Minnesota enters the game unbeaten in four contests. Granted, the quartet of opponents (American, Toledo, Tennessee State, and Richmond) hasn't been very highly ranked, but the Gophers are putting up strong numbers against foes the "should" beat. Through four games, Gopher opponents have scored an average of 48.0 points per game while shooting 27 percent from the field. Minnesota is also out-rebounding their opponents by a 45-31 margin.
On the other side the Blue Devils will face a number of questions beginning with the team's depth. Freshman big man Marshall Plumlee is not expected to play this week, which will Duke shallow inside. Additionally, Duke will be looking for more from the wing as neither Alex Murphy or Amile Jefferson has established himself as a primary option at the small forward position. Murphy, in particular, has played sparingly through three games after starting both exhibition contests.
The winner of this game will face the winner of the Memphis v. VCU game on Friday for a chance to advance to the tournament final, which will be played Saturday at 8:30 PM.
"You're going to run into more talented teams, and Duke is one of the most talented teams year in and year out" - Tubby Smith
"I've played against some of those guys in camps and always did a good job of holding my own. I'm just looking forward to seeing where I'm at individually." - senior Trevor Mbakwe
"Growing up, watching Duke, you always want to either to play for a team like that or play against a team like, so to finally have that for me, I'm really excited about it. The Bahamas is always a plus. You don't want to go out there and be out in the sun too much, but it's a big change from here so you want to embrace it as much as you can before you have to come home." - senior Rodney Williams.
Series Notes: This will be the third meeting between the two programs with each team having won once before. The last meeting The last meeting came in the 1989 NCAA Sweet 16 where Duke won easily, 87-70. Duke's starting five con- tributed all but 11 points in the game, led by Phil Henderson and Robert Brickey with 21 apiece. Danny Ferry added 18 and freshman Christian Laettner finished with 10.
Sixth starter: Senior forward Trevor Mbakwe has recorded 23 career double-doubles, but a knee injury relegated him to the bench early in 2012-2013. Still, he played a season high 27 minutes in the team's last game and recorded nine points and 12 rebounds in that time. At 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds, Mbakwe was the Big 10's leading rebounder as a junior at 10.5 boards per game before tearing his ACL last November and missing the remainder of his senior season. The injury allowed Mbakwe to earn a medical redshirt.
Despite the big production, and flashes of his old form, Mbakwe will be coming off the bench against the Blue Devils according to Tubby Smith.
"He won't be starting, and I don't see a reason why he would. We have a pretty good team — the chemistry is there."
Quick out of the gate: The Gophers began the game against American with a 15-0 run. The next game, against Toledo, Smith's team raced to a 12-0 lead before the opponents scored. Against Tennessee State it was 9-0 before the opponents could tally their first score. And while the Richmond Spiders matched the Gophers shot for shot in the first half - eventually leading by as many as nine points, Minnesota methodically pulled away after halftime to record a 15 point victory.
Nothing new so far: This offseason the Gopher program brought in a pair of freshmen, Wally Ellenson and Charles Buggs - both were considered three star prospects by Scout.com. Ellenson is a 6'5 shooting guard while Buggs is a 6'8 power forward. Through four games, however, neither has played a minute.
In addition to his career on the hardwood, Ellenson is also a member of the Minnesota track and field team. A tremendous athlete, Ellenson finished his scholastic career as the two-time Wisconsin Division 1 state champion in the high jump. His state-record jump of seven feet, one inch in the 2012 regional meet was the nation's best by a high school athlete, and only two inches shy of an Olympic Trials qualifier
Waiting to break out this season: With Mbakwe being one of the more well known Gophers, fans may overlook some of the other Minnesota players who could do some damage on Thursday. It begins with point guard Andre Hollins. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Hollins is a powerful guard who likes to attack the basket, and who has shown the ability to keep sagging defenders honest with his perimeter stroke. This season Hollins is averaging 9.3 points per game while handing out 5.0 assists per contest. He's also taking care of the ball with a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ration. Those numbers could be better in a big way if his shooting stroke returns. Despite his 67 percent free throw percentage this season, Hollins has shown the ability to knock it down at the charity stripe, hitting just over 90 percent of his attempts a season ago. From the field he's shooting just 29 percent overall and 20 percent from the perimeter after hitting for 45 and 37 percent a season ago.
Short schedule may not be a problem: The Gophers enter the Battle for Atlantis largely untested against high major competition, but Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith has proven to be capable of using a very deep bench. Through four games there are 10 Gophers averaging 8.3 minutes or better, with nine of those players playing more than 12 minutes per contest.
courtesy of Duke Sports Information
- Mason Plumlee has scored 18 or more points in each of his last four games dating back to last season, including a career-best 28-point effort on Sunday against Florida Gulf Coast. He is averaging 21.0 points per game, while shooting 82.5 percent (33-of-40) from the floor and 72.0 percent (18-of-25) from the foul line in that span.
- Seniors Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly have accounted for 62.4 percent of Duke's offensive output through three games. The trio is averaging 49.4 points per game this season.
- Mason Plumlee has shot 50.0 percent or better from the field in each of the past eight games dating back to last season. Plumlee is 42-of-61 (.689) from the field, including 15-of-20 (.750) in the last two games, during that stretch.
- Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon has increased his scoring in each game this season and is coming off a 19-point effort in the win over Florida Gulf Coast. He enters Thursday's contest shooting 44.4 percent (8-of-18) from three-point range.
- Thursday's game marks The Opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. Duke topped Florida Gulf Coast in a stateside game of the tournament on Nov. 18. The Blue Devils have won 20 consecutive regular-season tournament games, dating back to the title game of the 2006 CBE Classic.
- Mike Krzyzewski has led Duke to 16 consecutive seasons with 20 or more wins. Minnesota's Tubby Smith (18) is the only active coach in the NCAA with a longer run of 20+ win seasons.
33 Rodney Williams (6-7, 200, Sr.) - 14.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg
20 Austin Hollins (6-4, 185, Jr.) - 14.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg
55 Elliott Eliason (6-11, 260, R-So.) - 3.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg
01 Andre Hollins (6-1, 200, So.) - 9.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 5.0 apg
11 Joe Coleman (6-4, 200, So.) - 10.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.0 spg
32 Trevor Mbakwe (6-8, 245, R-Sr.) - 6.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg
13 Maverick Ahanmisi (6-2, 195, Jr.) - 5.3 ppg
15 Maurice Walker (6-10, 290, R-So.) - 3.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg
00 Julian Welch (6-3, 195, Sr.) - 2.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg
30 Andre Ingram (6-7, 215, Sr.) - 2.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg