Those choosing to spend their Thanksgiving holiday in the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament should be in for a great matchup early Thursday afternoon, as the Minnesota Golden Gophers will take on the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils.
Minnesota comes into the tournament with a 4-0 record after beating the Richmond Spiders on Wednesday. Coach Tubby Smith has done a nice job rebuilding the program, and the team seems to be continuing its momentum from last season's NIT run.
Meanwhile, Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils are also undefeated and already have a massive win over the Kentucky Wildcats on their resume.
With both teams coming in red-hot, here's a complete breakdown of Thursday's matchup between Minnesota and Duke.
Where: Imperial Arena in Atlantis Resort, Nassau
When: Thursday, Nov. 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Duke Inside Access
Minnesota Injury Report (via USA Today):
G Wally Ellenson, Hand, Out
Duke Injury Report (via USA Today):
G Quinn Cook, Wrist, Questionable
F Marshall Plumlee, Foot, Out
What's at Stake?
Obviously, there won't be much clout put into these early-season matchups come March.
Still, getting a massive upset over Duke would be a huge boost to Minnesota's respect among rankers. The Gophers are 4-0 on the season, but the only semi-respectable win among those four came against Richmond.
Getting a win over the No. 5 team in the land would not only make Minnesota a rankable team, but it could also be a victory the team can point to if it's on the bubble at the end of the year.
For the Blue Devils, this game is all about continuing their dominant play thus far.
Getting a win won't help boost Duke's national stock, but eviscerating mid-tier teams is what elite squads should do.
On the other hand, a loss would be worth more in joy for schadenfreudian college basketball fans than any long-term takeaways.
Minnesota Player to Watch: F Rodney Williams Jr.
Though he's certainly not the most polished player on the floor, Rodney Williams Jr. has been an amazing source of efficiency so far for the Gophers.
The senior forward is tied with Austin Hollins for the team lead in points per game (14.5) and has done so while shooting 73.5 percent from the field. In fact, Williams Jr.'s worst shooting percentage of the season came against Richmond, when he shot 6-of-10 from the field.
Obviously, a ton of that comes from his unbelievable ability at the rim.
Williams Jr. will likely be the most athletic player on the floor for much of the game, so it will be interesting to see how he takes advantage on both ends.
If he continues his efficient offensive play and continues to be the menace he always is defensively, Duke will have a tough time matching up against the veteran forward.
Duke Player to Watch: G Rasheed Sulaimon
Ballyhooed upon arrival, the first three games of Rasheed Sulaimon's career at Duke haven't gone exactly as planned.
The scintillating guard is the team's third-leading scorer at 11.7 points per game, but he has shot a very mediocre 32.3 percent from the field thus far. Sulaimon and Tyler Thornton are the only members of Duke's regular rotation shooting below the 40-percent mark in the first three games.
No need to worry, though, folks.
Sulaimon has been a streaky shooter dating back to high school and matches up well against Minnesota's guards. All it takes is one perfect shot to get the youngster going, and Sulaimon should get his opportunities on Thursday.
If he and Seth Curry get going in the backcourt, it could be a long, long Thanksgiving day for the Gophers.
Key Matchup: F Trevor Mbakwe vs. F Mason Plumlee
After riding the bench for much of Minnesota's first three games, it seems like troubled forward Trevor Mbakwe has found Tubby Smith's rotation just in time for an increase in competition.
Mbakwe played no more than 14 minutes in the Gophers' first three games, but got 27 against Richmond on Sunday. As he's prone to do, Mbakwe took advantage of those minutes, scoring nine points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking two shots.
Facing off against an underrated Spiders squad, he looked every bit like the dominant defensive force he has always been when healthy.
If Mbakwe is in the rotation to stay, he'll have an intriguing defensive challenge in Duke star Mason Plumlee.
The senior forward has been the Blue Devils' most dominant force this season, averaging 21.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game while shooting 77.4 percent from the field.
Emerging as a leader as well, Plumlee seems well on his way to realizing his massive potential.
Nonetheless, if Mbakwe is able to lock down his interior counterpart, this could be a closer contest than expected.
If their strong performance against Kentucky was any indication, the Blue Devils are an early-season national championship contender.
The Gophers, on the other hand, are not.
Anything can happen on a neutral site, but Duke hasn't shown enough cracks for me to feel comfortable calling an upset.
Score Prediction: Duke 77, Minnesota 60
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