Duke Basketball: What Blue Devils Must Do to Avoid Upset vs. Santa Clara

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2012

DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 20: Mason Plumlee #5 of the Duke Blue Devils goes up for a dunk against the Elon Phoenix at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 20, 2012 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Lance King/Getty Images

Duke returns from a short holiday hiatus Saturday to take on Santa Clara. It's the type of game Blue Devils fans might put in the win column before tip-off, but the players can't have the same attitude if they want to avoid an upset.

While the phrase "trap game" is usually associated more with college football, it's a perfect description of what the Blue Devils are dealing with. The Broncos are a dangerous team, especially if the nation's top-ranked squad doesn't take them seriously.

Mike Krzyzewski's players have a lot on their plate right now. They are unbeaten, ranked No. 1 in the country and probably already have one eye on ACC play, which begins shortly after the calendar flips to 2013.

It would be easy for them to overlook Santa Clara. After all, a non-conference home game against an unranked opponent wouldn't appear to be much of an issue for a Blue Devils squad that has already knocked off Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State.

However, when you consider Duke hasn't played a competitive game in a month and the offensive firepower Santa Clara possesses, there are some warning sings to fend off.

The Broncos are averaging nearly 80 points per game, which is good for 24th in the nation, and their only two losses came in overtime.

Futhermore, the trio of Kevin Foster, Marc Trasolini and Evan Roquemore is going to cause issues for the Blue Devils defense. All three are averaging more than 13 points per game, meaning the underdogs won't be relying on one player to carry the load.

In order to avoid the game getting any more complicated than it has to be, Duke has to make sure it controls the pace from the outset. It doesn't want to get in a back-and-forth shooting battle with the Broncos, who can keep pace.

That means the Blue Devils have to make a concerted effort to feed Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly in the post early. The sooner they can establish their dominance down low, where they have a distinct edge, the easier it will be to pull away.

The other key is making sure Foster doesn't find a groove from beyond the arc. The senior is averaging nearly three treys per game. If he gets hot and starts stretching the floor, it will put a lot of stress on Duke's defense.

Duke is the more talented team and should be able to earn its 12th straight win to open the season. On paper, the Blue Devils simply have too many options for Santa Clara to defend. But they can't enter the game thinking it's going to be a cakewalk.

As long as they take control of the paint and lock down Foster early, they will avoid an afternoon on upset alert. It's going to take more than simply showing up to get the job done, though.

Duke will need its most complete effort since the victory over Ohio State.