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Carlos Previews Michigan!

On the road to last year’s national championship, Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils found themselves facing the Missouri Tigers, coached by former Duke assistant Quin Snyder. The experience was obviously emotionally taxing for both mentor and pupil. That’s a major reason why Saturday’s game against Michigan will be the last in what has been one of Duke’s longest running out-of-conference series. Duke and Michigan have been playing each other in the home and away series for the last 12 years and over the course of that time Duke has come away with a 9-4 record in those matchups. The mathematically inclined of you will note that 9 + 4 does not equal 12. Included in that 12 year span is an additional game the two teams played in early April, 1992 in Minneapolis.

All that history comes to an end this weekend as both head coaches have decided they don’t wish to face each other on an annual basis. Krzyzewski and Amaker are very close, with a relationship that goes back over twenty years and has extended to each of their families. Krzyzewski once related how his mother had only one picture of a Duke player in her home. That player was Tommy Amaker.

Getting out of the series with Duke isn’t a bad idea for Amaker for reasons beyond his relationship with Coach K. After an awkward exit from a Seton Hall team that underachieved last year due to internal strife, Amaker finds himself at the helm of Michigan program that has fallen a long ways. The Wolverines were at the top of college basketball, winning a national championship in the late 80’s and falling short in the championship game in 1992 and 1993. Those early 90’s teams were powered by the first high profile recruiting class - everyone knew the Fab Five and everyone was wearing baggy shorts.

Few people knew it at the time, but while all that was going on, the Michigan basketball program was rotting from the inside. The blind eye of Steve Fisher and the open wallet of Ed Martin were pushing the program closer to the precipice. It didn’t help matters much that right about the time the Wolverines troubles were surfacing there was another coach just down the road ready to take advantage of the situation. Suddenly, the team that was once arguably the most appealing to recruits everywhere, was now chasing Tom Izzo for recruits in their own backyard. And they were losing them.

The roster left to Amaker isn’t exactly stocked with McDonald’s All-Americans, but there is some talent there as well. Still, it’s been a rough start to the season for Michigan. The Wolverines come into the game with a 3-3 record against one of those "struggling coach trying to save his job" type of schedules may have served as the template for Herb Sendek. Unfortunately for former Wolverine coach Brian Ellerbe, he never got the chance to face off against the Fairfield, Bowling Green, and IUPU Fort Wayne type schools that dot the Michigan out of season schedule.

Ironically, the best performance of the year for Michigan isn’t one of their cupcake three wins. In their home game against Boston College, the Wolverines played the 13th ranked team closely for most of the game, even taking a lead in the second half. In the end, BC was too much for an undersized and undermanned Michigan team.


The two most talented players on the Michigan team are their forwards, LaVell Blanchard and Bernard Robinson. The biggest problem for Amaker is that they would be better off if you could say that their two best players were a forward and an off guard. But Amaker doesn’t have a great deal of talent or depth in the frontcourt beyond Blanchard and Robinson, so the 6-7 Blanchard is forced to play the power forward spot.

Playing a 6-7 guy at the power forward spot in one of the most physical conferences in college may sound like a recipe for disaster, but Blanchard makes it work. Despite being somewhat undersized for the position, the junior Ann Arbor native is a tough rebounder and likes to get his points off from offensive put backs. He leads the team this year in offensive rebounds just as he did last year. Unfortunately for Amaker, this year Blanchard is struggling from the field. His scoring average is has dropped nearly 3.5 ppg and his shooting percentage, particularly on 3-point shots, has suffered greatly.

His couterpart Robinson is a 6-6 sophomore who can be explosive on offense. In last year’s game in Cameron, he went 6-8 from the field and finished with 19 points - one of the few bright spots for the Wolverines in a 104-61 spanking. But then, he also had a team high 7 turnovers on a night when Michigan posted a total of 29. That’s a good microcosm of Robinson as a player. To put it most charitably, he makes things happen out there.

For the second game in a row, Duke will be facing a team without their starting center. The much-traveled and much-troubled Josh Moore is out with an injured back and may not return this year. Michigan is probably used to playing without Moore who averaged a Domzalskiesque foul every 3.5 minutes.

Moore’s absence leaves the starting role in the hands of 6-9 senior Chris Young who has stepped up his game this year with the additional minutes – averaging 11 points and 6 rebounds. Young cannot afford to be too aggressive inside as there are few inside options for Amaker when he is out of the game. With Moore injured, the Wolverine bench effectively has no player on the team over 6-7.

The one frontcourt reserve that they do use is Chuck Bailey, a 6-7 freshman out of Detroit. At 195 pounds, Bailey needs a weight room like Gary Williams needs a dry cleaner. He makes up for his lack of strength with quick leaping ability and tenacity on the offensive glass. After Bailey, the only other big men on the Michigan bench is little used Ron Garber, a 6-8 senior.


Amaker has a little more depth but not as much talent with the backcourt players. If you’re watching the game on TV and you see a gnat sized blur careening down the court only to lose control of the ball, then you’ve had an Avery Queen sighting. It’s a shame that Queen won’t ever play again in Cameron as he provided one of the more memorable moments in recent years.

Once the game was out of hand – say about 2 minutes into it – the Cameron Crazies started chanting "Little Duhon," to acknowledge Chris Duhon’s younger brother in the crowd. That quickly evolved to "Little Boozer" for Carlos Boozer’s younger brother who was also in attendance, which was then replaced by "Little Battier" for Duke freshman Jeremy Battier. But the highlight of the series of cheers was when the Crazies started chanting "Little Point Guard" at the 5-7 Queen.

As a player, Queen is very quick and can penetrate almost at will. In the past, opposing defenses have not had to respect his outside shot, but this year he has shown improvement, although he doesn’t pull the trigger often. The book on Queen though is that he is very turnover prone for a point guard, usually by trying for the sensational play.

It’s questionable who will start in the backcourt along with Queen. Amaker can go with 6-5 junior Gavin Groninger, who has been starting most of the games this year. But don’t be surprised if Dommanic Ingerson replaces Groninger in the starting lineup. The highly touted 6-4 freshman brings an athleticism to the backcourt that Groninger doesn’t have. Against a team like Duke, Amaker may opt to go with more quickness on the floor.

Ingerson has had a quick start to the season, hitting on an incredible 14 of 23 3-point shots. He’s much more than a shooter and can take the ball to the hoop. As mercurial as his game is, Ingerson may be even more erratic in terms of behavior. There were few recruits in last year’s class who could approach his reputation for trash talking. He was also suspended from his high school team twice last year for incidents with opponents and referees. If Amaker is able to help Ingerson harness his emotions, he’ll end up with one of the most underrated players in the freshmen class.

Groninger may be as far from Ingerson as you can get in both terms of behavior and game. After a poor year from the field last year, Groninger has regained his shooting touch and is converting on nearly 50% of his three-point attempts. He is a spot up shooter and isn’t really adept at taking guys off the dribble.

Also on the Wolverine bench is Mike Gotfredson, a 5-11 redshirt senior who probably likes having Queen around because it gives him someone he can post up in practice. He’s your basic solid backup whose primary focus when he’s in the game is to not do anything stupid.


Duke has really clicked against Michigan in the last three years, averaging over 105 points in each game. The only contest that was competitive was the 1999 meeting where Duke won 104-97. I think most everyone associated with Michigan basketball would be thrilled if they were able to have a similar outcome to that game. That’s a tall order for the Wolverines as they are facing a Duke squad that is coming off their best effort of the year.

Against Temple, Duke jumped out to an early lead, sustained that effort for much of the game, and then went on another run midway through the second half. During one timeout in that second half, Krzyzewski pressed the team, urging them to draw that line in the sand and not let the Owls past them. Instead he told them to bury them in that sand. And for the first time this year, the team responded with the exact intensity that the coach wanted.

The Temple game was a perfect night for Duke, but it was as close to it as they’ve been all year. What that does is give the Devils a foothold to build upon and the emotional key for this game is for the team to continue to make that progress. It’s what makes this game an especially difficult one for Krzyzewski to coach. On one hand, the coach doesn’t want to see one of his closest associates suffer a large defeat. On the other hand, Krzyzewski has been driving the team to play hard for 40 minutes every night, regardless of the opponent. There’s no doubt that Coach K won’t send a conflicting message to his team – for their development, he needs them to play with the same or greater effort than they did in the Temple game.

When Duke has the ball, they may look to attack Michigan immediately by going to Boozer. Don’t be surprised to see Amaker in a zone, even if that is something he would rather not do in front of Krzyzewski. Michigan doesn’t matchup too well with Duke in a number of spots and if they’re in a man, Boozer should be able to either score or draw fouls against Young. At 220 pounds, Young simply doesn’t have the strength to contend with the 280 pound Boozer.

Should Amaker elect to play man, Boozer will continue his strong play, including a very good game against Temple. It may seem odd to hear that since Boozer finished with 10 points and 5 rebounds, numbers well off his averages. He also had several shots either blocked or altered by the Temple’s Ron Rollerson. But what Boozer did do, and what doesn’t show up in the box score, is once again provide sharp relocation passes when the Temple zone collapsed on him inside. You can see the incremental improvements in this Duke team in each game, and the more touches they get Boozer, the more efficient their offense becomes.

At the forward spots, the Wolverines match up fairly well with the Devils. Blanchard is a good athlete who can stick with Dunleavy on the perimeter. He also has the toughness and experience that will let him battle down low. The Robinson / Jones matchup will favor Michigan, unless Jones takes a giant leap forward in his efforts to integrate himself in the offense. However, it’s also a matchup that may not happen. Amaker may elect to defend Jones with either Groninger or Ingerson and use Robinson on Jason Williams.

Robinson is the best defender on the Wolverine team and has the size that may bother Williams. If Amaker goes with that matchup, expect to see Williams aggressively attack the basket and try to draw fouls on the slower Robinson. You can also expect to see Jones do the same against his defender, particularly Groninger.

If Amaker elects to use a zone, he may be able to limit the touches Boozer sees, but the tradeoff for that is trying to defend Duke’s perimeter shooters. With Williams and freshman Daniel Ewing both shooting well in the Temple game, the Devils can once again put a lineup on the floor that features 4 excellent 3-point shooters.

We may not know what defense to expect from Michigan, but it’s one of life’s given facts that Duke will be out in a man. The only real question is not the type of defense, but what type of press Duke will employ. Last year’s blowout was fueled by the Duke’s press that forced multiple turnovers in the opening minutes. This year’s Michigan team doesn’t appear to be any better in terms of handling the ball – averaging just under 16 turnovers a night against a very weak schedule. Like many other aspects of their game, Duke’s full court press showed improvement against Temple, forcing 16 turnovers from a Temple team that is traditionally very conservative with the ball.

One of the keys to defending Michigan in the halfcourt is to prevent their two best players – Blanchard and Robinson – from getting ball in a scoring position. Both players are struggling from long range and the Duke defenders can pressure them on the perimeter without fear of either guy hitting a pull up jumper with consistency. The other focus should be on the defensive glass. Both Blanchard and Bailey are excellent on their own glass and their production can be limited by preventing them from getting the ball of a teammate’s miss. In the Temple game, the Devils were very successful on the boards by keeping their guards in to rebound. Jason Williams responded with a team high 10 boards from the off guard spot.

Against Temple, the Devils showed that they could play hard for 40 minutes. The next step is to take that effort and make it a habit. To achieve that, Krzyzewski will have to do it at the expense of his long time friend.