There was a brief time when Michigan owned Duke in basketball. For three years, the Wolverines had the Blue Devils’ number, capping off a three-game win streak in the rivalry with a thrilling 81-73 come-from-behind victory in 1997.

Paul Wong
Michigan senior Gavin Groninger remembers what happened to the Wolverines two years ago at Duke, but is hopeful that this year things will be different.

But in light of the University’s self-imposed sanctions on its basketball program, those games have been erased from Michigan’s record books, as if they never happened. The same goes for Michigan’s national title loss to Duke in 1992 and the Wolverines’ defeats in 1993 and 1998.

There are probably plenty of Michigan supporters who wish that tomorrow’s 3:30 p.m. matchup between the two teams at Cameron Indoor Stadium wasn’t going to happen either.

That’s because No. 4 Duke has not slowed down at all this year, despite losing forward Mike Dunleavy, center Carlos Boozer and guard Jay Williams to the NBA after last season. The Blue Devils are 4-0 and have already posted impressive double-digit wins against UCLA and Ohio State.

The Wolverines, meanwhile, have gotten lost in the state of Michigan’s basketball compass, dropping home games to Western Michigan and Central Michigan en route to an 0-5 start.

But despite the mismatch on paper, the Wolverines are still confident and eager to give Duke a battle.

“We’re just going to go down there and play as hard as we can and try to surprise them,” Michigan center Graham Brown said. “We’re going to show them that our record does not reflect the ability of this team.”

Coach Tommy Amaker echoed Brown’s sentiments.

“We recognize that we need to respect our opponents; we don’t fear our opponents, we respect them,” Amaker said. “We are going to do the things that we feel gives us the best chance to win – otherwise we wouldn’t go. There is no sense in playing if we don’t think that we can compete and win.”

Saturday’s game will also give the Wolverines an opportunity to repress the memories from the last three meetings between the two teams.

Duke is on an amazing run in the series, having scored 104 points in three consecutive meetings against Michigan, including an 104-61 romp at home over the Wolverines two years ago.

“We’re not thinking about that now,” said Michigan senior forward LaVell Blanchard. “We’re thinking about preparing right now – if we do the things we’re told, we have a chance to win.”

With the loss of Boozer, this year’s version of the Blue Devils does not feature a dominant inside presence. 6-foot-11 senior Casey Sanders has been splitting time at center with wiry 6-foot-10, 215-pound freshman Shavlik Randolph.

While the Wolverines may not be dominated inside as they have in several games already this year, the Blue Devils’ quickness and depth at the guard positions – led by National Player of the Year candidate Chris Duhon – could give the depleted Michigan backcourt serious problems.

The Wolverines have lost the services of guards Avery Queen and Dommanic Ingerson within the span of two weeks, leaving freshmen Daniel Horton and Sherrod Harrell and senior Gavin Groninger as the only true guards on the roster.

“We have to get other players more involved with the ball-handling duties,” Amaker said. “We have our work cut out for us.”

As a winless team, the Wolverines are no doubt a long way from where they hoped they’d be heading into this game. Nevertheless, a win over Duke could make people forget those first five games.

“That’s what you play for – big games like these,” freshman Chris Hunter said. “You want to show people what you can do and there is no bigger stage than against a national championship program and on national television, too.”

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