(5) Duke (3-0) vs. Minnesota (4-0)
Thursday, November 22, 3:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Imperial Arena (4,500) -- Paradise Island, Bahamas. Television: AXS. Home Record: Duke 2-0, Minnesota 4-0. Away Record: Duke 0-0, Minnesota 0-0. Neutral Record: Duke 1-0, Minnesota 0-0. Conference Record: Duke 0-0, Minnesota 0-0. Series Record: Series is tied, 1-1.
GAME NOTES: Two of the top coaches in the game will be matched up once again when the fifth-ranked Duke Blue Devils take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis at Imperial Arena.
The winner of this game will advance to face either VCU or Memphis depending on the result of their first-round matchup.
Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils have continued their long tenure of success into the 2012-2013 season. Duke is 3-0 after its 88-67 rout of Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday. The Blue Devils will be making their second appearance in a neutral sited contest as they took down John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats by seven points in the Georgia Dome on Nov. 13. The win improved the team's record on neutral courts to 37-4 since the 2008-2009 season. That stretch includes one NCAA Championship, three conference titles, and four in-season tournament championships.
Although Tubby Smith's squad is not ranked in the top 25, Minnesota has looked tremendous during its 4-0 start. The Golden Gophers defeated American, Toledo, Tennessee State, and Richmond by an average margin of 26.5 ppg. They have been dominating on the glass with 44.8 rebounds per contest to their oppositions' 31 rpg. Minnesota began last season in a similar fashion and went 6-0 before losing star forward Trevor Mbakwe in its seventh outing. Mbakwe is fully recovered and back with what appears to be a very tough Minnesota team.
This will be just the third time these programs square off with one another. The series is tied after Duke's 87-70 win over the Gophers in the 1989 NCAA Tournament.
The Blue Devils have an unstoppable inside-outside game with seniors Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry leading the way. Plumlee is coming off a career-high 28 points after he converted 10-of-11 at the charity stripe versus Florida Gulf Coast. The Blue Devils' athletic forward also grabbed nine rebounds in the contest to increase his team-best average to 8.7 rpg. Curry is second on the team in scoring with 16 ppg due to an average of 2.7 makes from beyond the arc per content. Forward Ryan Kelly is played well on the front line with Plumlee versus FGCU by adding season-highs of 14 points and nine rebounds. The senior trio is accounting for 62.4 percent of the team's 79 ppg. Although Duke lost Austin Rivers to the NBA after just a season, the backcourt is still strong with freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon producing 11.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per contest. The point guard tandem of Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton has been helpful with a combined average of 7.7 assists per game.
Smith is now in his sixth season with the Gophers who are coming off of a 23- win campaign. Minnesota has been fantastic at both ends, averaging 74.5 points a game on 48.9 percent from the field, while giving up just 48.0 ppg on an mere .286 shooting. Austin Hollins and Rodney Williams are tied for the team lead with 14.5 ppg each, while Williams has converted an amazing 73.5 percent of his field goal attempts so far. Joe Coleman is adding 10 points per game. Mbakwe's minutes have been limited to 16.3 per game in the lopsided victories. He is still puling down a team-best six boards per contest while adding six ppg. The senior forward will see much more action versus tougher opposition.
Duke is not going to be able to get settled in before facing a challenge. Minnesota was a tough team without its centerpiece last season. The Golden Gophers are experienced, athletic, and talented. The Blue Devils hold a slight edge due to Curry's sharpshooting abilities, but any early struggles could swing the game in Minnesota's favor.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Minnesota 75, Duke 73
11/22 10:32:17 ET