New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - The sixth-ranked Duke Blue Devils and Alabama Crimson Tide collide in the semifinal round of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday evening.
Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils are 5-1 on the young season, with the lone loss coming to Kansas (94-83) in the Champions Classic on Nov. 12. Since then, the team has won four straight games, including a 91-90 nail-biter against Vermont last time out. No stranger to this event, Duke is 19-2 in the NIT Season Tip- Off, including 13 consecutive victories. The Blue Devils are also riding a 26- game win streak in in-season tournament play.
Anthony Grant's Crimson Tide will attempt to bring Duke's streaks to a close on Wednesday. Alabama has won three of its four games thus far, with its only loss coming against Oklahoma (82-73) in the Tip-Off Classic in Dallas on Nov, 8. The Tide made light work of both Stillman (102-65) and Georgia State (75-58) in regional action of this event.
Duke has won seven of the previous eight meetings with Alabama, including six straight entering this matchup. However, this is the first meeting since 1986. The winner of this contest will take on either Drexel or Arizona for the tournament title on Friday.
Alabama showed some defensive tenacity in its win over Georgia State last time out, holding the Panthers to a mere 58 points, while claiming a huge advantage on the boards, outrebounding Georgia State 40-24. Trevor Releford led the way at the offensive end, with 19 points, although he was guilty of six of the team's 13 turnovers. Releford was joined in double figures by Retin Obasohan and Levi Randolph, who finished with 18 and 10 points, respectively.
Although they don't throw the biggest lineup out there each night, the Crimson Tide have shown the ability to win games at either end of the floor this season. Alabama is shooting the ball very well early on, converting 52.4 percent overall, despite a modest 32.8 percent effort from behind the arc. Releford is a dynamic scorer with the ability to fill up the basket. He is averaging a team-best 18.0 ppg and doing so on just under 60 percent shooting (.595). Obasohan converts 52.6 percent of the time for 15.5 ppg, while Randolph (11.3 ppg) and Algie Key (10.3 ppg) are also knocking down shots with great frequency at 50 and 78.9 percent, respectively.
Coming into the season, Duke's Jabari Parker and Kansas' Andrew Wiggins were touted as the top two recruits in the nation. While neither has done anything to change that notion, Parker has probably exceeded expectations early on with his dominant play from the get-go. The 6-foot-8 freshman is shooting .580 from the floor and leads Duke in both scoring (23.0 ppg) and rebounding (8.8 rpg). Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood (21.8 ppg) is a force as well up front. Point guard Quinn Cook is the court general for Coach K and has done everything asked of him, showing the ability to both score (12.8 ppg) and distribute (7.2 apg) at a high rate. Perimeter depth comes in the form of Rasheed Sulaimon (9.6 ppg) and Andre Dawkins (8.0 ppg). Overall, Duke is averaging an impressive 92.7 ppg on the year and shooting a blistering .550 from the field.
The Blue Devils were right on their average against the upset-minded Catamounts last time out and needed every point in the narrow victory. It was Hood's game-winning free throw with five seconds remaining that proved to be the difference. Parker was dominant once again in the win with 24 points and nine rebounds. Hood poured in 22 points, while Cook finished with 14 points and eight assists.
The Crimson Tide lack an identity in the frontcourt and that could prove problematic against Duke's duo of Parker and Hood. Expect the Blue Devils to do what they do best and advance in tournament play.