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.