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Next Up - Texas Tech

The Red Raiders will be a great test for a young Duke team

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Princeton v Duke
 DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 18: Alex O’Connell #15 of the Duke Blue Devils knocks a rebound away from Devin Cannady #3 of the Princeton Tigers during the first half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 18, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina.

Duke’s annual jaunt up to Madison Square Garden should be really interesting this year.

Waiting for the Blue Devils: Texas Tech.

There’s no other way to put this: Chris Beard has done a phenomenal job with the Red Raiders.

It’s no surprise at this point. He’s done very well everywhere he’s been. He’s never won less than 18 games and when he showed up at Little Rock, he immediately won 30 games.

The year before Little Rock won 13. The year after (he only stayed one year)? Fifteen.

Tubby Smith’s last year at Texas Tech? 19-12.

Beard won 18 his first year and 27 his second. He’s 10-0 so far this season and has proven to be a superb defensive coach.

Like Mike Krzyzewski, he learned much of his craft from Bob Knight. People tend to forget because what they remember about Knight is his angry, bullying side, but the man revolutionized basketball by the time he was 35 with the motion offense.

He also had a powerful half-court defense.

Like Michigan’s John Beilien, he relies on an assistant as more or less a defensive coordinator. That’d be Mark Adams.

There’s a lot we don’t know about Texas Tech but we do know they like a slow pace. We assume that the 10 years spent on Knight’s bench mean that, like Coach K, Beard prefers a man-to-man half court defense.

However, Krzyzewski took Knight’s half-court defense and extended it and when he has the personnel, likens it to an out of control car. Duke likes to force turnovers and get out on the break. Texas Tech doesn't do that as much, preferring to grind you down in the half court.

Texas Tech’s best player is Jarrett Culver. The 6-6 sophomore is a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate. He’s a good ball handler and a talented penetrator.

Duke has a lot to throw at him from Barrett to Cam Reddish to Zion Williamson. But a surprise key off the bench might be Jack White. The junior has been rock solid for Duke all season and willing to do whatever is needed for his team.

And obviously Tre Jones has emerged as an elite defender. His ability to pressure the ball changes everything for the Blue Devils.

We won’t be able to say for sure but the easy tag line of great offense vs. great defense may be off.

We’re not knocking the Red Raider’s defense, not at all. But Duke’s has been pretty good too at times and is improving consistently.

There will be a somewhat familiar face: Tariq Owens, who played for St. John’s last year during Duke’s last visit to the Garden.

There’s another aspect of this game that’s worth mentioning: Texas Tech has earned considerable respect and Chris Beard is clearly a rising star. He may win 30 games this season and could emerge as one of the best coaches of his generation.

Even so, we can’t judge much about this team because all of its success has come against mediocre competition.

The Red Raiders have played USC, Nebraska and Memphis and, charitably, none of them are powerhouses.

They’ve also played Incarnate Word, Mississippi Valley State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Abilene Christian, among other forgettable foes.

It’s not taking anything from the hard work that Texas Tech has put in on defense to say that.

It’s also been difficult for teams to slow Duke down. The Blue Devils lowest output was against Auburn, where the Blue Devils still put up 78 points. They have surpassed 90 four times, 100 three times, 110 twice and maxed out at 118 - against Kentucky.

Aside from Kentucky and Auburn, Duke has also played Gonzaga, Indiana and tougher than people realize Yale, Army and Princeton.

It’s going to be an interesting game in many respects. To us, the keys for Duke are to slow down Jarrett, to stay out of foul trouble, to either move so fast that Texas Tech can't set up their defense or, if they do, to shoot well enough to overcome it, and to match their toughness from start to finish.

If Duke does those things, win or lose it’ll be a helpful experience.

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