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Next Up - Boston College

Duke travels to Beantown Sunday to take on a resurgent Boston College team seeking to prove that last season's meltdown was an aberration.  They're making a pretty good argument so far.

B.C. staked their claim with their remarkable upset of UNC in early January.  It was somewhat diluted with an upset to Tommy Amaker's Harvard team, followed by three straight ACC losses. They turned it around after that and won five straight conference games. They come into the Duke game with two straight losses, to Wake Forest and Clemson.

B.C. is still led by Tyrese Rice, although he's not having as sensational a year as he did last year.  That's largely because the Eagles have a lot more support.

Rakim Sanders and Cori Raji, now sophomores, have added a level of talente and strength to B.C.  Sander in particular is powerful, but Raji is no slouch.  Sanders brings 12.5 ppg and 4.3 boards. Raji offers 10.6 ppg and 6.3 boards.

It's sort of a three-guard offense, but it's sort of a three forward offense as well.  B.C. got pretty lucky with transfer Joe Trapani.  The 6-6 sophomore is averaging 13.5 ppg, 6.7 boards, and 1.6 assists.  He plays taller than 6-6 really.  He's a nifty pickup.

Josh Southern plays the post, and while he hasn't had huge stats (5.7 ppg, 5.1 boards), he's mobile and can cause problems.

Rice is putting up 17.9 ppg, 3.9 boards, 5.4 assists, and is a royal pain in Duke's tushy.

His scoring is down from last year, but his rebounds and assists are up.  In many ways, he probably holds the key to B.C.'s hopes.

Al Skinner no doubt has pored over the video of the Carolina game and watched as Ty Lawson sliced Duke to ribbons in the second half and thought: hey, I have one of those too.

Duke can't afford to play off of Rice as they might have off of Lawson because Rice is a much better outside shooter.

Still, Duke did do a fine job defending Wake's Jeff Teague, who is arguably better than Rice.  Lawson is a blur, a guy who's like a 911 in a parking lot full of SUVs.  No one else is quite in his category. Rice is not that far off, but he's not as quick.  We're not sure anyone is.

On the flip side, Duke, despite losing to UNC, has improved offensively.  The nadir was at Clemson; against Miami, Duke showed some good things in the second half.  Against UNC, Duke had some stretches of dominant play before UNC put it away in the second half.

B.C. has to find answers for Kyle Singler, Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer.  Henderson had his worst offensive game in awhile against UNC.  Singler had some great moments, and Scheyer is a threat at any point to go off.

Greg Paulus is a threat from outside at any point, and we saw two other things in the last two games that are encouraging.

It hasn't always come across on TV, but since the Clemson game, Lance Thomas is asserting himself amongst his teammates.  He's cajoling people, urging them on, pushing them.  He's taking on leadership qualities, and at times has shown that on the court, too.

Paulus took on leadership qualities in the Miami game and will probably continue to do so for the rest of the season.  And Nolan Smith, who had a truly bad game at Clemson, and who played little against the 'Canes, was much better against UNC, more aggressive with the ball, and that can only be helpful.

Duke can probably count on their defense as they have at almost every turn this season.  They'll have to have a solid offensive performance to match it, though.

Al Skinner's teams typically aren't explosive but have a way of grinding games out, of coming back not by being explosive but by being stubborn about going to their strengths.  The Eagles have been one of the best passing teams in the ACC since they joined, and almost certainly the best inside passing team in the conference.  They have a way of forcing opponents to play at their pace (see: Tar Heels, Jan 04).

They are still young, however, starting four sophomores and one senior (Rice).

In fact, other than Rice and junior Tyler Roche, the entire team is made up of freshmen and sophomores, although Trapani is in his third year as a transfer.

It didn't bother them in Chapel Hill, but they lost some games they reasonably should have won and youth might have been why.

If Duke can do an effective job on Rice, they put the pressure squarely on some very young guys who will have to come through against one of the ACC's best defenses.