The suddenly surging Western Michigan Broncos conference clash with the seventh-ranked Duke Blue Devils.
Western Michigan, which plays its basketball out of the Mid-American Conference, began the season a dreadful 0-6. However, since a Thanksgiving weekend loss to No. 19 Gonzaga, the Broncos have won five of their last six, including the last four in a row. The most recent triumph for WMU came two days before Christmas in a 91-76 rout of in-state rival Oakland. With that victory, head coach Steve Hawkins recorded his 150th career win, making him just the third coach in school history to reach that milestone. The Broncos are just 1-3 in true road games this year, and 1-7 outside of Kalamazoo when you factor in four neutral-site affairs. Hawkins' club will kick off MAC action at Ball State on January 7.
As for Duke, it has been idle since December 19 when it blasted visiting UNC Greensboro in a 90-63 final. The Blue Devils have won 91 straight home games against non-conference foes (the longest current streak in the country), and their last home loss to a non-league foe occurred on February 26, 2000 against St. John's. The Blue Devils have won 41 straight home games regardless of the opponent.
Duke is coached by the legendary Mike Krzyzewski, and he has led his team to big wins over Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan, Kansas and Washington already this season, while its lone loss came at Ohio State late last month. Since then, the Blue Devils have won three straight, and they will open ACC play at Georgia Tech on January 7.
This game marks the first-ever meeting between Western Michigan and Duke on the hardwood.
All five starters scored in double figures for Western Michigan in its recent win at Oakland, led by freshman Austin Richie's career-high 22-point effort. Mike Douglas poured in 19 points and handed out six assists for the Broncos, who shot a blistering 55.6 percent from the field and made good on 10-of-22 three-point attempts (.455). A 21-12 edge in points from the foul line certainly helped, as did the fact that the Golden Grizzlies connected on only 38.2 percent of their total shots. So far, Douglas leads the team in scoring with his 13.0 ppg, and he also serves as the club's primary playmaker with 48 assists. Matt Stainbrook adds 12.4 points and 6.6 caroms per contest to the mix, Demetrius Ward chips in with 12.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, and Flenard Whitfield contributes 10.4 points and a club-best 7.9 boards per outing. Whitfield has been hobbled by an ankle injury and his status for this game is questionable. As a team this season, WMU averages 70.1 ppg but allows 73.2 ppg. The Broncos are +6.3 in rebounding margin, but they are guilty of more than 16 turnovers per night.
Duke got a balanced scoring effort in its recent win over UNC Greensboro, as five players scored in double figures led by Mason Plumlee's 15-point, 13- rebound performance. Austin Rivers and Quinn Cook tallied 14 points apiece, while Andre Dawkins pitched in with 11 points, and Ryan Kelly finished with 10. Miles Plumlee didn't score a point in the game, but was credited with 13 rebounds in just 24 minutes of action. The Blue Devils hit 48 percent of their total shots, including 10 three-pointers, and they doubled up the Spartans at the free-throw line, 22-11. A resounding 46-27 advantage on the glass helped offset the fact that Duke committed 18 turnovers and allowed 46.7 percent of UNCG's field goals to find the bottom of the net. Rivers heads a list of five players all averaging double digits in the scoring column this season, as he is netting 15.6 ppg on the strength of his 44.9 percent effort from long range. Mason Plumlee is averaging a double-double consisting of 12.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, and the team as a whole is putting up 80.2 ppg in hitting 50.1 percent of its total shots and 41.5 percent of its three-point tries. Defensively, Coach K's club is permitting 69.5 ppg on 44.2 percent field goal accuracy.