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First Up: UNC Pembroke

Tuesday was Halloween but Wednesday feels like Christmas!

Countdown to Craziness
 DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 20: Jared McCain #0 of the Duke Blue Devils in action in their scrimmage game during Countdown to Craziness at Cameron Indoor Stadium on October 20, 2023 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Date 11/1 || Time 7:00 PM || Venue Basketball Paradise || Video ACCNX

Give Pembroke some credit for not being scared: the Braves scheduled Houston on Saturday and Duke on Wednesday. Both games are exhibitions, but for D-II Pembroke, both are paydays and a chance to play two of the tougher teams in the country.

Houston didn’t have much trouble with UNCP, building a 40-18 lead in the first half and winning 86-47.

Like a lot of teams outside of the power conferences, UNCP doesn’t have a lot of size. No one is taller than 6-8.

Also a challenge: the Braves have six true freshmen and four redshirt freshmen. There is one sophomore, two juniors and three seniors, all of whom - every one - has redshirted.

One player is not listed on the web site - Josh Berenbaum. A 6-8 wing, he played at North Florida for two years, then transferred to Cal Poly Humboldt.

The problem with exhibition games is that it’s difficult to know much about some opponents and that’s really true for UNCP because most of the team is new - something like 10 players.

During his epic run at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski always preached that you should respect your opponent by giving your best effort and generally speaking, Duke has done that for decades.

The Blue Devils are mostly young too, with Jeremy Roach, Ryan Young and Jaylen Blakes the only guys with more than a year of college experience. The sophomores - Tyrese Proctor Kyle Filipowski, Mark Mitchell, Jaden Schutt and Christian Reeves - know their way around but have varying levels of experience. And of course freshmen Jared McCain, Caleb Foster, Sean Stewart and TJ Power still have to show they can play at this level.

Still, at least on paper, Duke has several advantages: the team is much taller and has some experience together, newcomers aside, and of course the game is at Cameron. Duke is always a tough crowd but optimism is likely to be quite high: the Devils are ranked #2 in the AP preseason poll and #3 in the Coaches Poll. And people around Cameron are likely to be still buzzing over Monday’s commitment by high school phenom Cooper Flagg.

It’s an awful lot to overcome for UNCP, but you can never rule out an upset. Just ask Purdue or Virginia. They’ll surely tell you and part of what they’ll tell you is this: they didn’t respect their opponents enough and so are the only two #1 seeds to ever lose to a #16 seed in the NCAA tournament.