The Duke Blue Devils may play the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Below is a position-by-position preview of that possible game.
Point Guard: Jon Scheyer (Duke) vs. Lawrence Westbrook (Minnesota)
Scheyer has excellent height for a point guard (6'5"). He also weighs as much as or a little more than most point guards. Even though he's built more like a shooting guard, Scheyer's all-around offensive ability—he scores, shoots well, and spreads the ball around the floor—makes him a great point guard.
Scheyer is also a solid perimeter defender who averages 1.5 steals per game.
Westbrook is a little shorter than your average point guard, but he makes up for that with extra muscle (he weighs 195 pounds). The junior is by far Minnesota's top scorer, pouring in 12.4 points per game. He isn't the best passer, but he also takes care of the ball, as he averages only two turnovers.
Westbrook is an average defender who can keep his man in front of him, but he doesn't make many plays.
Scheyer is a top, well-rounded player. Westbrook is a strong offensive player, but he's not an asset by any means on offense.
Shooting Guard: Elliot Williams (Duke) vs. Al Nolen (Minnesota)
Williams' athleticism allows him to be competent defensively and on the glass. And if he would start trying to slash to the basket instead of settling for low-percentage, outside shots, he would be adequate offensively, too. But, as a freshman who only got into the starting lineup in the middle of the season, Williams has limited experience and hasn't yet learned to make better decisions with the ball.
Nolen scores, rebounds, and passes—he averages 6.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. Plus, he takes care of the ball. He's also a sound defender, as he gets 1.9 steals per contest.
Nolen is a better defender than Williams, and he also contributes to the Golden Gophers' offense much more than Williams helps out Duke's attack.
Small Forward: Gerald Henderson (Duke) vs. Jamal Abu-Shamala (Minnesota)
Henderson scores, rebounds, handles the ball well, and defends. He ranks second on the Blue Devils in points (16.6), rebounds (4.8), assists (2.5), and blocks (.8), and third in steals (1.3). Additionally, he never gets into foul trouble.
Abu-Shamala keeps the offense moving as it should. He's smart with the ball, as his .9 turnovers per game show, and he can shoot when called upon (he shoots 50.9 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-point range). On defense he plays intelligently, as is evident from his .9 fouls per game.
While Abu-Shamala is efficient on offense and good enough on defense, Henderson is one of the stars on this perennial powerhouse Duke team.
Power Forward: Kyle Singler (Duke) vs. Damian Johnson (Minnesota)
Singler's most dangerous weapon is his jump shot. Despite being a 6'8", 235-pound forward, he has great range and an accurate three-point shot. Actually, his shot is the major reason for his 16.7 points per game.
Singler is also Duke's best rebounder (7.7 per game), and he is a playmaker with the ball (2.5 assists to 2.4 turnovers per game—not good, but not bad for a big man). Not to mention that he earns 1.6 steals and swats 1.1 shots each game.
Johnson is Minnesota's second-most prolific scorer, as he tallies 9.7 points per game. Additionally, he's a decent rebounder, pulling in 4.2 boards per contest. Plus, he's a great ball handler who gives up the rock just 1.4 times per night.
It's worth noting that Johnson is the only guy I've seen so far in my research for these articles previewing NCAA Tournament games who averages two steals and two blocks per game. That alone is the mark of a top defensive player.
If anyone on any team that Duke might play in the East bracket can stop Singler, it's Johnson. But Singler does have a substantial size advantage (6'8", 235 pounds to 6'7" and 195 pounds), so he should be able to create his own shot against Johnson. However, Johnson also ought to be able to generate some offense of his own. Still...
Center: Lance Thomas (Duke) vs. Ralph Sampson III (Minnesota)
Thomas' greatest strength is his ability to defend the ball with sound fundamental positioning both on the floor and in his defensive stance. But he can get beat at times, and when he does he usually fouls his man, which is why Thomas averages 2.5 fouls per game.
On the offensive end, Thomas can score when close to the basket, but he doesn't have much of a shooting touch.
Sampson scores and rebounds fairly well, at 6.4 points and 4.3 boards per game. In addition, he handles the ball well for a big man, as he hardly ever turns the ball over.
It's surprising that Sampson doesn't score or rebound more, considering he's 6'11". Maybe he needs more bulk (he's only 220 pounds).
Even though Sampson is basically a stick, he still has three inches on Thomas, and probably even more length. Sampson should have his way with Thomas on both ends of the court. Off The Bench:
Greg Paulus comes into the game when Duke needs a "shot in the arm". He exudes energy that spreads to the rest of the team, and he also has a solid shot.
David McClure is the strongest Duke player you don't know about. He rebounds, passes well, defends, and gives 100 percent every second he's in the game.
Brian Zoubek uses his 7'1", 310-pound frame to bring down offensive rebounds with ease, and then put the ball back for easy second-chance points. Or, if he gets fouled, he'll just sink two free throws—Zoubek is surprisingly good at the charity stripe for someone so big. Or maybe Shaq has just developed a negative stereotype for big guys not being able to shoot free throws...
Nolan Smith has Scheyer's shooting ability, but he can also defend and provide a quicker cover for the opposing point guard when Scheyer comes out of the game.
Colton Iverson rebounds (3.5 boards per game), scores (5.5 points per game), and blocks shots (1.4 per game) in a limited role.
Paul Carter does the same thing, leave the blocked shots.
Edge: Duke. They have more depth.
Duke wins three positions, and their bench is also better. In addition, they've played a tougher schedule that figures to have prepared them better for postseason play.