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Next Up: Boston College

As ACC play begins in earnest

Brown v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 28: Head coach Mike Krzyzewski watches as Cassius Stanley #2 of the Duke Blue Devils saves a loose ball during the second half of their game against the Brown Bearsat Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 75-50.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Other than Mike Chappelle, who left Duke for Michigan State, we can’t recall Duke playing a guy who transferred out - wait, wait, check that. Michael Gbinije left for Syracuse.

Well there goes our setup where we were going to say that Duke hasn’t played a former Blue Devil in ACC competition. Even so, it’s a bit different with Boston College’s Derryck Thornton.

Thornton left with his family grumbling that he had been misled and one relative saying he was a scoring point guard and not a pass-first guard as the Blue Devil staff wanted him to be.

It didn’t happen that way at Duke or Southern Cal, his second stop. It’s happening more at BC though with some qualifications.

Thornton is averaging 13.8 ppg, a career high. However, he’s only shooting 40 percent from the floor and 26.5 percent from three point range. He’s also averaging 3.6 assists and 3.6 turnovers.

Part of the problem for Thornton, or perhaps a break depending on your perspective, is that BC is missing Wynston Tabbs.

Before his knee injury last year, Tabbs was becoming an offensive force. He’s really got potential. Unfortunately he’s missing this year to recover from that injury and, if we remember correctly, more surgery.

Boston College is also missing Ky Bowman, who had a year of eligibility left before departing for professional basketball, and Jordan Chatman, a fine player and brilliant student.

The Eagles do return 6-11 senior Nik Popovic who has developed into a solid big man and who is at times outstanding. Steffon Mitchell, 6-8, is a junior now. He’s not a particularly good offensive player but he rebounds with passion and he also has really become a hard working defender.

The Hamilton brothers are both back with the younger and bigger Jairus starting but playing almost the same minutes as his older brother. Jairus does more work inside obviously but Jared shoots better.

Jay Heath has taken over for Tabbs and like his fellow DMV native, he’s a tough guard. He’s averaging 10.3 ppg but shooting atrociously: 35.8 percent from the floor, 36.4 from behind the line and 30 percent from the charity stripe. He’s also averaging 4.0 turnovers per game. We haven’t seen him much but in high school he had a reputation as a shooter and for quickness. And as we’ve noted before, BC coach Jim Christian has a knack for finding undervalued talent. So don’t write the kid off because he’s not shooting well. Clearly Christian likes some things about his game.

Speaking of underappreciated, remember CJ Felder? He’s out of Sumter, SC, and a lot of people thought BC got a huge steal with him. He’s getting 19 minutes as a freshman. He hasn’t had a monster game yet but he’s highly athletic.

Freshman Julian Rishwain, who looks a bit like a taller, better behaved Justin Bieber, rounds out the main rotation. He’s 6-5 and can shoot a bit.

As for Duke, the Blue Devils have been playing without Tre Jones for the last two games as he’s been held out with what’s been described as a minor foot sprain. Coach K said he would have played if it had been an ACC game so we expect to see him Tuesday.

And Jones is certainly likely to stiffen Duke’s defense. He’ll start on Thornton and if he’s as good as he usually is, that’s potentially a big problem for BC.

With both Jones and Cassius Stanley back - Stanley had a hamstring injury earlier which looked very bad at the time but fortunately wasn’t a huge problem - Duke is just about back to full health.

For the Blue Devils, the main thing in this game, indeed in this season, is defense. If Duke plays it at a high level, things will go well. If they don’t, then BC has a chance.

And we don't overlook the possibility that Thornton plays out of his mind and has a game for the ages. Why not? He knows the gym, knows the crowd, knows most of the cheers. He knows not to shoot when everyone does the fake early countdown. And he may still have a score to settle.

However, he’ll have Jones, Jordan Goldwire, Cassius Stanley, and Wendell Moore to contend with and he’ll need some offensive help.

This Duke team is still evolving and it had some bumps lately with injuries and a major upset. Coming out of exams and the holidays is always an adjustment. If we see what we’ve come to know as Duke basketball, win or lose, things will be okay.