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Next Up - Elon

Time: 7:00 || Venue Cameron Indoor Stadium || Video: ACC Network Extra

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Duke v Elon
GREENSBORO, NC - DECEMBER 21: Steven Santa Ana #22 of the Elon Phoenix drives against Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils at the Greensboro Coliseum on December 21, 2016 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Allen was called for a technical foul at the end of this play.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Video link for this game

Duke opens this year with Elon and you have to wonder if that was an intentional move on Coach K’s part.

Well it’s part of a bigger plan for sure but we’re referring to last year’s game because that was the game of course where Grayson Allen Lost It.

Pretty sure you remember this. He got into it with Elon’s Stephen Santa Ana, kicked him - third kick of his career - and had a meltdown on the bench.

For most of us it was just baffling.

After the game of course, Coach K took him to the Elon locker room where he apologized in person. Santa Ana accepted it, saying "[h]e came up to me and apologized to me and was very sincere about it, and I accepted his apology."

Then, after the staff reviewed the tape, Allen was suspended and stripped of his captaincy.

We never really got the full story, we probably never will, and that’s fine. Whatever was going on most likely had a personal element we don’t all need to know anyway. We tend to look at athletes as cutouts and symbols when they’re just people like the rest of us and Allen, we suspect, dealt with some pretty deep issues after that.

At any rate, physically and perhaps emotionally, Allen had a tough season. This year, he seems in much better form and Elon, in that sense, is a great measuring stick for him personally and his team in general.

As we’ve said many times about Elon, disregard record and measurement: this is a well-coached team. Duke was #5 and won by just 11, 72-61.

Duke is far more talented and has a huge advantage inside.

Elon has an advantage too: the Phoenix return five seniors and five juniors. Duke can do many things but it can’t simulate experience.

Last year, Elon started 6-8, 240 lb. Brian Dawkins (Sr), 6-8, 225 lb. Tyler Seibring (Jr), 6-0, 185 lb. Dainan Swoope (Jr), 6-4, 190 lb. Santa Ana (Jr), and 6-4, 205 lb. Dmitri Thompson (Sr).

Duke hasn’t had a lineup like that since, oh, 2010?

On the bright side, having learned a key lesson about accountability at Duke, the three freshmen who were suspended for the Bowie State exhibition will be back and, unless Coach K wants to send another message, Trevon Duval will almost certainly start.

He’ll probably be joined by fellow freshmen Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter and Gary Trent, and of course, Allen.

Marques Bolden is apparently a bit ill and may or may not play. Javin DeLaurier will be key player off the bench.

We’re curious to see several things: first, how Duval works with the starters in a real game. We’ve said before that he might be the most physically gifted point guard Duke has ever had. That means that taking only talent into consideration, he’s got more than Bobby Hurley, Kyrie Irving, Tommy Amaker, Jon Scheyer and everyone else who has passed through Cameron.

The guys we mentioned though all have rings and Final Four appearances, other than Irving, who was limited to a handful of games after injuring his toe.

He’s got an NBA ring, so you can put him in the same class.

It’s a real legacy. Point guard is a key position for any program but more for Duke than many. Coach K has talked about not having positions for decades and he means it - except for point guard.

He cultivates those guys, builds a special relationship with them. He’ll do that with Duval too.

There’s so many things in this game that should be interesting - we expect that Bagley is going to start getting a physical game from everyone until he proves he can push back. Might as well make his Christmas cards out now - Season’s Beatings - although Carter may get a bit of an enforcer’s role if that happens. He’s too valuable to turn him into a goon but he can send a message now and again. So can DeLaurier and possibly Antonio Vrankovic, who has largely remade his body and is no longer mushy.

We’ll also be curious to see how Anthony Goldwire, also suspended for Bowie State, does if he gets backup minutes at PG. We hear he’s been a pleasant surprise so it’ll be fun to see how he does.

And Alex O’ Connell will also be back. We’re not sure how much time he’ll get but we’d like to see him too.

There’s a lot to take in. We’ll get into what we saw after the game.

The thing to keep in mind about Elon, as we said, is that while the Phoenix are not as talented as Duke is - few if any teams are this season - it’s an experienced and well-coached group.

Frankly we’re surprised that Matt Matheney is still there. As we said, ignore the record and look at his team. The former Bob McKillop assistant and Davidson grad gets his guys to play to the maximum of their ability every season.

This year, with character a huge issue for many schools which will be looking for coaches soon enough after the current scandal forces many guys out, a lot of schools will look at him. What they’ll see is a clean program with absolutely no issues and a team that he always gets the most out of. He’s very good at this level; when he gets a bigger platform, he could be great. It’s just so hard to get top-notch talent at a place like Elon. We could see him at an A-10 type job though. He would have been a controversial choice for Dayton after Archie Miller moved on to Indiana, but he would’ve done well.

Finally, Duke target RJ Barrett is set to announce an hour before game time. A highly talented Canadian who plays high school ball at Montverde in Florida, Barrett would pair brilliantly with Cam Reddish and both would profit from having Tre Jones as their point guard.

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