This is, without one doubt in my mind, the biggest game of the season so far for Duke as they take on the Michigan Wolverines at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday. Duke is coming off of a tough loss in the final of the Preseason NIT at the hands of the Arizona Wildcats. Although they lost, they played well overall including an overall good job on the defensive end of the floor. Michigan comes in at 5-2, the same as the Blue Devils, and are not playing their best basketball of late. Their two losses were to a tough Iowa State team on the road (77-70) and to the Charlotte 49ers on a last second layup (63-61). Here is a breakdown of the Michigan starting lineup:

      Michigan has not had a set starting lineup this season due to injuries. At first, Mitch McGary wasn’t fully healthy so he wasn’t playing, but now he his. In their last game against Coppin State, one in which the Wolverines took easily 87-45, the starting lineup consisted of Jordan Morgan (6-8, 250lb Senior), Glenn Robinson III (6-6, 220lb Sophomore), the aforementioned Mitch McGary (6-10, 255lb Sophomore), Caris LeVert (6-6, 185lb Sophomore guard), and Derrick Walton Jr. (6-1, 185lb Freshman). Notice the absence of recent star Nik Stauskas. In the game before, Stauskas injured his ankle and didn’t play at all against Coppin State. As of today, one day before the matchup against Duke, he still has not practiced at 100% and is questionable for the game. As I learn more information about his status for tomorrow, I will let everybody know.

     Stauskas is a huge part of Michigan as only a sophomore. He is the leader in scoring for the team at 20.3 per game. The biggest change from last season to this year is the fact that he is not just a stationary shooter from beyond the arc anymore. No, he utilizes the pump fake to either stay behind the 3-point line and shoot or to drive to basket. That is something new to his arsenal this year, he has been able to drive to the rack and finish, as well as using the drive and kick method to find the open man. Stauskas is a big reason that Michigan is still ranked at #22 so far, as he is carrying the team with him. I am not saying that guys like McGary or Robinson III aren’t providing for the Wolverines, but Stauskas is a big point of emphasis.

     This does not mean that Duke should overlook somebody like Glenn Robinson II because he is still averaging over 12 PPG and over 5 RPG. Playing as forward at 6-6, Robinson has shown his versatility, able to knock down jump shots, but struggled mightily in their loss to Iowa State, shooting only 4-14 and taking some questionable shots at the end of the game. He is still a tremendous athlete and somebody that Duke has to worry about because he can get it going at any time. Mitch McGary missed the first two games of Michigan’s season due to a lower-back issue, but is now back to playing regular minutes. Right after he came back, he was put right into the swing of things, playing 22 minutes in the loss to Iowa State. Even when he had his full strength back, he was coming off the bench right up until their last game against Coppin State. He hasn’t put up very impressive numbers, his best game coming against FSU (82-80 OT win) where he scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. He is still playing large amounts of minutes, but fouls trouble has seemed to get the best of him, having no less than 3 fouls in every game he has been in thus far.

     Another player I would watch out for is Zak Irvin, a 6-6 freshman from Fishers, IN. He hadn’t put up very impressive numbers coming off the bench until he carried the Wolverines to victory against Coppin State, scoring 24 points and adding 5 rebounds. If Stauskas can’t play against Duke, I would expect to see more of Irvin off the bench for Michigan. Just for matchup purposes, I will pencil in Stauskas. Matchups: Cook – Walton Jr., Thornton – Stauskas, Hood – Robinson III, Parker – Morgan, and Hairston – McGary. Coach K may be forced to start Sulaimon over Thornton just because of the fact that there is such a big size difference between he and whomever he guards, whether it is Stauskas or Robinson III (both at 6-6). Michigan is not a very tall team outside of McGary, but they do have junior Jon Horford come off the bench and start occasionally standing at 6-10. For Duke to win, they must continue their much improved perimeter defense along with boxing out. I can’t emphasize this any more that this team must box out or else they will be mauled on the offensive boards. If Stauskas does play, Duke must contain him as he is their leading scorer and playmaker. Michigan will most likely try to feed the post with the size advantage they have down low with McGary, so Duke must be able to stand their ground. This may mean putting in Marshall Plumlee just to have similar size with such a talented post player in McGary. If they contain McGary and Stauskas, I feel Duke has a very good chance in winning this huge game.