You don't have to see this team a whole lot to realize that they are very different from last year's. Where to start?
Well, let's start with Rasheed Sulaimon. We can't think of a freshman who scored 20 points in his first game - much less 18 in the first half - and who cares if it's an exhbition? The kid can play. Aside from shooting 6-9 from the floor (and 6-7 from the line), Sulaimon was 6-7 from the line. He also had two boards, three assists and two steals.
At certain points, we were reminded of Robert Brickey - not his leaping certainly; we saw no signs of a freakish vertical. But rather in his face and his body, which is put together somewhat like Brickey's, though with a very different skill set. The facial resemblance is from a distance; he doesn't look much like Brickey up close. But he moves like him somewhat.
He's very much a guard, though, and from all appearances, a keeper. We were impressed with his poise and his intelligence. It was a very, very fine debut.
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Fellow rookie Amile Jefferson showed us some good stuff too. He's quite lanky and long-armed, and he has a nose for getting to the basket offensively. On one play, he made a somewhat challenging pass to Mason Plumlee, who was closer to the hoop. It was an impressive pass.
Jefferson finished 5-7 for for 13 points. His free throw routine is somewhat reminiscent of Cornbread Maxwell's. He'll force his way into some significant minutes if he continues to improve on defense, simply because he is fairly unique on this roster. We could see him guarding anyone from, say, Reggie Bullock to, say, CJ Leslie. He needs to gain some weight, but he showed great promise.
When you look at the box score and see that Alex Murphy had six points and four boards, you might think he wasn't that impressive.
There are a ton of things you can't see in a box score. For instance, you can't see confidence. In his brief outings last year, Murphy was not a confident player.
That's so over.
Murphy played with immense confidence. He took the ball coast to coast. He blocked shots. At one point, he ripped down a rebound in a crowd - one handed.Â Stats will come. He played very well.
We see now why he was compared to Kyle Singler, because he's got a lot of overlap with Singler's game. The difference - so far, anyway, we don't have enough evidence to draw a conclusion - is that Singler, like Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Art Heyman and maybe Steve Vacendak among previous Blue Devils - had an off-the-chart competitive desire. You can never tell about that until you see it.
Physically, Murphy is probably superior. He runs faster and jumps higher. Singler just beat you.
If he has that same level of desire, he'll become very good indeed.
Quinn Cook, who was so remarkably smart with the ball last year, was not today.Â At one point, the ball bounced off his foot; at another, an official called him for double dribble (it was the right call, too).
Nonetheless, he did some extremely cool things. First, he really worked on defense. He tried on at least two occasions to force a five-second call.
He didn't get it, but he couldn't have done that last year.
Second, he played 32 minutes, more than anyone else besides Mason Plumlee, and didn't look tired. His recovery from knee surgery seems solid.
Third, he was just much quicker and in far better game shape. Plus he's still getting used to some new teammates and new roles for people.
The veterans we're not going to talk about as much, because Plumlee Ryan Kelly, Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston are pretty much known commodities. Moreover, we all have a pretty good idea of what's expected of them.
That said, Plumlee finished with 22/11 and Kelly with 22/6. For these guys, leadership is the key thing, and that can't be tested in a game like this.
When it is needed, they'll also turn to Thornton and Seth Curry, who sat out this game to let his leg heal. The injury hasn't been specified, but it doesn't seem like a major thing.
When he does return, the backcourt is going to be very deep.
Overall, we can see a lot of potential with this group. They did let Western Washington get a few too many open shots for our comfort and penetration remains an issue. With Curry available, with Sulaimon playing defense with a passion, and with the athleticism Murphy and Jefferson bring, that'll improve.
There are a lot of options, certainly more than last year, and it'll be fun to see how Coach K weighs, and employs, those options.