We normally stick to one post-game story but there was so much in this game that we really kept thinking about into the evening.
Duke has one really major factor working against it this year and that’s youth. It’s been our theory for a long time that an experienced and cohesive team can take down a younger, more talented group. And that’s going to be a potential pitfall for this team.
While it was foolish for Wendell Carter to say this team should go undefeated (there’s that youth thing again), this team has the potential to be very, very good.
Even Art Chansky, who has no love for Duke, recognizes it and made a smart observation:
“Sure it was an exhibition game, and sure it’s a long season, but I saw something in Duke’s latest basketball team that I haven’t seen in years – not even with the 2015 edition that won the NCAA championship with three freshmen starting...These Blue Devils took the court with four freshmen and senior Grayson Allen, and from the tip it was clear that Mike Krzyzewski had his starting lineup and his complete rotation. That is rare, a combination of youth and talent from day one...The reason this Duke team will build cohesiveness quickly is that there is no competition for a starting position. The first three subs off the bench already have and know their roles; they are good, but not as good as the guys they are playing behind.”
We didn’t get to see that game due to a family occasion and we didn’t see the same team Saturday as Chansky did because of the suspensions of freshmen Trevon Duval, Jordan Goldwire and Alex O’ Connell, but what we saw was impressive enough.
A lot of the focus is naturally on Duke’s bigs. Wendell Carter is powerful and agile and he will be hard to contain inside. Marvin Bagley is still a teenager when it comes to strength, but he’s versatile and is far more agile than most 6-11 players. He has three point range and did some very cool things around the basket. Not just moves but adjustments. He needs to bulk up for his future but the talent is obvious.
It’s more than the bigs though.
One of the most impressive things was the play of Grayson Allen. Last season he had injuries all year long and he was clearly limited. Everyone talked about his offense but it was more than that: he wasn’t secure enough to handle the ball without frequently turning his back to his defender.
He filled in at point guard against Bowie State and we didn’t see much of that, if any. He was aggressive and confident.
He’s still not an NBA level ball handler and probably will never play point there, but he did a great job. How often do you get double figure assists from a guy who’s not a point guard?
And Gary Trent is much more composed than we would expect from a freshman. He’s a very refined offensive player. He generally knows when to shoot and when not to shoot - a big lesson - and has a mid-range game that most guys his age won’t master for a long time. He’s very impressive.
Like Allen and most of last year’s team, Marques Bolden struggled with injuries. Like Allen, that’s over.
Having him as the third big is an incredible luxury. Bagley doesn't need to play center obviously but having two big, agile and powerful guys who can is amazing.
And don’t overlook what DeLaurier can do. He’s much faster than any of the other big guys and more than anyone else he’s capable of going out and defending smaller guys on the perimeter. As a run/jump guy he reminds us of players like James Worthy and Orlando Woolridge. His skills are not that far along yet but they’re coming. When he’s a well-rounded player, he’s going to be something else.
The other guys played well too. Justin Robinson, who came to Duke as a preferred walk-on (he’s on scholarship now) looks vastly better than he did as a freshman. He’s not in the rotation yet but he may work his way there at some point in his career.
Antonio Vrankovic, who became reliable last year, is another big, solid body Duke can put in. He’s not a great athlete but he’s smart and capable in the post and he has really good hands.
Jack White is a rugged guy who can defend and add versatility to the lineup - one thing Duke could use more of.
Jordan Tucker got some minutes and we saw a really quick player who needs to bulk up. But there’s real quickness there and a willingness to be aggressive on offense. And again, in certain situations, Duke may need a guy who’s more versatile.
And finally, Mike Buckmire, who came to Duke as a walk-on with some real accomplishments, got in at the end. When a lane opened up, he didn't hesitate to go to the basket. He’ll fit right in. He’s a real luxury as a walk-on.
We didn’t get to see the three suspended freshmen and wish we had, especially Duval, who’s been tossed the keys to this Ferrari. We’ll catch them soon though.
Chansky’s point was definitely interesting but you have to set that against K’s long-term desire to rough things up early, to experiment and try different combinations. Some years we’ve wondered if he changed things just to keep his team from peaking too early (this is similar to his tendency to take players out after they’ve done something good - we’ve wondered why for years. Is it to take them out on a positive note? It has always intrigued).
That may be harder to do with a clearly defined rotation this early and given what he likes to do, that could prove to be a limitation rather than a benefit.
Still, there’s no denying that this is a talented team. Bowie State was a cakewalk but tougher challenges are coming soon. Young Carter will have a better idea of what he and his teammates are up against in a couple of weeks and how difficult it is to win consistently, let alone all the time.