually plays the pivot. Estill is a real team player; he agreed to pay his own tuition and become a walk-on when Smith discovered he had given out 3 more scholarships than NCAA allotment of 13. Apparently Jason Parker was helping keep track of the numbers.

Estill is the Cats' best offensive performer in the paint, but he's not terribly excited over physical contact. You'll see that in both his defense and his rebounding, both areas where his performance fails to meet expectations for a player of his size. That's a polar opposite of what Smith gets when he goes to his bench and brings in reserve center Marvin Stone. The 6-10 junior out of Alabama is more physical than Estill, though neither he nor Estill is able to match Parker in that area.

Stone and Estill account for about 30 minutes combined in the post and the remaining time goes to the aforementioned Jules Camera who is striving to become the next Ajou Ajou Deng. Camera missed all of last season following his suspension over a DUI conviction. This year, he's averaging under 10 minutes a game and contributing marginally. Camera is similar to Casey Sanders in that his defense is more developed than his offense. At 6-11, 225 lbs., he's a shot blocking presence but can be exploited by stronger players inside.

Smith has a deep bench with forwards Erik Daniels and Chuck Hayes both playing about 12 minutes a game. Both guys are in the 6-7 range, with the freshman Hayes being a bit stronger. The two are almost identical contributors with neither being an exceptional shooter, but both helping out on the glass and on defense.


While Prince was last year's SEC Player of the Year, he was not the leading scorer on his team. That honor goes to Keith Bogans, who like Prince, flirted with the NBA draft last year. He was a high school teammate of former UNC star Joseph "I'm goin' to the league" Forte and the two play a very similar game, although Bogans is a bit stronger.

The 6-5 junior is a streaky three-point shooter with the strength of his offense being the mid-range game. He's also averaging nearly 6 rebounds a game from the small forward spot. Bogans can play the off-guard position; in fact, that may be his natural spot. So when Smith wants to put more size on the floor he can move Bogans and Prince to the 2 and 3 spots and create a lot of matchup problems for opponents.

Gerald Fitch mans when the off-guard position when the Cats are in a three guard set. His offensive numbers are fairly modest and what keeps him in the lineup is the fact that he may be the team's toughest perimeter defender. Expect to see him draw the defensive assignment on Jason Williams when Kentucky goes with a man defense.

At the position formerly played by the guy who looks like the artist formerly known as Prince - perhaps it's easier just to call it the point guard spot - Smith has been using senior JP Blevins and sophomore Cliff Hawkins. The 6-1 Hawkins usually gets the starting nod and is an aggressive performer who likes to attack the basket and create for himself or his teammates. He leads the team in assists and in turnovers - and don't expect to see that change over the course of the season. Blevins, on the other hand, is a more conservative player who tries to limit his mistakes.

On paper, the Wildcats should have a deep backcourt with the addition of freshmen shooting guards Rashaad Carruth and Josh Carrier. Carruth was a McDonalds All-American and Carrier was a Kentucky Mr. Basketball. But neither player has made an impact thus far and it's doubtful either will see extended minutes on Tuesday night.


A game like this is filled with all sorts of intriguing matchups and subplots. The short story is that Duke must find a way to limit the impact of Prince and Bogans while at the same time protecting Boozer on defense. To do that, Krzyzewski will need big performances from Dunleavy and Jones on defense, particularly the latter who will have see time defending both of the Kentucky stars at some point in the game, depending upon which lineup Smith uses.

The big concern for Duke is of course the health of Dunleavy as well as Williams, both of whom suffered what the Duke medical staff is calling minor injuries. Anyone watching Dunleavy 1-7 performance against NC A&T on Sunday may question the veracity of that medical opinion. Dunleavy's a tough kid and will undoubtedly play, but how effective he will be after his ankle has had a chance to stiffen up over the last 48 hours remains to be seen.

While the head to head matchups are obviously key to containing Prince and Bogans, it's the team defense that will make the difference. The first step in that is to limit the touches for both players by disrupting the Kentucky guards. Duke enjoys a significant advantage with Williams and Duhon squaring off against Fitch and Hawkins. The Wildcat guards (Fitch, Hawkins, and Blevins) have just a 1.5 assist to turnover and can be rattled by ball pressure. Duke's ball pressure can also be effective without generating a lot of turnovers. Watch Hawkins and Blevins. If they are 25 feet from the basket and the Duke guards can turn them - force them to protect their dribble with their bodies - it will be tough for Kentucky to run their offense.

When Duke has the ball they are going to want to attack those same backcourt players. Hawkins has been especially foul prone and when he goes to the bench the Wildcats lose a lot of quickness with Blevins at the point. Smith will probably try to protect Hawkins by putting him on Duhon, who is not as offensively aggressive as Willams. Still, it's a hard bargain when defending a guy like Duhon is considered the easier task.

Of course, much of that has to do with the fact that Williams has been scintillating as of late, shooting 62% on three point shots over the last two games. Kentucky will have to make some serious adjustments to their defense to contain not just Williams, but the rest of Duke's three point threats.

Kentucky and Smith face an interesting dilemma when it comes to Boozer. Ideally they would like to go at him on the offensive end of the floor and get him into foul trouble. If Boozer gets into foul trouble, Krzyzewski will need a solid performance out of either Casey Sanders or Matt Christensen as Nick Horvath will not be available. For Kentucky, their best option to draw fouls on Boozer would be to go with Estill. But the tradeoff is on the other end where Estill is not as solid a defender and may not be able to contain Boozer.

One solution to that problem may be to go with a zone and hope that the Duke shooters have an off night. Duke spent a good deal of time against NC A&T practicing their zone offense, focusing particularly on relocating the ball from the interior. In addition to the difficulty in defending the three-point shot, playing a zone would also make it more difficult for Kentucky to hit the defensive glass, one of their strong suits this year. It's also an area where Duke traditionally struggles, although that's partially attributable to the style of defense Duke plays. Earlier this year, Krzyzewski and his staff made a small adjustment, keeping the guards in longer to rebound on the defensive glass. The results have been positive, including Jason Williams' 10 rebound performance against Temple.

The Jimmy V Classic gives both Duke and Kentucky an opportunity to measure themselves right before heading into conference play. For Kentucky, they have yet to play a Top 20 team and have a relatively weak strength of schedule. (To be fair, they did have to play Carolina and that will screw up anyone's SOS.)

For Duke, it's the opportunity to play a big, physical, and deep team. The Devils thought they would get that kind of a game with Kansas at the Maui Classic, but Ball State had other ideas. What they didn't find in Maui they will find in New York. Last year, Stanford exposed some Duke problems and although the loss was a painful one for Duke fans, it was also one that paid dividends later in the year.

It's easy to look at the way Duke has been playing in the last few games and feel confident about a win. But this is a different type of game and the strongest team the Devils have faced this year. If Duke can take advantage of what should be an enormous advantage in the backcourt, they should be able to win. If not, and the Cats can use their superior numbers to wear Duke down, well then it may be another of those learning experiences.