Men’s Basketball Preview: Duke
Jon Gross, Joe Esquivel-Murphy and Eric Chambliss preview this Saturday's matchup between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Duke Blue Devils.
College hoops season is back and more exciting than ever. With one of the most highly regarded freshman classes ever making their transition to the college game, there is a lot to look forward to. The November schedule is a bit hectic, as numerous non-conference games must be played in such a condensed period of time.
This can be a problem for inexperienced teams like the Penn State, which has virtually no practice time to work on weaknesses. They stumbled out of the gate against Albany and didn't look much better against a lackluster Duquesne squad. On Tuesday they handled Grand Canyon to improve to 2-1, but this Saturday they will travel to Connecticut to take on No. 1 Duke in the Hall of Fame Classic.
The Blue Devils currently sit at 1-1 after a loss to No. 7 Kansas in the Champions Classic. They are currently a bit depleted, as three of their touted freshmen, Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden, are recovering from injuries and have yet to suit up. Giles will not be back on Saturday, but there is a chance that Tatum and Bolden could be ready to go. All three are projected lottery picks in the upcoming draft.
Penn State brought in arguably its best recruiting class in Pat Chambers’ tenure this offseason, and the future appears to be bright in Happy Valley. Tony Carr has been solid in his first three collegiate games and should develop into an outstanding point guard as his career progresses. Redshirt freshman center Mike Watkins is already making his presence felt on both ends of the court, while Lamar Stevens looks to be a future star on the wing for the Nittany Lions.
While there is an abundance of young talent on the Nittany Lions’ roster, this team will have its growing pains, and it will take some time for them to develop. Three-point shooting specifically is an area that the Nittany Lions must improve. Outside of Shep Garner and Payton Banks, the Nittany Lions don’t really have a consistent threat from beyond the arc. Carr is capable but is much better attacking the basket. The Lions are also undersized, as their tallest players, Mike Watkins and Julian Moore, are only 6’9”. Depth could also be an issue going forward. Moore, Isaiah Washington, and Davis Zemgulis have not produced off the bench, forcing Penn State to rely heavily on their starters, particularly the freshmen.
Duke, on the other hand, has proven they compete at a high level even without their top three draft prospects. The Blue Devils bring a tremendous combination of experience and talent to the table. Junior Grayson Allen is the preseason favorite for national player of the year and can explode any given night. Luke Kennard, coming off an excellent freshman campaign, is an elite shooter and a better playmaker than advertised.
Frank Jackson, another freshman, is an outstanding young point guard who will play a pivotal role for the Devils going forward. Captains Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson bring exemplary leadership and are both terrific defenders. Jones is also another one of the really good shooters for Duke.
Once the Blue Devils integrate Giles, Tatum, and Bolden back into the lineup, Duke will have a deadly combination of talent and depth that nobody in college basketball will be able to match.
Duke is a lot better defensively than Penn State is right now. Coach Pat Chambers’ goal for the Nittany Lions is to score over 80 points per game, which they have accomplished in their first three games. However, Albany, Duquesne, and Grand Canyon do not have even close to the same level of size and athleticism as Duke. The Penn State freshman will be in for their biggest challenge in their young careers. Chances are they will struggle a bit, at least initially.
Penn State will have to convert on its threes in order to keep it close. They will have a much more difficult time getting inside with Jefferson and Chase Jeter anchoring the Duke defense. It is also imperative that they rebound better than they have in their first three contests. The Nittany Lions are 2-1, but they have been outrebounded in all three games. They cannot afford to give Duke second chances on offense, or it’ll be a long day for the young Lions.
Duke simply must take care of the ball on offense and force Penn State to make contested jumpers. They are the more talented and experienced team and will just need to avoid mistakes that will keep Penn State in the game. The three ball is the major equalizer for underdogs in college basketball, but this is not a strength for the Nittany Lions. If Duke can force them to take difficult shots from the perimeter, they will be in good shape.
Pat Chambers has his team moving in the right direction, and they have a chance to be a solid team by the end of the year. However, they are not ready to compete with a team as talented as Duke at this stage. The Blue Devils could very well be the national champions in April, and they will expose the Penn State youth and enjoy a comfortable win on Saturday.
Prediction: Duke 83, Penn State 61
Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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