#6 Duke Gets Past Bellarmine, 76-54

First of all, why is there a blackout for a game that doesn’t allow fans? Seriously, broadcasting world? So I didn’t get to see it (thanks a lot, ACC Network) but Duke made its way past Bellarmine by a score of 76-54. Similarly to other games, there were high and low points for the Blue Devils, but they bounced back from Tuesday’s loss to Michigan State and regained some momentum. There were some big energy sparks, too. Take for instance:

DJ Steward is 6’2″ (he doesn’t look like it but anyone’s going to look short next to Mark Williams, our 7-footer), had a monster game in the opener with 24 points, and although his statline isn’t fantastic for tonight he still plays a major role for this team keeping the intensity high.

Interestingly, Mark Williams started today at the five. Mostly known for his incredible length, Williams had a pretty fantastic game in just 15 minutes. He only had 5 points but that was 2-3 from the field and 1-1 from the line, to go with 7 rebounds (4 of which were offensive), 4 blocks, and 3 assists. That’s a well-rounded game. He’s definitely an option going into the next few games to have some more minutes at the five. This could definitely be an asset defensively and on the offensive end, too. Williams is one of Duke’s best options in the frontcourt and he hasn’t played much to date. Coach K has been experimenting with the lineup and what he provided today will almost definitely help his playing time.

Matthew Hurt, have yourself a night. Hurt went for 24 points, hitting six threes of eight attempted. That’s a huge jump in efficiency for him. Hurt’s sharpshooting skills will be desperately needed come ACC play, so this game is a terrific sign for Duke.

Another interesting note: Bellarmine has officially played its first game in Division I. To be frank, Duke should’ve beat a first-time-Division I opponent by a lot more, but this is a learning team and a win is a win is a win. Defensively, there are a lot of holes. Offensively, there are a lot of holes. This is a young team that plays younger than any team we’ve had in the last few years. It’s important to remember the ceiling as well as where we stand in general.

What was scheduled to be Duke’s next game against Elon on Sunday has been postponed. It’s not super clear what the situation is regarding Duke’s next game; it’d potentially come this Tuesday against #5 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. If that game were to happen it’d be a blockbuster. More to come as we find out what the situation is with Illinois’s program, as their next game has been canceled.

Bleed blue.

Preview: Opener vs. Coppin State is on!

College basketball got underway for most teams unaffected by recent COVID cases, which sadly, does not include Duke. The scheduled opener for Wednesday against Gardner-Webb was cancelled due to a case within the opposing program. Of course, we hope everyone is okay there and we know teams on both sides are disappointed to miss a game.

The Blue Devils are case-free at the moment, and the de facto opener against Coppin State, scheduled for Saturday, is currently set to go on. Barring a surprise positive test or other issue, the Coppin State and Duke medical teams worked cohesively to ensure the game could be played safely. There was a positive test within the Coppin State program this week (not a player or coach, but personnel) but everyone else has tested negative multiple times to date. We trust that Duke will do everything possible to make sure this game is as safe as possible prior to tipoff.

And assuming we get to a tipoff… Duke will start today! It’s a wonderful feeling after a long offseason. If there’s anything we’ve learned in the last eight months, it’s that we have to stay in the moment and savor it because we don’t know what’s happening to the season next.

An interesting note about the Coppin State program: Maryland’s Juan Dixon is their coach. Dixon was a national champion in 2002 and Most Outstanding Player for that Final Four, too. He was also on the court for the legendary 2001 “Miracle Minute” game. Duke, led by the likes of Jason Williams, Shane Battier, and current associate head coach Nate James, overcame a double digit deficit in the final 60 seconds of the game. That game happened in College Park, but is well-remembered in Cameron. He’ll be back against Duke, this time on the sideline and in Cameron. There was no absence of dislike between Duke and Maryland before the Terps left the ACC.

We can’t wait to watch the game. You can see my season preview here, but we’ll be looking for veterans like Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore to lead while the young stars get their footing. You can catch the game on ACC Network Extra.

Duke Football plays today too, against Georgia Tech at 7pm. Tech is 2-5 to Duke’s 2-6, so hopefully the Blue Devils can get something going over in Atlanta.

Bleed blue.

The Kara Era Begins: Duke WBB cruises past Longwood, 94-64

The Duke Women’s Basketball season started with a bang on Wednesday. The Blue Devils took down the Longwood Lancers by a score of 94-64. On the scoring side, it was a collective effort: sophomore Jaida Patrick led with 21 points and 5 assists, followed by junior Miela Goodchild, who scored 16. Onome Akinbode-James had a monster game on the boards with 16.

The big story from the game was the beginning of the “Kara Era”: head coach Kara Lawson began her career as a head coach. Coach Lawson played for Pat Summit at Tennessee, then in the WNBA. She won a championship with the Sacramento Monarchs in 2005 and was a 2007 All-Star, then won a gold medal in Tokyo in 2008 with Team USA. She was an analyst for ESPN for several years and the first female analyst to call an NBA game on the network in 2007. She’s a coach in 3×3 basketball for Team USA, and became the first female assistant coach to the Boston Celtics in 2019. Duke hired her to succeed Coach Joanne McCallie this summer.

Freshman Vanessa de Jesus stood out, starting at point. She had 13 points and 4 assists. Veteran Mikayla Boykin did not play due to knee soreness; she’s not expected to miss much time.

College basketball kicks off today, for both the men’s and women’s teams. Duke’s men’s team won’t be playing but you can look forward to a game on Saturday, assuming all goes well for both teams on the health and safety side of things.

Bleed blue.

Duke Basketball Opener Postponed; First Game Will Be Saturday

Duke Basketball won’t get started as expected this Wednesday, after the scheduled opponent, Gardner-Webb, had a COVID-19 diagnosis within its program. The opener will now be this Saturday, November 28, against Coppin State in Durham.

Each player expressed dismay on social media, but postponements are expected as the NCAA scrambles to prevent and handle cases and exposures within college basketball.

Jones, Stanley, and Carey to the NBA

Duke sent three more players to the NBA on Wednesday night in a draft where abnormal would be an understatement. The 2020 NBA Draft was about 5 months later than previously scheduled due to the hiatus from March to July and was held virtually, with players sitting in their homes as they waited to hear commissioner Adam Silver call their names. While it wasn’t the same, the draft is so special because it’s a literal dream come true for all of the guys selected. The virtual draft was different, but did not lack in emotion and whole-hearted joy. Congratulations to all of the NBA’s brand new rookies. The Blue Devil picks were as follows: Vernon Carey went 32nd to the Charlotte Hornets, Tre Jones 41st to the San Antonio Spurs, and Cassius Stanley 53rd to the Indiana Pacers.

Going into the draft was as strange as the draft itself mostly because none of us really had a clue what would play out. Especially compared to last year, the draft projections were further off. Outside of the top three (who went Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, LaMelo Ball), whose order was highly debated, the rest of the draft was a wild card. Teams didn’t have the same access to player metrics, like a formal combine or easily scheduled workouts, as typically.

All of the Duke picks went in the second round. While there’s an expectation of Duke sending several players in the first round, these guys are absolute steals. It’s completely insane to me that the ACC Player of the Year and defensive Player of the Year in Tre Jones went second round, as well as the ACC Freshman of the Year. The NBA values the “ceiling” for these players a lot; execs look at how high the players can go. That’s pretty obvious in this draft. But it’s important to remember that the “floor” is how high they’re already at, and is also vital to NBA success. We know that Vernon and Tre are big-time players and they’ll show that in the next level. Every rookie is a rookie in the NBA and can make their way to the top. Draymond Green of the Warriors went second round. Quinn Cook, Duke’s 2015 championship team leader, went undrafted altogether and just earned his second NBA ring. Tre Jones, Vernon Carey, and Cassius Stanley have limitless potential and have already shown what incredible players and guys they are.

Tre Jones to the Spurs might just be the steal of the draft. At 41st, he’s headed to San Antonio to play under Gregg Popovich. Popovich is arguably the NBA’s Coach K, and similarly to Coach K he values hardworking players who go hard at the gritty details. Tre is a defensive monster (Cole Anthony would know and he was picked just outside of the lottery) and is rock solid in the clutch (Cole Anthony, and the rest of UNC, would know this one too). As a sophomore he was captain and the hands-down leader of the team last year. He knows how to accentuate the talents of NBA stars. As a point guard and a leader, he was the team operator behind the likes of, oh, I don’t know, Zion Williamson? He set up the fantastic plays of guys like Zion, Cam Reddish, RJ Barrett, Cassius Stanley, and Vernon Carey. He’s experienced and can go even higher from here. Also to note, he’ll join his brother Tyus in the NBA.

Vernon Carey is next up. He was one of the first second-round picks and won’t travel far from Durham. He’s the Hornets’ newest addition. He’ll play with #2 pick, LaMelo Ball (yes, the Ball family is coming to North Carolina). The Hornets are considered one of the biggest winners of this draft and Vernon is part of that. He has a monster frame and is versatile and quick around the rim on either end of the floor. He could see some improvement in FG%, at 57.7%, but that’s still pretty consistent. He can stretch the floor; his 3-point shooting improved over his short college career. The NBA is shifting away from bigger players, but that 3-point shooting will be a huge asset. This is a talented, underrated player.

Finally, we have Cassius Stanley to the Pacers at 54th. If Tre and Vernon are the guys with a high floor, Cassius is the guy whose ceiling is in outer space. As a recruit in high school his athleticism was unparalleled. He’s come even further since then, as his highlight reel from Duke would indicate. He was not the most consistent college player, but that doesn’t discount his potential and he still posted a good 13 points per game average. Cassius could really go places.

These guys will get their first go in the NBA starting around Christmas, at least tentatively. They won’t have the more typical lengthy offseason but they will be as resilient as any class of newcomers we’ve ever seen.

We’ll continue to follow our NBA Blue Devils (Seth Curry is a 76er and Luke Kennard is a Clipper now, by the way) but the new season of college basketball starts in less than one week and we’re beyond thrilled.

Bleed blue.

2020-2021 Preview: Here We Go.

Hi, I’m back!

The 2020-2021 season begins in two weeks. I’ll spare you the 2020 sucks jokes, but this season should live up to the year in craziness (sadly, without the help of the Cameron Crazies). Duke Basketball will be back! The idea of college basketball becoming part of our lives again is wonderful.

But forward we go. It should be recognized that we don’t know all of details, nor can we predict exactly what might happen. Our priorities are the players and their safety, and this virus isn’t letting up anytime soon. We should not pretend that it will. There will be no fans in Cameron Indoor this year, as expected and as health guidelines would recommend. But life in a pandemic means adapting to what it throws at you, and our hope is that the season is safe, resilient, and brings us something just a little bit normal.

Duke is poised to be a national power. No surprise there The AP Poll is out and Duke landed at #9 preseason. Preseason polls are almost never accurate (hello, UNC last year?) but it’s still exciting to think about. The schedule was published at long last:

Some notable dates for the 2020 calendar year:

  • November 25. The season begins at Cameron with the traditional early season games, never to be discounted. Some pre-Thanksgiving fun!
  • December 1. #13 Michigan State comes to Durham for a Top-25 showdown in the Champion’s Classic. While it won’t be Madison Square Garden, the Classic is always a fun game. Evidence? Look no further.
  • December 4-6. Duke will be holding its very own early season tournament, the Mako Medical Duke Classic. The event will honor Dr. Onye Akwari, one of Duke Medicine’s most legendary and influential figures. You can learn more about his life and the event here. The basketball participants will include co-host Howard, Bellarmine, and Elon.
  • December 16. ACC Schedule begins at Notre Dame.

As we’ve made clear, and as this football season has made even clearer, these dates are tentative. Testing and isolation will be important, and so will flexibility.

And now for the rising stars of this Blue Devil team. In no change from the last five years, Duke has an outstanding set of freshmen sure to light up the NBA prospect conversation (and hopefully the scoreboard). Here they are:

  1. Say hello to Jalen Johnson. Wrapping up at 13th on ESPN’s Player Rankings for the Class of 2020, Jalen is the crowning jewel of talent for Duke this year. At 6-9, 220, he’s a powerful small forward whose electricity is exciting. See the picture above.

2. Following up, we’ve got Jeremy Roach. He falls closely behind Jalen at #19 in ESPN’s rankings and is a top point guard in his class. Jordan Goldwire, the senior PG, is more likely to start but don’t count Jeremy out. He looks to follow in the footsteps of Tre Jones as the next great Duke playmaker, and he’s got the potential to make that jump. His athletic abilities and dynamic ballhandling are his biggest strengths. Look for some big action from him this year.

3. DJ Steward is next in line. He’s a versatile guard with a quality shot. Earlier this year, he was named to the Jerry West award watchlist. He’s known as a huge prospect for scoring and playmaking, and can act as a point guard when needed.

4. The second standout freshman forward for the Blue Devils is Henry Coleman III. The 6-7, 229 big man is known around the team as an “energizer bunny”, as Coach James put it, and an athletic gem. He’s versatile, as an inside presence who can shoot from deep. He has the potential to be Duke’s underrated surprise this season.

5. He’s right, it’s that month and we couldn’t be happier. This is Jaemyn Brakefield, another forward with an added shot and a knack for defense. Athleticism is a pattern on this team, and Jaemyn follows it. He has skills in all areas of the game and is essentially positionless.

6. The final of the first years, Mark Williams. Most noticeably, Mark is tall. Like, really tall. He’s Duke’s first 7-footer since Marshall Plumlee graduated and has a massive wingspan of 7-8. Quite obviously an asset to the defense, Williams looks to be a Wendell Carter-style big man with opportunities for putbacks and rebounds galore.

That rounds out a balanced freshmen class with lots of budding talent for Coach K to play with. We’ve been treated to several high-profile freshmen classes over the last couple of years, but this season’s supporting cast of upperclassmen is arguably one of the best we’ve had for a while. Several returning sophomores and a solid set of leaders give this team a big edge. Here they are:

1.Leading the pack, we have senior co-captain Jordan Goldwire. Jordan’s been on the upward trajectory since he arrived at Duke three years ago. He guards the point profoundly well and hit some huge shots last season. He jumped from 12% to 35.4% on 3-point field goals between 2019 and 2020 and has stood out in scrimmages as a trusted leader.

2. The second captain this year is Wendell Moore, the standout sophomore who most certainly made his name known (see here) a year ago. Moore has emerged a leader, both with his basketball-related activities and his activism during the offseason. He’s expected to start as a talented forward who can stretch the floor. He could make a big jump this season in addition to having become a vital roleplayer for this Blue Devil team.

3. Joey Baker is returning as well. Our junior sharpshooter looks to improve even further this year. We can’t wait to watch him. He’s likely to come off the bench but can be a big influence for shooters like DJ Steward as well as a scorer himself. He’s looking like a seventh or eighth man and could provide some important minutes.

4. Everyone’s got their eyes on sophomore Matt Hurt. Like Joey, Matt is a lengthy sharpshooter who, according to the coaches, has made leaps and bounds from his freshman year. We’re looking for a breakout year from him. He’s almost definitely a starter at power forward. He’s a known three-point threat who averaged almost 10 points a game last year. He’s another important factor in this monster frontcourt.

5. Patrick Tapé is another newcomer for Duke, but not how you might think. A graduate transfer from Columbia University, Tapé was a force in the Ivy League during his first 3 years. He was out last year with a foot injury but will be back this year. He’s a 6-9, 233 forward, so obviously a presence in the post. He’s got better reaction time than one would expect at his size, a huge bonus on the defensive and offensive boards. He’ll more than likely be off the bench as well, and could be a sub-in anchor for this defense.

6. Last but certainly not least, we have sophomore Michael Savarino and Keenan Worthington, and senior Mike Buckmire. While these three aren’t expected to play often, their value to the team should never be discounted. Don’t forget Justin Robinson last year, who rose from non-scholarship to a fan favorite, reliable 3-and-D who started his final game. Mike’s final season will culminate the pre-med, stellar student’s career as a beloved team player (who received scholarship last year). We can’t wait to watch.

We’ll have more season preview over the next eleven days.

Bleed blue.

#4 Duke Takes Down #3 Kansas in Champions’ Classic

Duke opened the season tonight with a bang in the Champions’ Classic as the Blue Devils took out the third-ranked Kansas Jayhawks, 68-66. Though by no means an offensive battle, sophomore captain Tre Jones led Duke, on every end of the court and every aspect of the game, with 15 points alongside 6 assists and 6 rebounds. It was a team effort, however, that won the game: both offenses struggled immensely, but the team defense was triumphant. It was a physical, rough game with ups and downs, and a young team responded on the big stage.

The biggest statistic for the game? 28 turnovers. 28! All on Kansas. Yes, that’s a sloppy game by the Jayhawks (almost the sloppiest ever) but it is undeniable that Duke’s defense played an enormous role in that stat. And while some may say that the margin of victory should have been much larger, the faintest idea that that is even possible is mind-boggling. With improvement and experience gained over the course of the year and that already established, this team is going to be very, very good. The game plan was executed exceptionally, with double teams containing the Jayhawk frontcourt and ballhandlers struggling to get by. Cassius Stanley’s athleticism was on full display, Jack White had numerous huge steals, one to seal the game, and Vernon Carey battled with the biggest of foes down low. It was an exemplary game in terms of strong and composed defensive play.

It’s not difficult to determine that the offensive efficiency for the Blue Devils was unimpressive. Duke managed to scratch out enough points to beat a top 4-ranked team, so I’m not too concerned. Shot selection was not always superb and neither was execution, at 36.5% on field goals. Considering the physicality of the game, though, the Duke offense wasn’t terrible, with some big shots coming from an array of players, eight in total scoring. Matthew Hurt had a huge three-pointer, and Cassius Stanley was magnificent, especially by the end of the game. In a rough offensive game for both sides, our Blue Devils didn’t back down.

One surprise was that Joey Baker, after showing out against Fort Valley State in exhibition, did not take the floor. Perhaps there’s an injury we’re not hearing about, but we’ll expect him to have an impact this season.

Bleed blue. Duke eases up with Colorado State on Friday for the home opener back in the Bull City.

Duke Basketball Returns with Champions’ Classic

The wait is over: college basketball returns tonight, and what way to start it other than a face-off between the premier programs of the NCAA? The Champions’ Classic pits Duke and Kansas against one another this year, both teams sitting atop the polls at #4 and #2, respectively. A young team will begin on a big stage, and it’s time to see how they’ll handle it.

Duke previewed the season with Countdown to Craziness then two exhibition games: Northwest Missouri State and Fort Valley State. NWMSU gave Duke a run for their money, and though they were reigning Division II Champions that doesn’t excuse a near-disaster for the Blue Devils. Duke scratched out a 6-point victory at 69-63. The emotion from the first game, however, seemed to be taken out in the second, unfortunately for FVS. Duke brought down the hammer on them, 126-57.

Duke is facing an experienced Kansas team, something we lack. A major focus will be rebounding, as the Jayhawks bring back a strong frontcourt including very productive big man Udoka Azubuike. Azubuike will provide a sufficient challenge on both ends of the court for Vernon Carey, Jr, the most renowned of Duke’s incoming freshman class and assumably starting center.

You can catch the start of the season tonight on ESPN at 7:00 ET. You won’t want to miss this.

Duke Football Cruises Past NC A&T, 45-13

On a hot night in Durham starting the season at least for Wallace Wade Stadium, the Duke Blue Devils made the home crowd happy with a win over the North Carolina A&T Aggies by a score of 45-13. A&T was overpowered, but in making it a contest it’s clear that they have a program to be respected.

Starting quarterback Quentin Harris had a field day, logging five touchdowns, four passing and one running, along with 345 passing yards and 85 rushing yards. A strong receiving game was encouraging after the “Core Four” receivers of 2018-19 departed for NFL and expiration of eligibility. A slow start deterred neither the offense nor the defense, an important lesson to learn entering a stacked ACC Coastal race in a couple of weeks.

Bleed blue. Duke takes on Middle Tennessee next weekend in Murfreesboro.