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Cal Basketball

Duke Hoops Could be Down This Year

October 1, 2019

After four very winnable games to start the season, Mark Fox takes his greenhorn Bears to Madison Square Garden for the 2K Empire Classic in New York City. First on the two-game docket is a matchup with the Duke Blue Devils. While playing a Mike Krzyzewski team in Madison Square Garden certainly sounds intimidating, very early Torvik projections actually give Cal a 13% chance of winning — higher than games at Oregon and at Colorado. Still, it’s Duke.

Duke Blue Devils

Last season: 32-6 (14-4), Kenpom ranking: 4

2020 Torvik Projection: No. 10, 22-8 (14-6)

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

There’s not much to say about Coach K that the casual college hoops fan doesn’t already know. He’s one of the most successful and prolific coaches in the history of the sport. Since 1980, Krzyzewski has led the Blue Devils to 12 final fours, 12 regular-season conference titles, and 15 conference tournament titles. At five national championships, only John Wooden has won more. While Coach K has won the Naismith College Coach of the Year three times, he has not received the award in the past two decades.

While Krzyzewski-coached teams definitely play solid defense, it’s the offense that is particularly impressive. Over the 23 years KenPom has been keeping data, Duke has only landed outside of the top-ten in offense four times. Three of those times, the Blue Devils ranked 13th. In 2007, which was one of Duke’s worst teams in modern history, the Blue Devils ranked 44th in offense (but ranked sixth in defense).

Duke does pretty much everything very well on offense, but Krzyzewski has really emphasized high-percentage shots and crashing the offensive boards in recent years. 

On defense, Duke’s last two teams have finished in KenPom’s top-ten defense ratings. Similar to the offense, the Blue Devils have elevated their defense over the past two seasons by clogging the lanes and last season ranked in the top-ten in block percentages, opponent field goal percentage, and free-throw rates.

Key Returners:

Tre Jones, 6-2, SO., 9.4 pts, 5.3 asts, 3.8 rbds, 1.9 stls

Alex O’Connell, 6-6, JR., 4.4 pts, 1.9 rbds

Jack White, 6-7, SR., 4.7 pts, 4.1 rbds

In recent years at Duke, the hype has been around the blue-chip recruits coming in rather than the nucleus of players already in Durham (and for good reason). But teams rarely find success on rotating platoons of newbies in and off the court compared to teams that have a few veteran players on the team (see Kentucky). 

Of Duke’s returning players, Tre Jones is the most exciting. The top-15 blue-chip point guard decided to forgo the NBA for one more year and stay in North Carolina. Many pundits have already placed the potential of Duke’s season on the ability of Jones to take another step forward this season. Specifically, it’d help if Jones improved his three-point shooting, where he averaged around 30% last season.

The other two returners that could impact this season’s roster and performance for Duke are Alex O’Connell and Jack White. Both play on the perimeter and while O’Connell was a typical top-70 Duke recruit, White was in the 200s, but will be a senior this year. Both players will be expected to fill in when the highly-touted incoming class need relief.

Key Incoming Players:

Vernon Carey, 6-10, FR., 247 Sports rank: 6

Matthew Hurt, 6-9, FR., 247 Sports rank: 12

Wendell Moore, 6-5, FR., 247 Sports rank: 29

Duke is bringing in a four-man class, which ranks third in the nation, according to 247 Sports. Highlight the class is Vernon Carey, out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It’s tough to find a skilled true center who can make an impact early on in his college career, but that’s exactly what is expected of Carey and very likely what he’ll live up to. Krzyzewski also scored a top-10 or 15 (depending on the ranking source) big man in Matthew Hurt. On the wing, the Blue Devils are bringing in two four-star recruits in Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley.

Key Losses:

Zion Williamson, 6-7, FR., 22.6 pts, 8.9 rbds, 2.1 asts, 2.1 stls

RJ Barrett, 6-7, FR., 22.6 pts, 7.6 rbds, 4.3 asts

Cam Reddish, 6-8, FR., 13.5 pts, 3.7 rbds

The three focal points of Duke’s insane 2018 class departed for the NBA. Williamson, Barrett, and Reddish were all top-five recruits and obviously leave big holes for Duke to fill this season. There’s not much more to say about the Blue Devils’ prolific class.

This is a game no one expects Cal to win. While this year’s Duke team won’t be as hyped as previous recent Duke teams, it’s still Duke and Coach K will have his team ready to go. Get through this game, learn some lessons, and then look to the two-game tournaments second game where the Bears will either get Georgetown or Texas — both of which are more manageable games.

Other non-con opponent reviews:

Prairie View A&M

Cal Baptist



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