Preview: Cal heads to Madison Square Garden to battle Duke
On Thursday at 6:30 PM PST on ESPN 2, Cal men’s basketball will take on the #1 ranked Duke Blue Devils in the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It will be the first of two games with the next game being on Friday against either Georgetown or Texas. Cal comes in at 4-0 for the first time since the 2015-16 season while Duke also comes in at 4-0.
Last time out: On Monday, Cal defeated Prairie View A&M 54-50 in their second regional round game of the 2K Empire Classic. Sophomore guard Matt Bradley (16 points) and junior forward Grant Anticevich (13 points and 6 rebounds) led the way for Cal.
On Duke: The Blue Devils are led by sophomore guard Tre Jones (17.0 points and 5.8 assists), freshman center Vernon Carey, Jr. (14.8 points & 8.3 rebounds), freshman guard Cassius Stanley (13.0 points & 5.0 rebounds), and freshman forward Matthew Hurt (10.8 points). Carey was a 5-star recruit in high school, ranked #5 overall in the Rivals Top 150 while Hurt was a 5-star recruit as well ranked #9 in the Rivals Top 150. Stanley was a 4-star recruit ranked #39, somewhat out-performing his ranking. As for Jones, he was a 5-star recruit in the 2018 recruiting class, ranked #14 overall in the Rivals Top 150.
Aside from the obvious, which is that they have a ton of talent, this Duke team does a good job of getting everyone involved, not having one guy share the spotlight over the others. Jones deserves a lot of credit for making that happen as he is doing a really good job of creating open looks for his teammates.
In addition to moving the ball well, Duke is dominating their opponents inside. They average a +11.3 rebounding differential and are blocking 5.5 shots per game. Opponents are shooting just 38.9% from the field for 59.5 points per game. It’s tough to score on this Duke team.
The only real weakness on this Duke team is they’re not a great perimeter or free throw shooting team. They’re shooting just 30.4% from beyond the arc and 64.3% from the foul line. If you can keep them out of the paint and force them to earn their points at the line, there is a way you can possibly beat them.
Keys to the game: If Cal is going to pull off the upset, they first need to keep Duke out of the paint as I said above. If Duke gets lazy and starts to settle for jump shots, Cal could make this game interesting provided they rebound well and create open looks for themselves on the other end. No matter how good you are, a jump shot is always a more difficult shot than a dunk or a layup. Kuany Kuany could make a difference in this department with his length and athleticism.
Secondly, Cal needs to move the ball well and create open looks from beyond the arc. Duke’s opponents are shooting 29.8% from beyond the arc, so this is much easier said than done. That said, Cal has to come in with the mindset to knock down shots from the perimeter and get the hot hand. If Grant Anticevich, Matt Bradley, Kareem South, and others can get going from downtown, Cal could put some pressure on Duke. While Mark Fox did say on Monday that shooting jumpers comes with its risks, perimeter shooting is the one area where Cal could make this game interesting. If Cal looks to go inside on Duke too often, they’ll get eaten for lunch.
Lastly, Cal needs to win the battle on the foul line. While Duke is struggling in this department, Cal is excelling, shooting 78.4% on the season. If Cal is going to go inside, they should do so with the purpose of getting fouled. If they can get to the foul line more often and knock down their free throws like they have all season, they just might put themselves in a position to pull off the upset.
History between Cal and Duke: Cal is 2-1 all-time against Duke. In their 1982 regular season opener, Cal defeated Duke 76-71 under the guidance of head coach Dick Kuchen. Kuchen didn’t accomplish much during his time at Cal, but beating Duke is a feather in his cap.
In the 1993 NCAA Tournament, Jason Kidd led the Golden Bears to an 82-77 victory over Bobby Hurley and #10 Duke in the Round of 32 before falling to #9 Kansas 93-76 in the Sweet Sixteen. Cal’s lone loss to Duke came in the 2010 NCAA Tournament in which they lost 68-53 in the Round of 32. Duke was ranked #3 in the nation that year and went on to win the NCAA Tournament.
Quotes on the game: Below are quotes from Matt Bradley, Joel Brown, and head coach Mark Fox about the upcoming matchup with Duke.
“We’re excited. We haven’t spoken about Duke yet, but I know coach will talk about it. So right now, we just want to move on from this and just get prepared for what’s next.”-Brown
“Personally, every game matters. I mean, whether who it is, I’m just going into the next game. Pretty sure I can say the same for Joel. We just want to win regardless of who it is. It’s a big stage, but we’re excited to play there obviously...Every game is exciting to me.” -Bradley
“Continue just to communicate with each other. Just a bond going on road trips together, you just get laughs and stories like this, so just building the chemistry off the court will continue to grow and make it on the court.”-Brown
“Well, there’s a few things I know about basketball. One is that Duke has been the gold standard for decades. I have great respect for Coach K and their program, they have an unbelievable team and if you look at any part of a basketball program, they check that box with excellence. And so, they are the gold standard in college basketball. Madison Square Garden is the most famous basketball arena and I know that much. That it’s a special place to play, ok? I also that Jason Kidd’s not walking through that door, so we’re going to have to play better basketball than we did today.” -Fox
“Well eventually you have to play the best. So, is there the right time to play the best? I’m not sure, but eventually you have to find out just where you’re at on the mountain and so we’ll have to come up with something to see how we measure up.”-Fox