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December 18, 2005

Devils return to the court

The start of college basketball season is kind of cruel in a way.

Teams play a handful of games and the season starts to build in excitement and storylines and then...BAM! Finals week slams screeching brakes on the car that is college basketball season.

Any Duke fans going through withdrawals since last weekend's win over Texas don't have to wait much longer though.

The top ranked Devils return to action tonight at Cameron Indoor Stadium for an 8:00 matchup with Valparaiso.

Will there be any rust to chip off after an eight day layoff? That's probably the biggest concern for Duke after an always challenging week of final exams for the players.

However, this is also Valparaiso's first game in eight days. The Crusaders haven't had a game since last Saturday's solid 80-77 victory over Charlotte.

So each team will likely have to work to find its rhythm in the early going.

Duke has had no trouble in either of the past two seasons coming off an idle period for final exams. Last year, they handled Toledo with ease, while two years ago they dominated an overmatched Portland team.

One thing is for certain about this game: two great coaches will be on the benches.

Mike Krzyzewski and Valparaiso's Homer Drew have each left their marks in the game, combining for nearly 1,000 wins between them.

For Drew to notch another W in his column tonight, a lot of things will have to go right for him and wrong for Coach K's Blue Devils.

The Crusaders could use up to a nine man rotation in the game, but they have three key leaders that Duke's scouting report will center around.

It all centers around 6-foot-8 forward Dan Oppland. The 225 pounder is versatile, capable of stepping out to the three point line but also adept at getting shots around the rim. Averaging 20.3 points per game, Drew will try to run his offense through Oppland most of the night.

The senior star is not alone, however.

Mohamed Kone has been a huge presence so far in the paint. At 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, he takes up a good bit of space, but he's more than a real estate occupier.

Kone is a presence defensively, averaging nearly three blocks per game and leading the team in all rebounding categories. He's also managed to put in nearly 13 points per contest, even managing to hit a couple of three pointers on the year.

In addition to Oppland and Kone, the Crusaders have a valuable third option in 6-foot-5 guard/slasher Ron Howard.

Howard can score from several spots on the floor and can also figure out a way to draw a foul to get to the line.

Those three combine for well over half of Valpo's scoring output. However, a senior sharpshooter recently put back in the lineup may be an even bigger threat.

Seth Colclasure was injured in the preseason and has just recently been able to play significant minutes again. After some early struggles to regain his form, he exploded with a 24 point outing in the win over Charlotte on lights out 8-of-9 shooting from behind the three point line.

Duke better make sure to keep him blanketed all night, or he could help keep Valpo competitive.

For Duke, the focus will all be on carrying over momentum from last Saturday's dominating performance against Texas.

J.J. Redick's 41 point outburst will be a tough act to follow, but Duke would love to have another showing with similar offensive fluidity.

Despite some of Duke's offensive struggles this year, they are still shooting at a better than 50 percent clip. The Devils haven't hit more than 50 percent of their shots in a season since the 1998-99 team performed the accomplishment.

With this game and another game against St. John's before the holiday break, Duke should have no problem maintaining their number one ranking.

Prediction

It has to sound like a broken record by now. However, the fact remains that very few teams in college basketball can counter the production of Shelden Williams and Redick.

Texas couldn't do it, so we'll go out on a limb and guess that Valpo won't be able to either.

There may be a little rust in the early going, but Duke should separate this game by the early portions of the second half.

For the Devils, the main goals outside of victory will be improvement in rebounding, getting another strong performance from the seniors, and seeing another step in the progress of Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts.

Duke 82-56


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