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Toledo Rockets vs. Duke Blue Devils basketball preview

David takes aim at Goliath as the Rockets look to shock the world with a win over the second-ranked Blue Devils.

Will Julius Brown cast the stone to slay the giant?
Will Julius Brown cast the stone to slay the giant?
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It's not easy being Duke.

The Blue Devils have the honor of being perhaps the most hated college program in the country. They routinely have targets on their backs, and any Duke appearance on an opponent's schedule gets circled. It won't be any different for tonight's visit from the Toledo Rockets.

But while it may not be easy being Duke, it is even harder beating Duke.

The Blue Devils represent an intimidating opponent even just based on history, with the winningest head coach in college basketball history, 15 Final Four appearances and four national championships, but this year's squad does not need to rest on any laurels.

Second-ranked Duke boasts a 10-0 record, a second-place national ranking and one of the most talented rosters in the history of a program chock full of talented rosters. Freshman center Jahlil Okafor, the presumptive first overall pick in the next NBA draft, headlines a cast of characters that would play the lead role almost anywhere else.

This year, the Blue Devils have left a trail of destruction in their wake through the first 10 games. They have won each contest by double digits, including 10-point wins over perennial powers Connecticut and Michigan State on neutral floors as well as on the road against sixth-ranked, one-loss Wisconsin. In short, Duke has yet to blink despite a competitive non-conference schedule.

So how can Toledo steal a win from Durham tonight?

Simply put, there does not yet exist a blueprint to upset this iteration of the Blue Devils. Three of Duke's four top scorers this season - Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones - are freshmen. Okafor in particular has accrued an eye-popping 17 points and nine rebounds per game in his first collegiate season. The next team to stop an Okafor-led Duke attack will be the first.

There is, to be frank, little evidence that Toledo's defense will find the key to slowing Duke's offense. But the 7-4 Rockets may have a prayer - slight as it may be - to keep pace with the host Blue Devils in a shootout.

Toledo has filled up the score sheet with 77.5 points per game through the first 11 contests of the year. Senior guard Julius Brown's 15.9 ppg average leads a squad that gets near-double figure production from all five starters. Brown's scoring output can occasionally be volatile due to his propensity for three-pointers, but the floor general has scored as many as 29 points in an outing during his decorated career. If the senior can get hot from downtown, the Rockets may be able to put pressure on the young, albeit well-coached, Blue Devils.

What works most in Toledo's favor is the expectation game. For a program like Duke, every game is a must-win, but the Rockets can enter Cameron Indoor Stadium with nothing to lose. If the visitors can stay loose and enjoy a career game from their senior leader, perhaps Toledo can be the first to threaten the blue-chip Blue Devils.