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ACC Preview #15: Duke, Part I

The returnees

North Dakota State v Duke
COLUMBIA, SC - MARCH 22: Jordan Goldwire #14 of the Duke Blue Devils passes the ball against the North Dakota State Bison in the second half during the first round of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Colonial Life Arena on March 22, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Last but not least on our list of ACC Previews is your favorite school and ours, the Duke Blue Devils.

When we last saw the Devils, Justin Robinson was coming on fast at the end of a career where he was a rare bird, a guy who barely played but nonetheless had a huge impact on his team. He seemed to be unexpectedly filling a real need - and then the pandemic wound up for a major punch and his career came to a screeching halt, as did Duke’s season and indeed all of college basketball’s.

It was a sad ending to what promised to be a tremendous career capstone for a guy who went from a recruited walk-on to a part-time starter to maybe more. We can’t possibly know but things were looking good for Duke and Robinson.

But he’s gone along with Javin DeLaurier, Jack White, Tre Jones, Vernon Carey and Cassius Stanley, with the latter three expected to be picked in the upcoming NBA Draft.

DeLaurier and White were good but not great players. They were reliable fourth year program guys who helped the younger players find their way and at times, both of them stepped up and were brilliant.

Of the NBA prospects, Stanley will be least missed. He was a fine defender and had spectacular talent but he didn't fully develop it at Duke. We look forward to seeing him grow in the NBA.

Carey became a real rock for Duke and a pain for defenders. As his confidence grew, he became very difficult to stop. Opponents took to doubling him on a regular basis. As a pro, many see as a bit of a misfit in the modern game, but they forget this: he came to Duke as essentially a perimeter player and learned to play inside at Duke.

Look how well he learned it and bet against him at your own peril.

Then there’s Jones. A superb defender and point guard, Jones will be underrated until people see him play defense in person. Keep in mind too that last year’s team required a bigger offensive contribution from him. If he’s on a team that can allow him to focus on his strengths, say New Orleans, he will be a vicious defender.

Needless to say, they’ll all be missed.

So who’s back?

Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Jordan Goldwire and Joey Baker return, along with former walk-on Mike Buckmire.

The only senior is the 6-2/184 lb. Goldwire.

He came to Duke a bit out of the blue, if you will. Duke swooped in quite late. Eastern Kentucky was seen as his leader but Coach K felt the backcourt needed some help and thought he might do okay.

He’s been far more than okay.

His first year he didn’t play much but his second year he started to show signs of being a great defender (being pushed by Jones every day in practice surely helped).

Duke fans had begun to understand that Goldwire was exceeding expectations but most other people probably didn’t see it.

Well until the Louisville trip in his sophomore year, that is.

If you’ll recall Louisville was handling Duke with ease. When Mike Krzyzewski put Goldwire in, things began to change: Goldwire and Jones were insanely effective together and Louisville began to lose composure.

Goldwire had two steals, two assists and two rebounds as Duke came back from 23 points down in the last 9:41 to stun the Cardinals.

As a freshman, he hit 32.1 percent overall and 26.3 percent from behind the line. His shot really fell off as a sophomore for whatever reason and he finished at 27.3 percent overall and just 12 percent from deep.

Last year he bumped those up to 48.7 percent and 35.4 percent respectively. With the exception of the sophomore slump from the foul line and a slight dip in assists, again as a sophomore, his stats have gone up every year, as has his value. His calling card though, his bread and butter, is relentless defense. Don’t expect that to change.

He has been a tremendous success story and we fully except him to be a captain and leaved as a beloved figure in Duke history.

We really enjoyed watching Wendell Moore progress last season. In the early going, fans were grumbling a bit about his decision making. He tended to telegraph drives and his playing time yo-yo’d.

He kept improving though, and by the time the UNC game rolled around (over there), he was ready to step up.

In the last few seconds of that game, Moore was involved in every play on offense and defense. People rightly celebrate his tip-in but before that play, he got a layup, then helped force a UNC turnover, then tipped Jones’s missed foul shot out before he tipped Jones’s missed layup in.

That was a great stretch of basketball.

In general, as a freshman he progressed as much as any Duke player we can think of. He still has to work on consistency, and he could stand to improve offensively.

Otherwise though, he’s becoming a highly useful player and if his improvement continues, he’s likely a first-round NBA Draft pick next year.

Like Moore, 6-9 Matthew Hurt passed on the NBA and it was a wise decision. Typically, if you’re not starting in college, you have no business entering the draft.

Hurt showed some interesting stuff. He has a reliable if odd perimeter shot that’s more of a set shot. We haven’t seen one of those in these parts since Maryland’s John Lucas.

It works though and he showed that he could be a solid rebounder at least on a few occasions. Hurt, remember, was the guy who helped clinch a tight game against FSU with a key rebound.

Clearly he got better as the season went on but he had two problems to overcome: strength and consistent effort, especially on defense.

Those things are related.

Last season, Hurt was listed at 214 and while that notable rebound against FSU came under duress against a physical team, there were plenty of times when the wispy forward backed off. He didn’t always seem to appreciate how hard you have to play at the ACC level.

This year, he’s listed at 235 and that’s probably big enough to push back. In the best-case scenario, he’s a totally different player this year.

Last year, he averaged just under 10 ppg and 3.8 boards. Both should go up, perhaps sharply.

And he shot reasonably well as a freshman: 48.7 percent overall and 39.3 percent from behind the line.

Only two teammates topped his three point shooting prowess: the departed Robinson and Joey Baker.

Baker was a mixed bag as a sophomore.

When he’s hitting his shot, it’s a thing of beauty. It’s really gorgeous and you feel like it’s always going in (he took a late three at UNC that rimmed out but he’s one of the guys who should take that kind of shot).

His minutes fluctuated a lot though. His main contribution is shooting and when it’s off, his value goes down.

That’s not to say that he doesn’t work hard on defense. He does. He’s also always intense, perhaps at times too much so. It’s possible his intensity could backfire at times.

We watched him closely at times last year and thought, that’s the guy on this team who is closest to being a warrior, at least in the West Point sense. And we also thought that, more than any of his teammates, Baker wanted to belong. He relishes being on Duke and being, as Coach K often says, part of something bigger than himself. Joey Buckets loves being a Blue Devil.

It’s a good group to build on, but obviously it’s not enough. Fortunately, Duke brings in a large group of promising new players. We’ll look at them in Part II.