Saturday at 1 p.m., while Im finishing up my drive into the mountains of Southwest Virginia for football, the basketball team will take the floor back in Durham for the seasons first exhibition game, vs. Bowie State. Heres a quick list of things to watch for (the final score isnt one of themexhibition basketball is more about the means than the end)
Pace of play Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has talked about how he wants the Blue Devils to push tempo and get up and down the floor. Tyler Thornton told us scribes at media day that Krzyzewski normally pushes them to double their speed in practice. Last years Duke team averaged 69.4 possessions per game, which ranked 116th out of 347 Division-I teams. Look for that number to rise.
Now, watching Duke play its first exhibition game wont be the final word on how quick they will go, as much of the second half (if not all of it) will be non-competitive basketball. But it will be interesting to see how many possessions the Blue Devils log in the first half.
Starting five Barring anything totally out of left field, I can tell you which four players are sure bets to start: Quinn Cook, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson. That leaves one spot for either Rasheed Sulaimon or Andre Dawkins. As hard as it is to believe Sulaimon might not keep his starting spot from last year, all preseason indications point to Dawkins getting that final spot.
Again, another caveat: who starts in exhibition play isnt certain to stick until the season opener on Nov. 8 against Davidson. Alex Murphy started both of last years exhibition games. Those were his only starts on the year
Off the bench rotationSo after the starting five, who else gets in the first half of the game? Kryzewski has said this team could be deeper than typical Duke teams (which I feel like gets said every year). Maybe, though, with the full-court press that will be employed this year, that will come to fruition. Its hard to imagine Thornton, Sulaimon/Dawkins (whoever doesnt start) and Josh Hairston not logging meaningful minutes, since all did last year. And what about newcomers Semi Ojeleye and Matt Jones? It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Official visitsReally, this should be at the top of my list, because make no mistake about it: the most important thing for Duke basketball this weekend is that the visits of PG Tyus Jones, C Jahlil Okafor and SF Justise Winslow go well. All rank in the top 15 of the class of 2014, and Jones and Okafor are rated No. 1 at their respective positions (with Okafor No. 1 overall as well). Jones and Okafor have long insisted they are a package deal ( more on that here), and Winslow has suggested he would like to play with them, too. Should the Blue Devils land their commitments in November, they will be the early frontrunners for the 2014-15 title, regardless of who on the current team stays or goes.