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ACC Preview #15 - Duke, Part II - The Returnees

Low on numbers but high on effort and character

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Notre Dame
Dec 16, 2020; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Jeremy Roach (3) reacts in the second half against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Purcell Pavilion. 
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Things have changed a lot in the one-and-done/new transfer/Covid/NIL age but even so, this is probably the least number of players to return to Duke in the Krzyzewski era.

In fact, this may be the smallest group of returnees ever at Duke.

So who’s back?


  • Joey Baker - 6-6 senior
  • Wendell Moore - 6-5 junior
  • Keenan Worthington - 6-9 junior
  • Michael Savarino - 6-0 junior
  • Jeremy Roach - 6-1 sophomore
  • Mark Williams - 7-0 sophomore

Normally we don’t list walk-ons unless it’s a special situation but Duke is obviously our primary focus and in Duke’s case, the walk-ons are occasionally important and more so in the modern era. With so many new players to incorporate, Worthington will help teach them to learn the drills and to keep practice moving and efficient. It’s an important role.

Savarino is highly unusual not only because he’s the coach’s grandson but because he has been steeped in Duke basketball for his entire life. He could prove to be as valuable behind the scenes as was Justin Robinson a few years ago.

Let’s look at the scholarship players now.

On paper the best returnee is Mark Williams. As a freshman he was a bit weak and got pushed around, not surprising for someone who was 18 and 7-0, and it took him awhile to get in the groove, again not surprising given what a difficult year it was in so many ways.

But when he did, the team changed.

Williams only played double-digit minutes once before January 26th and that was against Bellarmine. In a three game stretch against Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Pitt, he played a total of eight minutes with almost no statistical impact at all.

Then, starting in late January, Williams surged. He had five blocks against NC State and 20 points, three steals, three blocks and seven boards against Georgia Tech. In the final game of the Covid-shortened season, he hung 23 points and 19 rebounds on Louisville, helping to lead Duke to a 70-56 win in the ACC Tournament.

Williams emerged as a major force in the ACC. He wisely decided to not enter the NBA Draft, explaining that he needed to more thoroughly prove that he was ready.

Assuming he’s gotten stronger - he’s actually listed at one pound less than last year - he’ll be better able to deal with bigger, stronger opponents (more on that in Part III).

He has the chance to be one of the best shot blockers and rebounders in the country but that’s not all.

Williams is a subtle, intelligent player. He’s not just an athletic seven-footer; he’s a legitimate basketball player who makes smart basketball plays. The focus with him is naturally on what a seven-footer can do that smaller players can’t, but he is also an outstanding and crafty passer.

Like Williams, Roach would have benefited from the traditional summer ramp-up, and probably more so.

We’re pretty sure the original plan was to have Roach up to speed and to turn the team over to him as soon as possible.

Didn’t work out that way.

Roach was still working his way back to 100 percent after a high school knee injury that kept him out his junior season and also for summer ball that year as well.

He played his senior season but even with the miracle that is arthroscopic surgery, it takes time to get back to normal. Given everything, it took awhile for him to really unpack. When he did though we saw a guy who was quick, smart and who had great range. What we didn't see as much was leadership, but he was a freshman who Duke was unable to really prepare in the pre-season. We expect they’ll work on that and that this year, he’ll take charge of his team as Duke point guards traditionally do.

He seemed very slight and a year of weight training has likely helped (interestingly, like Williams, his weight is listed as slightly less than last season). At times he was also quite turnover prone but that’s correctible. In fact, Roach coughed it up just once in his last three games. We’re really optimistic about his success this season.

We think Moore and Baker will do well too.

If his career ended tomorrow Moore would always be remembered for his role in the win at UNC in his freshman year.

You’ll remember that Tre Jones either put up an exhausted shot that was short - what it seemed at the time - or that he tossed an alley oop to Moore after he called for one. Either way, it was one of the greatest game winning buzzer beaters right at the hoop since Lorenzo Charles took down Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Cougars in the 1983 NCAA championship game.

What you may not remember is that Moore was the guy who tipped the ball back to Jordan Goldwire after Jones missed a free throw with the game tied 96-96 in overtime and 6.6 left on the clock.

For some reason, Moore has never been fully appreciated by Duke fans who perhaps expected him to arrive more fully formed. As a freshman he forced things a bit until he relaxed and learned to just play. And as a sophomore he went through a dreadful slump that saw him hit exactly one shot in four games. The next time out he shot 8-13; after that he hit 1-7 and 2-6.

A bit surprisingly, he shot slightly better as a sophomore than he did as a freshman, and significantly improved his three point and foul shooting. Rebounding and assists were up and turnovers were down.

Moreover, he can play three positions, four in a pinch.

Moore hasn’t always played with confidence and that’ll be his challenge this season. He’s going to be asked to be a leader and his ability to deliver is going to be critical for Duke and he can’t do that without confidence.

Joey Baker may also not be sufficiently appreciated.

We’ve said this before but we’re not sure we’ve ever seen anyone who visibly relishes being part of Duke Basketball as much as Baker does. He loves being a Blue Devil.

Last year, his shooting was off across the board, most dramatically on the line where fell from 91 .7 percent to 75 percent.

Again, it was a strange year and Baker’s teammates did not demand the focus that, say, Zion Williamson or Vernon Carey did. Other than at the line, it’s not surprising that his shooting went down.

This year, assistant coach Chris Carrawell said that Baker has worked hard and is quicker and stronger and looks like he’s ready to step it up a notch or two. And more talented teammates means that he’s going to get less attention and more opportunities.

Like Moore, he’s also going to be called on for leadership. Baker may not have a huge statistical impact for Duke but he’ll bust his ass on every play and that alone will make him very important.

Obviously this isn’t enough to carry Duke though, so in Part III we’ll look at the new guys, four highly promising freshmen and two transfers who may help make Coach K’s final season particularly memorable.