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Next Up - Belmont

After Duke played Belmont in 2008, we said this about them:

The story line on this game is probably going to be little Belmont almost knocking off mighty Duke, and that’s valid, obviously.  But the smarter line would be:  an underrated team of upperclassmen had a more highly regarded team of mostly sophomores and freshmen on the ropes.

So what does the matchup look like this time? Well, Duke is young to an extent and renovating a team which is missing three sensational players in Kyrie Irving, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. Belmont, on the other hand according to ESPN/Blue Ribbon, "returns four starters and nine players who averaged at least 10.3 minutes per game from a team that won 30 games."

They lost to Tennessee twice, Vandy, Lipscomb and finally to Wisconsin, 72-58.

They're also an unusually deep team,  with 11 guys getting at least 10 minutes a game.  Ian Clark is probably the most critical player for Belmont: the 6-3 native of Memphis averaged 12.2 ppg, followed closely by big man Mick Hedgepeth (6-9, 235) at 10.8 ppg.

Belmont attempted 2,045 field goals; of these 864 were three pointers: a full 42.2% of their shots were from three point range.

Duke by contrast shot 2,206 and made 778 for 35.2% of their total.

Belmont also led the country in scoring margin at 17.5.

So it's not hard to imagine what Belmont is going to try to do: run it down Duke's throat, chunk threes from everywhere, pressure on D and try to wear the Devil's down.

In the exhibition games, Duke let their opponents penetrate a lot.  The guards are going to have to be mindful of the long shot and the drive, and everyone will have to watch for screens and cuts.  As we remember it, they're not exactly Princeton, but unless you plan to shoot threes exclusively, the shot is used to open the interior.

The Plumlees are probably less susceptible to getting beat off the drive or cut than is Ryan Kelly, but all three guys need to protect the basket.

Against Shaw, Duke moved Tyler Thornton to the point, primarily of course for his defensive tenacity, and went with a three-guard lineup, moving Seth Curry, Austin Rivers and Andre Dawkins in and out as well. As time goes on, the other three will come closer to Thornton's toughness on D, but they're not all there yet.

More to the point, Duke is probably going to have to find someone who can come in with a bit of size and attitude to help shore up the defense at times.  To us, the leading guy for that role, ultimately, may be Michael Gbinije, but Josh Hairston has demonstrated a superb desire so far and may push his way up on that alone.  There is precedent for this at Duke: remember when Coach K put a walk-on in on Chris Paul? A lot of people thought he just put him in to foul and upset Paul, but we never bought that theory.  We always assumed that he was showing more leadership in practice than the scholarship players, and so K let him start to show what desire could get you.  The fouls were just his trying to keep up with a guy that no one could keep up with.

We have seen some very nice things from Quinn Cook so far, but mostly offensively.  Our assumption is that he is still getting over his knee injury and that his lateral movement will get better fairly quickly as the season goes on.  Right now, it is not what it will be.

Alex Murphy has also had some nice plays. He's a heady kid who probably could use some more muscle.  Still, he can play and will get his chances, if not tonight then soon enough.

The bottom line is this: Belmont is tough, experienced, deep and capable.  Duke has absolutely no guarantees here.  If they don't bring everything they can, Belmont could definitely pull the upset.  A special word to you Crazies: you could play a key role in this game.  Bring it!