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Next Up - Eastern Michigan

Never write off a gutty team.

Quinn Cook might be the key player against Eastern Michigan
Quinn Cook might be the key player against Eastern Michigan
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

When we think of Eastern Michigan, we remember Duke's bridge team from 1996, and we remember Eastern Michigan knocking Duke out in the first round, 75-60.

We can't remember the exact situation, but we do seem to remember that either before that game or certainly by the end of it both Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski were both injured.

Duke closed out the season with losses to UNC (84-78), Maryland (82-69) and the Eagles.

Still, it was a team with some remarkable players. Aside from Collins and Wojo, one current head coach and one destined to become one, Jeff Capel was also on the team, as was Trajan Langdon.

So, too, was Coach K's first transfer, Roshown McCleod, and perhaps his best walk-on, Jay Heaps. And less critically but still very much positives, Matt Christensen, who was limited but a true warrior, and Taymon Domzalski. Domzalski had Manos de Piedra, but he was a tough guy who battled. He's now a diagnostic radiologist in L.A.

On the other hand, Duke still had Greg Newton and Ricky Price, both of whom we expect grew up a good bit after college, but that was too late to be of much help to their team.

Price you'll recall had an academic situation which at least on the surface resembled what Notre Dame's Jerian Grant just went through, while Newton's contributions lessened as his career went on, culminating with an ill-advised taunt aimed at Wake Forest's Tim Duncan, who destroyed Newton in their next encounter. He ended his senior year benched in favor of Chris Carrawell and complained loudly to the N&O's Steve Politi.

Afterwards he thought better of it and asked Politi to not run it, but it was too late.

We know this because Politi sent us an e-mail titled "Please Don't Hate Me" in which he told us the story and that the call was unsolicited.

We had a lot of fun with Politi. In the early days of the Web, and DBR, we asked you guys to pound his site (we don't think the N&O called it a blog then). He told us later that an editor came into a meeting and said that "people really do read these things. Look at the hits on Politi's."

Fun times.

Carrawell and classmate Nate James represented a huge turning point, and along with Wojo and Langdon, laid the groundwork for a return to greatness for Duke.

So where Duke faced Eastern Michigan then with 5-5 Earl Boykins, who became a legitimate NBA player, the Eagles this time face Duke with Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Quinn Cook and a deep and talented roster.

The Eagles come out of the MAC, one of our favorite conferences, although like all conferences outside the Ivy League, it's changed a lot.

EMU is currently 7-3. The three losses are to Kentucky by 18, UMass by 12 and Purdue by just five.

The Eagles have 10 players getting at least 10 minutes per game. There are also nine upperclassmen on the roster. Eastern Michigan also has some size, with 7-0, 240 lb. Sr. Da'Shonte Riley, who is averaging 6.3 ppg and 5.7 rpg. He's backed up by 7-0 sophomore Nigerian Lekan Ajayi.

The main offensive producers though are 6-7 junior Karrington Ward, painfully thin at 186 lbs. but productive (15.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg), 6-3 freshman Ray Lee (12.8 ppg) and 6-8 senior Glenn Bryant (10 ppg, 4.7 ppg).

Mike Talley is the distributor, averaging four assists per game.

So far this season, Eastern Michigan has been a tough, scrappy team, and we're sure that's what Duke will see Saturday. We're not as sure what to expect from Duke.

Why? Because of the long break. Between exams and the holiday, Duke hasn't spent as much time together as a team as you might like.

Rust, in a word, is very possible. You come into a game like this, against a tough, hardnosed and experienced team, and if you don't bring the same level of intensity, you can absolutely lose.