Tonight, for the first time in what feels like a millennium, Duke men’s basketball will be playing against the Gardner-Webb University Runnin’ Bulldogs. Duke comes into the matchup ranked at #8 in the top 25 (7-2) while Gardner-Webb comes in at a 6-5 record. Duke will be playing in their first game in 15 days, a long layoff for sure due to finals week. The Runnin’ Bulldogs however, just played two nights ago and are coming off of two straight wins. Here is a breakdown of their starting lineup:
Against Clearwater Christian, Gardner-Webb had no difficulties whatsoever as they won by 52 points, 106-54. Starting for Gardner-Webb in this one was Naji Hibbert (6-5 senior, guard), Tyler Strange (5-10 junior, guard), Mike Byron (6-10 senior, center), Jerome Hill (6-5 sophomore, forward), and Donta Harper (6-7 junior, forward). Hibbert and Harper are the two leading scorers with about 13 and 12 PPG respectively. Hill and reserve freshman Tyrell Nelson (6-7, 230lbs) lead the team in rebounds with 6 and 5 respectively. Strange is the leader when it comes to assists, averaging 6.1 per game with about a 1:3 assist to turnover ratio.
Examining their losses, one part that sticks out is their ineffectiveness on the glass. Against a good Xavier team, they were outrebounded 45-27 including giving up 13 offensive rebounds. In the loss to the Furman Paladins, it was a similar story, but they were only outrebounded 40-35. The main story was only hitting 3-16 from the free throw line and committing 26 fouls. Another thing worth mentioning is how there really isn’t much scoring in these losses. 3 players scored in double figures (Harper, Strange, and reserve at the time Jerome Hill). Everybody else was in single digits.
One thing Duke should be worried about is their game against the Missouri Tigers. Missouri is a good team, 10-0 currently and Gardner-Webb gave them a game, only losing 72-63. Again, it was the same story with the rebounding, losing the battle down low 46-29 and committing 22 fouls. They also only shot about 34% from the field and 6-18 from downtown. Not very impressive numbers, but they held a good Missouri team to 72 points and forced them to commit 21 turnovers. They also played against Chris Collins’ Northwestern squad and took the loss 72-59. Rebounding wasn’t much of a factor, but more their shooting was the reason for the loss. They shot 35.1% from the field (20-57) and only 2-14 from beyond the arc. Otherwise, they matched up well with the Wildcats. What seems to be a reoccurring theme in their losses is getting outrebounded, their shooting is at a very low percentage, and they tend to foul a lot.
In games they win, such as against Jacksonville, everything clicks. They shoot at a high percentage (about 50% from the field and 45% from 3-point land), win the rebounding category (39-29), and keep the fouls below the opponent (20 as opposed to 26 for Jacksonville). In their last two wins, they have been pretty impressive. Against the Citadel Bulldogs, a game in which they won 67-55, it was more about their defense. They held the Bulldogs to 38% shooting and 2-15 from the field. They also shot the ball well from the field, coming in at around 49% from the field. The turnovers were in favor of Gardner-Webb, having 13 as opposed to Citadel’s 18. In the aforementioned blowout win against Clearwater, absolutely everything went right. They had 5 players in double figures, including Tyrell Nelson scoring 20 coming off the bench and grabbing 6 rebounds. They shot about 70% from the field, won the rebounding category by a whopping 49-19, and had 18 more assists than Clearwater Christian. It was just an impressive win.
The matchups will go as follows most likely: Cook-Strange, Hibbert-Thornton, Hood-Hill, Parker-Harper, and Hairston-Byron. I am back and forth when it comes to Hairston or Jefferson, but Duke’s defense has been better and they have played well with this lineup. I wouldn’t take this game lightly just because of what has happened earlier this season with opponents that we deem Duke should blowout. I would watch out to see if Marshall Plumlee gets more playing time as well due to his good game against Michigan. The keys to the game will be Quinn Cook and whether he can play a full game. By this I mean that he will have his head in the game constantly and make good decisions. Duke will have to win the rebounding category and they honestly should. This is not a great rebounding team in Gardner-Webb. The third and final thing would be to get Sulaimon going. He is a vital part to Duke’s success and having him contribute like he did last year would mean that this Duke team will only get even better.