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ACC Play Opens For Duke

Clemson is a tough opener but the Blue Devils say they’re ready

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Princeton v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 18: Marques Bolden #20 of the Duke Blue Devils blocks a shot by Ryan Schwieger #15 of the Princeton Tigers during the second half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 18, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 101-50.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Duke begins its 66th ACC season Saturday night, hosting Clemson.

The Blue Devils are ranked number one nationally and are favored by the odds-makers to win the NCAA title.

So, winning the ACC regular season should be easy.

Not if recent history has anything to say about it.

Despite rosters full of NBA talent, Duke hasn’t finished first in the ACC regular season since the 2010 team tied Maryland, at 13-3 in the league.

A title not shared with another team?

We have to go all the way back to 2006 for that.

Duke has won two national championships since then.

Both of those ACC title teams were full of seasoned vets. The 2006 team included seniors J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams, Sean Dockery and Lee Melchionni in the rotation. Redick and Williams were consensus first-team All-Americans, Redick the consensus national player of the year. The 2010 team started seniors Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek and juniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith.

The kind of experience this year’s team cannot match.

It’s not that the one-and-done teams have been uncompetitive. That 2015 NCAA title team went 15-3 in the ACC but finished behind 16-2 Virginia. Duke was 13-5 last season.

Duke’s young teams have been prone to the early-season upset, Boston College last season, Virginia Tech the season before, digging an early hole.

Duke is starting four freshmen, coming off a 16-day layup against a physical, veteran Clemson team.

Jack White says Duke is ready.

“It’s definitely something we’re aware of and definitely as a group, it’s one of our major goals,” he says of winning the regular season. “We know a Duke team hasn’t done this for a long time and it’s one of the things he want to check off our list in terms of achievements.”

How does that happen?

“We have to come in every game and treat it like a championship game, understand that every team we play against from here on out is going to really good, is going to test us, especially against teams like Clemson that are a bit older and are going to be physical with us and try to punk us in a sense. We have to show up every day and take care of what we can control. You have to be ready every game, every player. Every game is going to be a fight.”

Duke hasn’t played in awhile but White says they’ve prioritized doing things together, “stay together as a team, go to a movie, eat together, to keep us in that mindset of a team.”

Tre Jones says Duke has been back and practicing since December 28 and doesn’t expect any holiday hangover.

“We came back from break really refreshed. We’ve had about a week of practice. We don’t have any rust at all. We’ve been going pretty hard in practice.”

Jones adds that he feels better physically than at any time since coming to Duke.

Texas Tech proved that Duke’s transition game can be minimized and future opponents figure to follow that template.

Jones says “We saw last game that we’re not always going to be able to push the ball as much as we want do and we’re working on our half-court execution and we realize that in a lot of these games teams are going to try to slow us down.”

Getting Cam Reddish back on his game would help that half-court execution.

Jones has some thoughts on how that happens.

“Just try to get him looks early on. A lot of these games that he hasn’t been getting going are because he hasn’t been getting looks early. Just trying to get him into a rhythm early on.”

White adds that Duke needs to be able to run a half-court offense but is still going to use its defense to get into transition.

“A continued emphasis on defense will bring the transition offense and be aggressive in that sense and play our game. At the end of the day, we’re playing Duke basketball, we’re playing our game, it’s fun, it’s quick, it’s aggressive and I think it works for our team.”

The prelims are over. No more exams, no more holiday breaks, no more semester breaks, no more three-games-in-three-days-regular-season tournaments, no more two-week gaps. It’s a two month grind.

“We’re all itching to get out there and play,” White says. “I think we’ll be ready for that rigorous schedule. I ‘m really excited. I think our team is going to handle this segment of the season in a really positive way, just continue to build and grow.”

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