Duke plays perhaps the nation’s toughest season-opening game and will take part in a challenging in-season tournament that figures to boost its nonconference strength of schedule rating.
Those events highlight the Blue Devils’ nonconference schedule for the 2018-19 basketball season, which the school released on Thursday.
The Blue Devils face Kentucky, likely the preseason No. 1 team, in the Champions Classic on Nov. 6 at Indianapolis to start the season.
They head to Hawaii Thanksgiving week for the Maui Invitational, which features potential Top 10 teams Gonzaga and Auburn in its strong eight-team field. Duke opens with San Diego State and will play either Xavier or Auburn in its second game.
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But, with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge game against Indiana played at Cameron Indoor Stadium this year, Duke won’t play a true road game until it reaches the ACC portion of its schedule.
Outside of the Maui Invitational, Duke has only two nonconference opponents who made last season’s NCAA tournament — Kentucky and Texas Tech.
Duke is replacing all five starters from last season’s 29-8 team that reached the NCAA tournament’s elite eight. Four of the players were selected in the NBA Draft, including first-rounders Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter and Grayson Allen.
Helping replace them are freshmen RJ Barrett, Cameron Reddish, Zion Williamson, Tre Jones and Joey Baker, who comprise the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class.
Duke gets an early start on the season with a foreign tour to Canada in August. NCAA rules allow Duke to hold 10 practices leading into the trip, which will include exhibition games on Aug. 15 (vs. Ryerson) and Aug. 17 (University of Toronto) in the Toronto area and Aug. 19 (McGill) in greater Montreal.
The Blue Devils will play two exhibitions at Cameron Indoor Stadium in October, facing Virginia Union on Oct. 23 and reigning NCAA Division II champion Ferris State on Oct. 27.
While the ACC has yet to finalize its schedule, Duke’s opponents are known. The Blue Devils play twice, home and road, against North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia and Wake Forest. Duke plays home games only against Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami and NC State. The Blue Devils play only on the road against Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt, Virginia Tech.
Here’s a look at how Duke’s nonconference schedule sets up:
Nov. 6 — Kentucky (at Indianapolis)
For the first time, the college basketball season will start with a marquee event — the Champions Classic. The doubleheader featuring Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State and Kansas has been played annually since 2011. But an NCAA rule change makes it the season-opening event for the first time this year. Duke will face Kentucky at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis in what will certainly be a clash of Top 5 teams. Having added Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis to what was already another stellar recruiting class, Kentucky is likely to enter the season ranked No. 1. Watching freshman point guards Ashton Hagans and Tre Jones battle in their first collegiate games will be just one highlight of this one.
Nov. 11 — Army West Point (home opener)
Duke’s home opener at Cameron comes against Coach K’s alma mater on Veteran’s Day, which should provide a cool atmosphere. Once the game starts, though, the outcome figures to be one-sided. The Black Knights lost their final seven games last season to finish 13-17. Army will return a pair of strong 3-point shooters in senior Jordan Fox and sophomore Alex King.
Nov. 14 — Eastern Michigan
The Eagles went 22-13 last season, 11-7 in Mid-American Conference play, and should be one of the league favorites this season. Eastern Michigan returns its top three scorers, led by 6-9 senior forward Elijah Minnie (16.9 points per game). The Eagles also have 6-10 senior forward James Thompson (14.5 points, 11.2 rebounds) and 6-2 senior guard Paul Jackson (14.9 points, 4.6 assists) returning. This looks like a sneaky good test for the Blue Devils against an experienced team.
Nov. 19-21 — Maui Invitational, Lahaina, Hawaii
A strong field will gather with each team playing three games in three days prior to Thanksgiving.
Duke opens with San Diego State on Nov. 19 and will play either Auburn or Xavier on Nov. 20. Duke’s third Maui game, on Nov. 21, will be against Arizona, Illinois, Iowa State or Gonzaga.
The offseason Top 25 published by CBSsports.com has No. 3 Duke, No. 5 Gonzaga and No. 10 Auburn all among the Top 10. Xavier was a No. 1 seed in last year’s NCAA tournament. San Diego State and Iowa State are perennial NCAA tournament teams. Arizona is rebuilding around freshmen guards Brandon Williams and Devonaire Doutrive. But 6-10 junior center Chase Jeter (remember him?) is eligible after his 2017 transfer from Duke.
Nov. 27 — Indiana (ACC-Big Ten Challenge)
The Blue Devils won, 91-81, on the Hoosiers’ home court in Bloomington, Ind., in last year’s Big Ten-ACC Challenge, and the teams will meet again, this time at Cameron Indoor, in this year’s Challenge. Indiana has missed the last two NCAA tournaments but the Hoosiers look like a tournament team this season as they return five of their top seven scorers and have added five-star recruit Romeo Langford.
Dec. 1 — Stetson
The Hatters struggled to a 12-20 record last season, including a dismal 4-10 Atlantic Sun Conference record. They hope two junior college transfers — 6-7 Ricardo Lynch and 6-2 Marques Sumner — will make the team more competitive this season. Stetson played just one Power Five opponent last season, losing 71-62 at Nebraska. So the trip to Cameron Indoor will present a serious uptick in talent.
Dec. 5 — Hartford
The Hawks were a decent America East Conference team last season, posting a 19-14 overall record and going 11-5 in league play. Both win totals were program records for Division I play.
A 75-60 semifinal loss in the conference tournament to UMBC (which made quite a name for itself last March) sent Hartford to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Hartford did claim a win over a Power Five team last Dec. 28 when it beat Rutgers, 60-58. So this could mimic a potential first-round NCAA tournament opponent for Duke.
Dec. 8 — Yale
The first of two consecutive Ivy League opponents for Duke, Yale went 16-15 last season to post its fifth consecutive winning season. Duke fans should watch out for 6-6 junior guard Miye Oni, who led the Bulldogs with 15.1 points and six rebounds per game last season. Sophomore Paul Atkinson, a 6-10 center, led the Ivy League in field goal percentage (.692) last season while averaging 9.3 points per game. Yale coach James Jones is in his 20th season with the Bulldogs.
Dec. 18 — Princeton
After winning the Ivy League and playing in the 2017 NCAA tournament, Princeton stumbled to a 13-16 record last season. The Tigers did show some strength, though, by winning 103-93 at Southern California. Princeton returns four of its five starters from that team, led by seniors Devin Cannaday and Myles Stephens. They shouldn’t be enough to keep Duke from winning, but this game will present a mental challenge for the Blue Devils as they return to play following their 10-day break for final exams.
Dec. 20 — Texas Tech (at New York)
Duke’s annual game in the New York City metro area takes the Blue Devils to Madison Square Garden to meet the Red Raiders, who posted eight wins over AP Top 25 teams last season while going 27-10. Like Duke, Texas Tech fell one win short of the Final Four last March, losing 71-59 to eventual national champion Villanova in the East Region final. Coach Chris Beard lost four seniors plus freshman Zhaire Smith, who is now with the Philadelphia 76ers after being picked No. 16 overall in the first round of the NBA Draft. Jarrett Culver, a 6-5 guard who scored 11.2 points per game, is the lone Texas Tech player returning who averaged double-digits in scoring.
Feb. 2 — St. John’s
After suffering a stunning 81-77 loss to St. John’s at Madison Square Garden last February, Duke welcomes the Red Storm to Cameron for a late-season nonconference game. While St. John’s has gone just 38-60 in Chris Mullin’s first three seasons coaching his alma mater, the program looks primed for a break-out season after going 16-17 last season. Junior guard Shamorie Ponds is back after averaging 21.6 points per game last season. Mustapha Heron, a 6-5 guard who led Auburn in scoring at 16.4 points per game, transferred to St. John’s and is seeking a waiver to play immediately. Former South Carolina forward Sedee Keita, 6-9, is eligible after sitting out last season. This looks like a tough test in the middle of the ACC schedule for Duke.