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Next Up - Albany

Duke's opponent Monday night, Albany, comes out of the America East Conference, a conference generally regarded as a lightweight but which has had some notable successes in recent times. Not all that long ago, Albany gave UConn fits as a 16 seed. But Vermont also had a nice run, and Boston University was tough when Joey Beard was there after leaving Duke. It's not a great conference, but it's capable of periodic moments of greatness, as when Vermont beat Syracuse in 2005.After the brilliant performance against UConn, we assumed someone would identify Albany coach Will Brown as a rising star and snap him up. Hasn't happened, much to Albany's relief, although he came close to taking the St. Bonvaventure job before turning it down as "career suicide" this past spring.

So far this year, the Great Danes are 5-4, but their losses are respectable: the total margin is only 20 points, and while the opponents weren't overwhelming, they're not as bad as some schools (FSU) tend to schedule: Bucknell, Siena (Brown also made the mistake of calling Siena "a poor man's Delaware"), a rebuilding Delaware, and St. Bonnie's. They let a big lead go against the Bonnies and should have won that game, but the crowd found inspiration in Brown's insult and that worked in their favor.

But they've been somewhat turnover-prone, and that's not a great attribute to bring into Cameron, and Duke will try to force a lot of that, as they usually do.

Albany starts 6-8 Brian Connelly, 6-8 Brent Wilson, 6-11 Brett Gifford, 6-2 Josh Martin, and 6-5 Brian Lillis, which means that unlike most smaller conference teams Duke plays, the Danes have some size, and are actually bigger than Duke, at least in the starting lineup.

But Gifford's impact is minimal, and he only got seven minutes against St. Francis, and it wasn't because of foul trouble.

There's no question that Duke will have a huge advantage athletically. They will have a problem though, since Lance Thomas sprained his ankle and probably won't play. That's going to hurt, but not enough to make an ultimate difference. If Albany pulls an upset in this game, they'll be out of their minds, and it won't matter who Duke has or doesn't have.

That's unlikely though, and Albany knows it. One player told the press that beating St. Francis was good because you didn't want to go into this part of the season on a losing streak (they lost to Siena, Delaware, and St. Bonnie's consecutively). Translation: we're probably going to lose to Duke and Iowa State so no point in making things worse.

Albany is going to have to slow the game down in order to win, and in order to do that, they'd probably prefer to play zone and will almost certainly try it. That hasn't worked very well against Duke this year.

Greg Paulus, Jon Scheyer, DeMarcus Nelson, and Kyle Singler will have no qualms launching shots against a zone, of course, but their eagerness takes a backseat to that of Taylor King. King has quickly established himself as a one-man zone buster, a guy who can keep stepping back and keep on hitting. He makes it just about impossible to zone Duke. At some point this season, he'll probably start seeing some junk defenses, and that could start Monday night, although the other shooters will probably make it moot, and if they don't, the defense will.

In post-exam games, this is typically the pattern: the game starts somewhat slowly, and at some point, usually around the ten minute mark, the team shakes off the cobwebs and goes on a run. The intensity typically wanes in the second half, typically by the 10:00 minute mark or so, but by then the game is typically in hand.

Albany has shown before that they're a well-coached team and capable of sticking with a superior opponent. If they do it in this game, it'll be because Duke has let them.