5 Keys for Duke to Avoid a Lehigh Relapse Against Albany in NCAA Tournament
Duke fans are still trying to forget about the team's opening round loss to Lehigh last season. It was an abysmal performance by the Blue Devils and a disappointing way to end the season.
However, Mike Krzyzewski is known for always using experiences like that as something to learn from instead of forget.
This season, Duke is in a similar situation—receiving a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and coming off a loss in the ACC Tournament to face a mid-major from the Northeast.
But with a more experienced and balanced team, this year should produce a different result for the Blue Devils.
Let's look at five keys for Duke to avoid a Lehigh relapse against Albany.
All stats via ESPN.com.
1. Avoid a Slow Start
In the first 10 minutes of the 2012 game between Duke and Lehigh, the Mountain Hawks jumped out to a 15-14 lead behind seven quick points from C.J. McCollum.
This strong start by Lehigh enabled them to quickly gain confidence and helped energize a crowd that was happy to cheer for an underdog against Duke.
This year, the Blue Devils need to be the team that gets off to the strong start and avoid giving Albany any type of momentum. Duke clearly has the superior talent in this game, but it must prevent the Great Danes from gaining a mental advantage.
With a 12:15 p.m. ET start, this is the opening game of Friday action in Philadelphia, Pa. The early start benefits the Blue Devils as they likely won't be playing in an arena full of people hoping to see them lose.
If the Blue Devils start fast, it's difficult to see the Great Danes keeping up.
2. Pound the Ball Inside
Mason Plumlee was the lone bright spot for Duke in its 75-70 loss to Lehigh last season. Plumlee was unstoppable in the paint for the Blue Devils, finishing the game with 19 points and 12 rebounds while making all nine of his field goal attempts.
The only problem with Plumlee was that he didn't receive enough touches.
Even though Lehigh had no answer for the 6'11" forward, Duke settled for perimeter jump shots and isolation plays for Austin Rivers, which perfectly sums up the entire 2011-12 season for the Blue Devils.
Hopefully Duke learns from last year's mistake and recommits to getting the ball to Mason Plumlee in the post.
At 6'10", 245 pounds, Albany forward John Puk offers good size to be able to bang with Plumlee. However, he likely hasn't seen a player of Plumlee's caliber all season.
This is a game where Plumlee shouldn't have any trouble putting the Blue Devils on his back and carrying them to the next round.
3. Stay out of Foul Trouble
In the 2012 game against Lehigh, Seth Curry was called for his fourth foul with 17:49 remaining in the second half. He went to the bench with Duke ahead 35-32.
When he re-entered the game eight minutes later, Lehigh had taken the lead. Curry's inability to stay on the court prevented him from getting into the rhythm of the game or making any impact for the Blue Devils down the stretch.
Friday's game against Albany is the perfect opportunity for Curry to show he has matured and learned from that experience.
No one would argue that Duke has more talented players than Albany, but the Blue Devils need their talented players to stay on the court and avoid committing silly fouls.
4. Disrupt Albany's Offense
In Duke's ACC tournament loss to Maryland last Friday, the Blue Devils played some of their worst defense of the season.
Maryland shot over 50 percent from the field and had no trouble driving to the basket, getting open jump shots or making plays in transition. In a rare display for a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team, Duke was not the team that played with the most intensity or heart.
Expect the Blue Devils to use this week to recommit to playing with focus and intensity, particularly on defense.
Duke will be extremely physical and active on defense, working to disrupt and extend Albany's offense.
The Blue Devils have shown the ability to play suffocating defense, and now is the time to bring that defense back.
5. Keep the Crowd out of the Game
Whether you love it or hate it, Duke is the most hated college basketball team in America.
Opposing student sections storm the court anytime their team beats Duke and many fans take more satisfaction in a Blue Devil loss than they do in a victory by their own team.
Although Duke has strong fan support in the Philadelphia area and travels well for the NCAA tournament, any "neutral" fans in the arena will be inclined to pull for Albany.
As I mentioned in a previous slide, the crowd may not be as much of a factor due to this being the opening game, meaning many fans may wait until later to get to the arena to watch their teams play.
However, if Albany keeps the game close going into the second half, Duke will face a hostile environment to advance to the next round.
The key for the Blue Devils is taking Albany and the crowd out of the game early and erasing any possibility of another major upset.
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