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Blue Devils Open2014-15 Basketball Season With Siena Saints

Time:7:00 || Venue: Cameron || TV: ESPNU

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Matt Jones will be a key player for Duke this year.
Matt Jones will be a key player for Duke this year.
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Defending national champs Duke opens the 2015-16 campaign Friday with Siena, and after Cameron, the Saints are flying out to Madison to take on last year's runner-up as well.

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Siena is sort of in the second tier of Catholic basketball schools. Most of the top tier is in the Big East now, excepting the ACC's Notre Dame, which used to be before defecting to the ACC.

Siena is coached by former Maryland assistant Jimmy Patsos, who did a remarkable job in his previous position at Loyola (Md.) Loyola is a terrible place for basketball.

In his last two years, he won 47 games and made the NCAA field in 2011-12.

He's into his third season at Siena.

His first team finished 20-18; last year the Saints fell to 11-20, but lost forward Brett Bisping six games in, which was bound to hurt. Patsos sees him as the team's natural leader.

Siena also had to do without 6-9 Imoh Silas as well, who missed 18 months after an ACL injury, leaving Javion Ogunyemi to hold down the fort. And Rob Poole, since graduated, played on a bum ankle.

Siena's other critical player is point guard Marquis Wright, who averaged 5.1 ppg last season and was (and is) healthy.

Last year, Siena's defense was a sieve. Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency rating had Siena at 334 - out of 351.

Look for Siena to run a lot of zones and to give different looks including some man-to-man. Last year, Siena was particularly vulnerable from the corners.

We'll be interested to see if Patsos runs the flex, as his old boss did at Maryland.

The Saints also led the NCAA in foul shots per game, giving opponents 20 per game.

Siena has a lot of experience returning, certainly more than Duke. Silas is a senior; Bispings, Ogunyemi and Wright are juniors.

Two familiar names with the Saints: Cameron Gottfried, whose dad of course coaches State and assistant Greg Manning, whose father played at Maryland.

Siena isn't going to be given much of a chance here and this is basically a money game for the upstate New York college.

We wouldn't say Siena has a puncher's chance, because in boxing you can win on a single, brutal punch, and basketball doesn't really offer that.

However, as in boxing, you can win on points, and we don't mean simply scoring more.

In today's environment, a well-coached team which is greatly outclassed athletically can nonetheless offer superior execution.

You don't have to look back very far for the most recent example, or all that far from Loudonville for that matter.

In 2013, unheralded Vermont had the ball with Duke up just one point but couldn't get a shot off in time.

This after Vermont chopped down a 15-point lead, tying the game with 10.4 seconds left. Rodney Hood missed his first free throw before hitting what became the game winner.

So before you dismiss Siena's chances, remember these crucial points: this is an experienced team. This is a very well-coached team. This is a team which has something to prove after last year's disappointment.

And overall  Duke is a young, inexperienced team which has not yet been into a fight.