New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - A marquee matchup is on tap at Madison Square Garden on Friday as the sixth-ranked Duke Blue Devils and the fourth- ranked Arizona Wildcats collide in the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils successfully navigated the tournament field, with regional wins over UNC Asheville and East Carolina, before knocking off Alabama, 74-64 in Wednesday's semifinal action in New York City. Duke is now 6-1 on the season, with the lone loss coming against Kansas at the Champions Classic in Chicago on Nov. 12. The Blue Devils are certainly no stranger to in-season tournament success, having now won 27 consecutive games in such battles. The team has enjoyed a great deal of success in this particular event as well, winning 15 straight NIT games, and boasting of a 25-2 all-time mark in the event, with titles in 1985, 2000, 2005 and 2009.
The Wildcats have had tons of success in this event as well, running their record to 21-2 all-time with tournament wins over Fairleigh Dickinson and Rhode Island in regional action and then a come-from-behind 66-62 decision over a tough Drexel team on Wednesday. Sean Miller's squad has certainly looked the part of a national contender this year, running its record to a flawless 6-0 thus far.
This marks the ninth all-time meeting between these two storied programs. Each team has won four matchups. This is the sixth matchup that has taken place on a neutral floor.
Tons of expectations were heaped on the shoulders of freshman forward Jabari Parker and through seven games, he has more than handled the pressure. The 6- foot-8 youngster has proven to be one of the nation's premier players, scoring over 20 points in all seven games thus far, while leading Duke in both scoring (23.6 ppg) and rebounding (8.7 rpg). Parker is aided up front by the explosive Rodney Hood (19.9 ppg), who can also take over a game at the offensive end. Backcourt balance is found in point guard Quinn Cook (13.4 ppg, 6.4 apg), as well as Andre Dawkins (8.0 ppg) and Rasheed Sulaimon (7.0 ppg). Duke has overwhelmed most of the competition this season by averaging 90.0 ppg on .534 shooting.
Parker was once again the driving force in Duke's win over Alabama, as he finished 9-of-12 shooting, and 9-of-10 from the free-throw line, for a game- high 27 points. Cook poured in 17 points, while Matt Jones came off the bench to add 13. Despite the double-digit win, the 74 points were a season low for the Blue Devils, who shot an uncharacteristic .431 from the field overall.
Arizona has been equally impressive this season, having dominated at both ends of the court. The Wildcats are averaging 81.0 ppg, on a solid .518 shooting, while limiting the opposition to a mere 58.3 ppg and .340 efficiency. Four Wildcats are averaging double figures to provide balance both inside and out. Junior guard Nick Johnson leads the way with 17.3 ppg. Freshman forward Aaron Gordon is next with 12.5 ppg and is tops on the team with 9.7 rpg. Brandon Ashley (10.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Kaleb Tarczewski (9.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.0 bpg) complete a formidable front line. Gabe York (10.0 ppg) is the team's top sniper (12-of-25 from 3-point range).
The Wildcats also are coming off their worst offensive effort of the season, as they found themselves in a 19-point first-half deficit. To their credit, the Wildcats reduced that deficit to single-digits at the half (29-20), before opening the second half strong and eventually holding off Drexel for the win. Johnson led the way with 20 points. Three others joined in him in double figures, as Tarczewski (15 pts, 10 rebs) and Gordon (10 pts, 13 rebs) both notched double-doubles and T.J. McConnell chipped in with 11 points.