The Duke Blue Devils will face off against the UNC Asheville Bulldogs in the first round of the preseason NIT tournament tonight at 7 PM. Duke comes in at a 2-1 record and the newly ranked #6 team in the country, falling back two spots from their previous #4 ranking. UNC Asheville comes in at 1-2 after losses to both Kentucky and Western Carolina. Here is a breakdown of the UNC Asheville Bulldogs:
In the first game of their season, UNC Asheville had the tough task of facing the preseason #1 Kentucky Wildcats where they were absolutely demolished, like most would expect, by a score of 89-57. The Bulldogs started Corey Littlejohn (6-3 junior), Jaron Lane (6-4 senior), Andrew Rowsey (5-10 freshman), Will Weeks (6-6 sophomore), and D.J. Cunningham (6-10 senior). It was Will Weeks who provided the offense in this one, scoring 19 points on 8-14 shooting and Andrew Rowsey had 12 points on 5-11 shooting. Otherwise, Kentucky stifled UNC Asheville and forced them to shoot, as a team, about 39 percent from the field and 23 percent from 3-point range. No other player got into double figures, but this is what you’d expect from a lower level team against a program like Kentucky.
In their next matchup, UNC Asheville faced Western Carolina, coming into the game at 1-0. The scoring in this one came from Andrew Rowsey again, who had a solid 24 points on 9-20 shooting. Though he scored the best, the best overall performance on the team was by senior center D.J. Cunningham who tacked on 18 points and grabbed 12 boards to go along with his 4 blocks. Again, as was the case against Kentucky, the rest of the team didn’t step up, including Corey Littlejohn going 0-7 from the field. The fact of the matter was that they were outplayed by a better team, dropping this one 74-67. If the Bulldogs want to win more games, they need to shoot better overall (20-50) and shoot better from the charity stripe (20-27). I know that seems harsh, but those 7 missed free throws are the exact amount that would’ve tied the game.
The third game for UNC Asheville against the Charleston Cougars was the one where everything seemed to click. Again, Rowsey was superb, scoring 23 points on 8-11 shooting. It wasn’t just him though, senior D.J. Cunningham had 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 blocks, and Jaron Lane added 13 points. In this one, the Bulldogs shooting was better (46%, highest on the season) and so were their free throws (14-15). Their defense also stepped up big time, allowing the Charleston Cougars to only shoot a below average 31 percent from the floor and a dismal 18.5 percent from behind the arc (5-27). A solid 67-58 victory was well earned for UNC Asheville.
Against Duke, I would expect to see something similar to the Kentucky game. Duke is better than #6 in the country and they know that. Their work ethic on the boards is something to watch tonight. Coming into this game, Amile Jefferson is only 5th on the team in rebounding, which is a startling statistic considering he is the only “big man” on the squad. Going up against a 240-pound center tonight, Amile will have to show what he’s made of. It’s not just him though, the entire team has been getting beat to the boards, not just because of size but also because of hustle. Duke needs to attack the boards aggressively and then, as Dickie V would say, “Run, baby run!” Transition is where Duke will excel against lower competition. Cook will most likely match up with Rowsey, Sulaimon-Littlejohn, Parker-Lane, if Weeks plays (he was out the last game) he would most likely be guarded by Hood or Parker, and Jefferson-Cunningham. I would expect Duke to win easily in the first round of the Preseason NIT and advance to play tomorrow against the winner of East Carolina and Norfolk State.