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First Up For Duke Basketball: Winston-Salem State

Time to get things started!

NCAA Basketball: Duke Countdown to Craziness
Oct 15, 2021; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Jaylen Blakes (2) brings the ball up court as guard Trevor Keels (1) defends during Duke Countdown to Craziness at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Duke Basketball opens the season Saturday with an exhibition game against Winston-Salem State.

The Rams are coached by Cleo Hill, Jr., and if that name sounds familiar, it’s because his father was a legend for Clarence “Big House” Gaines in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.

The younger Hill has done well too. He’s only two years in but so far he’s 31-25 - keep in mind the Covid disaster - and won the CIAA tournament last year.

This year he has 11 new players though and that’s a lot to figure out.

He told Journal Now they’ll be defense-first and he has some size too.

So while it’s hard to find out a lot of solid information about a team with so much change going on, you can look to the coaching and that appears to be solid.

As for Duke, the good news is that AJ Griffin has been back at practice and might play Saturday.

Remember what we’ve said before about Duke Medicine being a (sort of) secret strength of the program? You just won’t get better medical care anywhere else. You might match it at a few places but you won’t surpass it.

Also, we’ll get a much better understanding of just how good Trevor Keels is. We’ll know more when Duke plays Kentucky simply because UK has better players than Winston-Salem State, but everything we’ve heard is very, very positive and exciting.

Duke assistant Chris Carrawell told the News & Observer that “[Keels] just turned 18 but he plays like he’s 25. He’s really poised. He can do it all. He can defend. He can shoot. He can make plays for others. He’s competitive and he’s a winner.”

And of course we’ll get the first real taste of Paolo Banchero too. We’ve gotten glimpses and hints, but competition is the best way to understand just what he can do.

Duke has a lot of experience but even the younger players appear to be very mature.

Other things we’ll be looking at:

  • How Jeremy Roach has progressed as Duke’s point guard
  • How much confidence Wendell Moore and Joey Baker display
  • What role Theo John will claim.
  • How good Jaylen Blakes is. We think he’s underrated but we’ll all know soon.

And also this: how long has it been since Duke has had a team with six guys with significant experience? Two are transfers but still. They know the ropes and are physically mature. Even the walk-ons are valuable in this sense: they can teach the younger guys in ways the coaches, no matter how good they are, cannot.