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Next Up - Air Force

DeWayne Creamer pulls for both Duke and Air Force and asked if he could write a preview. He's the expert! So here's his take. Enjoy!
Duke's young, deep, and very athletic squad will be
facing its polar opposite in a senior-dominated,
athletically-challenged Air Force team. Even in
their common trait--strong team defense--Duke will try
to force a fast tempo and create turnovers with its
man-to-man, while Air Force plays a match up zone
which usually tests the patience and passing skills of
its opponents.

Air Force's stout defense, as well as its execution of
the plodding "Princeton offense" has resulted in the
nation's best scoring defense average for 4 straight
years and NCAA appearances in 2 of the last 3 years.
Air Force players bristle at the suggestion that they
are competitive solely because of their style of play.
They have experienced success despite adjusting to 3
new head coaches in 4 years, and by playing Duke
tough, they can show the country that they are
actually pretty good basketball players in their own
right.

Air Force returns 4 of 5 starters from last year's
NCAA tourney team. Despite losing First Team Mountain
West Conference perfomer Antoine Hood to graduation,
they regain the 2004 MWC Player of the Year, Nick
Welch, who redshirted last year due to an injury.
Even with the addition of starting center Welch (Sr,
6-8, 212), F Jacob Burtschi (Sr, 6-6, 225) has taken
over as the star of the team. Burtschi, a preseason
First Team MWC pick, has started the year on fire,
averaging 19.7/7.7/3 assists on 56% 3-point shooting
and being named outstanding player of the CBE
Classic's Stanford Regional. Forward Danny Nwaelele
(Sr, 6-5, 205) and guards Matt McCraw (Sr, 6-2, 185)
and Tim Anderson (Jr, 6-3, 183) round out the starting
lineup. Air Force does not have much depth. Only 7
players saw over 100 minutes of playing time last
year. C John Frye (Sr, 6-10, 215) started last year
in place of Welch.

Like other teams that run the "Princeton offense," Air
Force aims to limit opponent possessions and slow down
the pace of the game. On offense, you can expect to
see a lot of back door cuts and ball movement, and
with no inside prescence, Air Force lives and dies by
the three. Last year, it shot 40% (276-684). Coach
Jeff Bzdelik's (formerly of head coach of the Denver
Nuggets) added wrinkle is that Air Force will push the
ball up the court to get into its offensive flow
earlier, rather than milking 25 seconds off the shot
clock for the sole purpose of wasting time.

When Air Force is on, with the threes are falling, and
the defense frustrating its opponent, you get outcomes
like Air Force's 79-45 blowout of Stanford at Stanford
last week. When Air Force can't hit its three's,
examples of typical results are last year's 57-50 and
57-55 losses to Wyoming.

In short, Air Force is exactly the type of competitive
team that Duke faces often in its non-conference
schedule: well-coached, veteran, confident, and, win
or lose, determined to use "The Duke Game" to make a
big statement.

On paper, Duke claims nearly every advantage and
should win easily. But especially on a neutral (a.k.a
anti-Duke) court, don't be surprised if Air Force's
teamwork and execution give the young Dukies a test,
if only for a half.