[private]Duke returns to New York City once again, where they will face Southern Illinois in the semifinal of the Coaches for Cancer 2K Classic. The game tips off just after 7:00 EST and will be televised on ESPN2.
Duke is coming off a close call at home versus Rhode Island and is facing a team which plays with a similar tenacity. SIU is no pushover. In fact, all week long people have raved about their defensive prowess which held opponents to well under 60 points per game last season.
The Saluki's are anchored on the inside by well rounded Carlton Fey and the back court is manned by Bryan Mullins. There is little doubt that they will want to showcase their program to a national audience, especially against the team that gets everybody's best shot in Duke.
It will be interesting to see how the Devils respond. In the past, Duke has blown through early games, but this is a team with a developing chemistry. Coach Krzyzewski shortened his bench against the Rams, so one thing we'll watch for is if a freshman can step up on a national stage.
In the first few games, the freshman have looked like freshman, looking lost at times and reacting too slow and or with hyper speed or forcing the issue instead of letting the game come to them.
Then there is Greg Paulus who will not be 100%. That means Nolan Smith will have to prove he's ready to take the next step as a leader. More intriguing is the early play or lack thereof from Gerald Henderson. "G" has all the tools to dominate aspects og the game, but has yet to put together a complete game and seems to be struggling to find his place in the chemistry.
Duke can likely count on Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler for leadership and cool under pressure, but they will need help to get through the next two games. That help could come by way of Lance Thomas, who has shown he wants to be starting with his recent play.
I am of the opinion, that K is bring this team along at his pace, one which will help them develop come the ACC. There have been time when Duke didn't play well in the limelight of the Big Apple, but SIU will be facing this stage for the first time in awhile.
I feel that Gerald Henderson will have a breakout game and that Duke will get balanced efforts from their cast in route to a win. Look for the Devils to go at Fey early and often to get him in could trouble. Fey is a solid defender, but the Saluki's will be challenged if Duke gets into their bench up front.
It will be vital that Duke gets good play from either Smith or Paulus as well. While I certainly respect the tough opponent, I feel Rhode Island prepared Duke for this game and that K will in no way allow Duke to look ahead to possible match with UCLA.
The pick here is Duke 82 Southern Illinois 64[/private]