COLUMBUS, OHIO (AP) - Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski is not only a great evaluator of talent, but he can spot a sleeping giant of a program as well.
So, the fact that his No. 3 Blue Devils (7-0) will face No. 2 Ohio State on Tuesday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge is really no surprise to the all-time winner in men’s Division I basketball.
He made the prediction that the Buckeyes could become a power when he ran across Ohio State coach Thad Matta on the recruiting trail in the summer of 2004, shortly after Jim O’Brien was fired for violating NCAA rules.
“After I got this job, I was recruiting and Coach K stopped me and said, `Hey, I really believe you’ve got one of the top jobs in the country,’” Matta said. “He said, `I’ve looked at Ohio State the past 25 years and I think you can win there.’”
The Buckeyes did, reaching the 2007 national title game before losing to Florida and recording a 34-3 record last season while reaching the Sweet 16 for a second straight year.
Ohio State lost three seniors from that team but it hasn’t showed. The Buckeyes are 6-0, though the only ranked team they have faced was then-No. 7 Florida on Nov. 15, a team they defeated, 81-74.
Meanwhile, Duke is coming off wins over No. 15 Michigan (82-65) and No. 14 Kansas (68-61) en route to the Maui Invitational title last week.
“When you’re in a dogfight like that and come out on top, you learn something about yourself,” Blue Devils guard Tyler Thornton said. “We learned we can play tough. We feel like we can play with anybody in the country.”
The Buckeyes have relied on 2011 national freshman of the year Jared Sullinger (18.8 points per game, 10.7 rebounds), William Buford (17.7 ppg) and Aaron Craft (9.2 ppg, 33 assists, 21 steals) while developing chemistry with a young team.
“You can’t give (Sullinger) easy ones,” Duke forward Mason Plumlee said. “You’ve got to stay between him and the basket. You’ve got to be physical. He’s a good free-throw shooter, so you can’t foul him; you can’t bail him out with fouls.
“You just got to keep him off the glass.”
Duke spreads its scoring around. In fact, five players _ Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, Austin Rivers, Mason Plumlee and Andre Dawkins _ average double figures.
“Duke is a good defensive team, a great basketball team overall,” Sullinger said. “Coach K. is a great coach and he always has his teams ready for games like this.”
No one knows that better than first-year Ohio State video coordinator Greg Paulus, who played for Duke from 2006-09.
“It’s fun watching (Duke) on film because they play so hard, they share the ball,” he said. “As a college basketball fan, they play the right way.”
More than 19,000 fans will pack Value City Arena for this one, and students have camped outside the building for several days with a fervor usually reserved for football games.
“With the Florida game, we thought it was loud,” Sullinger said. “Imagine all the hype coming into this game. It’s going to be a very loud gym.”