Next up for Duke is Gardner-Webb, a smaller school to be sure, but one which not too long ago went into Rupp Arena and won. Yes, it was under the, uh, mercurial Billy Gillispie, but still, they did it. So you know it can happen.
The odds of it happening here are probably less. First, unlike Gillispie, who did some cruel things to his players and was accused of many more, Krzyzewski is a skilled communicator and motivator. And secondly, unlike Gillispie at UK, he has a significant amount of talent at hand.
The good news for the Running Bulldogs is there is likely to be a bit of rust. Duke has not practiced much due to exams. There's likely to be some erratic play as the players get their legs back under them and for a team that's prepared, that's a chance.
The Bulldogs lost to Xavier by 24, Furman by 11, Missouri by an impressive nine and Northwestern by 13.
Gardner-Webb's has four players averaging between 10.3 and 12.7 ppg and nine players pulling 15 minutes or more per game.
Like most teams at its level, Gardner-Webb doesn't have huge size. Mike Byron is 6-10 and averages 17.2 mpg but only gets 4.4 ppg and 4.3 ppg. He's not blocking many shots either.
Naji Hibbert, 6-5/Sr, Donta Harper, 6-7/Jr., Jerome Hill, 6-5/Soph, Tyrell Nelson, 6-7/Fr and Tyler Strange, 5-10 and a junior, are pulling the most minutes and doing the most damage.
G-W is averaging 73 points, 34 boards, 16 assists, nine steals and 13 turnovers.
The odds overwhelmingly favor Duke. Yet don't forget that the odds heavily favored ECU and despite similar odds, Vermont was about one second from pulling the biggest upset Cameron has seen in decades, perhaps ever.
And Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft, in his first season at the Big South school, told the Shelby Star this: "We certainly referenced the Vermont game and the East Carolina game, the teams that were able to keep it close with them. We’re trying to give our guys some confidence that if you execute and you follow the game plan and you’re not scared, anything can happen."
And he's right. That's how Duke upset Vegas in 1991 and how,once upon a time, unknown Chaminade took down mighty Ralph Sampson and Virginia.
For that matter, it's how Vermont nearly pulled off a miracle earlier this season and how Belmont finished the job in Chapel Hill.
Duke's job is to push past the rustiness and having less than the razor's edge of conditioning the team will have back soon, and to not let Gardner-Webb believe. Because when a team believes it can't win, well, it can't. The greatest example of this we've ever seen was between Patrick Ewing's first Georgetown team and either Oregon or Oregon State. In the first couple of minutes of the game, Ewing blocked some shots and on one he beat the other nine guys downcourt for a massive dunk.
After that play, the opponents just went through the motions. He was on another planet, ferocious and unstoppable.
Duke basketball, at its best, crushes wills. Earlier this season, the team wasn't doing that, and given the time off, it might not be easy in this game, either. But thing to look for in this game is the attempt to do it. That'll be a sign of growth.
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