The Duke Blue Devils basketball team has already gotten out to an impressive 3-0 start this season, with victories over the defending National Champions Kentucky Wildcats and a scary Florida Gulf Coast Eagles team already on their resume. Their next test? A 4-0 Minnesota Golden Gophers team that has been fairly impressive so far this season, specifically in their last contest, a 72-57 victory over the Richmond Spiders.
After going up against the athleticism of Kentucky and the shooters of Florida Gulf Coast, Duke faces it’s third straight unique challenge: a well-balanced, physically dominant Minnesota team. It’s not that the Gophers are a big team, because they aren’t (only two players are taller than 6’8), but they play so physically dominant on the inside that it is almost scary. So far, they averaged forty-five rebounds and nine blocks per game, utilizing just about every player on the team to create a balanced offensive and defensive attack. Ten players are averaging 9.8 minutes per game or more, so Duke has plenty of guys to prepare for in Thursday’s contest. Which Golden Gophers is Duke going to have to watch out for the most?
Rodney Williams Jr. – Senior – Forward
14.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.5 APG
Williams Jr. is Minnesota’s best players and could be one of the better players in the nation. A top-fifty recruit coming out of high school, the senior boasts a scary combination of size and athleticism that makes him a threat against any team on both ends of the floor. Williams Jr is a statbook stuffer, averaging 14.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.0 bpg, 1.5 spg, and a .735 field goal percentage.
Williams presents the toughest match-up for Duke, as he is too big for one of the guards to guard him and he is too quick and athletic for Kelly or Plumlee to guard him. Duke’s best match-up for him is likely Alex Murphy or Amile Jefferson, but neither has seen much playing time so far this year and I don’t expect that to change much against Minnesota. Josh Hairston could also see a boost in playing time for matchup purposes, but I expect Coach K to stick Kelly on Williams Jr.
Austin Hollins – Junior – Guard
14.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.8 apg
Duke’s guards have been playing very adequate defense so far this season, and they’ll need to continue that trend if they want to stop Hollins. The 6’4 junior possesses a tremendous amount of athleticism, but his biggest talent is his shooting ability. So far this season, Hollins has shot 44% from the beyond the arc and 56% from the field. Sure, it is a small sample, but for a guy who doesn’t do much scoring around the rim, 56% is damn good.
Hollins will likely be guarded by a mixture of Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon.
Elliott Eliason – Sophomore – Forward
3.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg. 1.8 apg
Remember David McClure? The guy Duke had a few years ago who would come off the bench and do every little thing there was to do in a stat book in very little time? Eliason is Minnesota’s version of McClure, only Eliason is 6’11 and Eliason didn’t hit a game winning layup against Clemson after his team blew a five-point lead in the final few seconds of the game (oh, memories).
You could argue that Eliason’s success is due to the fact that Minnesota has been playing much smaller teams so far this season, but that really isn’t a valid argument. Eliason is a hustle guy who leaves it all on the court for the brief 17 minutes per game he plays. If he comes into the game, he’ll present problems for Mason Plumlee and any other Duke player attempting to score down low. Eliason probably won’t be putting up any ridiculous stats in this game, but, as we all know, the little things add up. Eliason is all about the little things.
Note: Duke vs Minnesota tips at 3:30pm ET on Thursday. The game will not be nationally televised.