Tonight, Duke goes to Madison Square Garden to face the Alabama Crimson Tide for the chance to play on Friday night for the Preseason NIT Championship. Alabama comes in at 3-1 while Duke comes in at 5-1. Alabama is no team to look over and both Coach K and Quinn Cook have said that this game will be a challenge, but Cook said they would be ready. He said everyone should be excited and that their defense will be improved. To continue with this, here is a breakdown of who the Blue Devils will have to guard all night.
The Alabama starting 5 has previously looked like so: Nick Jacobs (6-8, 245lb junior), Retin Obasohan (6-1, 205lb sophomore), Trevor Releford (6-0, 190lb senior), Rodney Cooper (6-6, 215lb junior), and Algie Key (6-4, 195lb junior). In their first matchup, the Crimson Tide were handed a tough loss against the Oklahoma Sooners which saw Algie Key score 20 points and Rodney Cooper added a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards. The lack of ability to knock down 3’s hurt Alabama as they went 3-15 from down town. There seemed to be answers each time, but Oklahoma was able to pull away late in the game. Releford and Obasohan also hit double figures in scoring in this one.
The next 3 games would all be victories for the Crimson Tide. Against Texas Tech, senior leader Trevor Releford carried Alabama with his 29 points and 5 rebounds. Obasohan added 15 points and Levi Randolph, a 6-5 guard from Madison, Alabama added 10 points off the bench. Alabama outrebounded the Red Raiders 32-26 and went to the free throw line a good portion, knocking down 14 of the 17 attempts. Other than those three, no other player reached double figures for Alabama.
In the victory against the Stillman Tigers, there was no contest at all. Alabama would go on to defeat the Tigers by a final score of 102-65. The stifling defense helped the Crimson Tide to victory, holding Stillman to about 36% from the field including about 32% from beyond the arc. 6 Alabama players scored in double figures including Levi Randolph who started in place of Algie Key. Randolph tied for a game-high 17 points. 3 of the 6 players in double figures came off the bench, in Key, Jacobs (Jimmie Taylor started in place of him. 6-10 freshman), and Carl Engstrom. Again, Alabama outrebounded Stillman by 10 (43-33) and caused 22 turnovers in the blowout win.
The same starting lineup as the Stillman game was evident in the win over Georgia State. Trevor Releford lead the way with 19 points to go along with 6 rebounds. Obasohan added 18 and Randolph added 10 points and 6 boards. Again, rebounding was the key. They outrebounded the Panthers 40-24, including 11 offensive rebounds for the Crimson Tide. They also had 10 steals to go along with their impressive rebounding numbers.
Overall, this will be a good test for the Blue Devils. They will get away for a while, staying in NYC just focusing on basketball. The keys for Duke are shutting down Trevor Releford and Retin Obasohan. This means that the perimeter defense must be on their game and much improved from the previous 2 games. Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon will have the assignment of guarding these two, but I wouldn’t be surprised of Coach K starts Tyler Thornton for defensive purposes. In fact, I will pencil in (as a guess) that Thornton will start. The matchups should look as follows: Cook-Releford, Thornton-Obasohan, Hood-Randolph, Parker-Cooper, and Jefferson-Taylor. Duke needs to box out and rebound in this game, as Alabama is a very good rebounding team. They don’t have 1 person who rebounds, it’s their entire team and new players each night. The Crimson Tide have outrebounded their opponents by a margin of 7.8 per game. Perimeter defense and boxing out are keys for Duke to be successful and play for the championship at the Garden.