Preview: Duke vs. Cornell

Cornell_logoFollowing an 11-day layoff, the freshly minted #1 ranked basketball team in the nation returns to the court Wednesday night to face Cornell of the Ivy League. Tipoff from Cameron Indoor Stadium is at 7:00 PM.

Duke has a long tradition of scheduling Ivy League opponents, having faced off many times in particular with Harvard, Penn, and Princeton. This is the fifth meeting all-time between the Blue Devils and the Big Red. Duke has won the previous four, with the last being a 14-point decision in January of 2008, in Cameron. It would’ve been great to have had a game scheduled against Cornell in 2010. That is the year that many readers may remember the Big Red, having won its third straight Ivy title, went on to upset Temple (by 13 points) and #4 Wisconsin in a blowout (by 18) in the NCAA tournament before falling to John Wall and Kentucky in the Sweet 16 in a game that had Big Blue plenty nervous. After that season, Cornell Head Coach Steve Donahue was hired away by Boston College, and replaced by Bill Courtney.

The program has wobbled under Courtney. He apprenticed under Jim Larranaga at George Mason and Tim Welsh at Providence, before moving on to assistant jobs at Virginia under Dave Leitao and Virginia Tech under Seth Greenberg. We’ll try not to hold those two latter against him. In his first year in Ithaca, Courtney led Cornell to a 10-18 mark; last year it was 12-16. Not so hot. But they did record a win last year over, ahem, Lehigh.

This season, the Big Red is off to a 4-6 start, with wins over Western Michigan, Presbyterian, Longwood, and Colgate. Only the win over the Blue Hose (that’s Presbyterian, but you knew that) was easy. The losses for Cornell have come at the hands of St. Bonaventure, St. Peter’s, Wisconsin (by 33), Arizona State (by 11), Stonybrook (by 23) and Vanderbilt (by 11). Again, not so hot.

The Big Red has struggled to score, averaging only 65 ppg. It’s hard to score if you can’t shoot, and Cornell is only shooting 40% as a team. Amazingly, Cornell has 21 players listed on its roster. I’ve never seen anything like it. Maybe that’s common in the Ivy League, but I had never heard of it. Eighteen different players have gotten PT already this year. Talk about developing depth . . . But seriously, nine guys are averaging at least 14 minutes.

In any event, Cornell’s top player is sophomore forward Shonn Miller, but he’s only averaging 10 ppg. 21 guys on the roster and only one is averaging double figures in points. The 6’7″ Miller, who was the Ivy League’s Freshman of the Year last season, is also grabbing 7.4 rebounds per night, and in fact all his numbers are up over last year. He played well in the loss to Vanderbilt on Monday night, scoring 13 and corralling 15 rebounds against the SEC opponent.

The minutes between the other eight regulars are very evenly distributed, from a low of 14 to a high of 23. The 23 minutes go to senior guard Miles Asafo-Adjei. He’s not a scorer at all, but is a decent assist man, handing out about 3 per game in those 23 minutes. Freshman guard Nolan Cressler is showing promise. He’s got good size at 6’4″ and has scored in double figures four times, though he did not play well against Vandy. Jonathan Gray, a 6’3″ guard from Tampa starts as well. He’s shooting only 30% for the year. Josh Figini, a 6’9″ 215 pound forward, also has gotten some starts in the front court, but hasn’t done a whole lot with them. 6’6″ senior forward Errick Peck has had some nice games off the bench, though he laid an egg against Vanderbilt. Eitan Chermerinski, a 6’8″ senior forward, might be one to watch were he not likely matching up against Mason Plumlee when he’s in the game. Chemerinski has scored in double figures in four of the Big Red’s last five games, after not having done so in any of the team’s first five outings.

Those who like to needle Cornell and its students have for decades had their own take on Cornell’s alma mater:

Far Above Cayuga’s Waters
There’s an awful smell
Some say it’s Cayuga’s Waters
Some say it’s Cornell.

It would be too harsh to say that Cornell’s basketball team stinks. They don’t. But let’s be honest: they’re going to be overmatched here. This is not a team that is going to be able to play with the #1 team in the land. This little stretch of games here is one that many Duke fans, and probably the coaches as well, have been looking forward to, as opportunities to get players like Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson some real PT. Both have shown flashes, but not consistency. If it’s an issue of confidence for Murphy, playing at home against a lesser opponent, when the Blue Devils should be rolling, would seem to be an opportune time for him to experience some more sustained success, not be subject to a quick hook, and gain some of that confidence. Amile too.

But of course the main event — we hope — will be the season debut of Marshall Plumlee. Hard to believe that fans of a program that is #1 in the nation, that has beaten the toughest schedule in the land, that has a (if he continues to play at the level he’s played at) first team All-American lottery pick at center and a team that is blending beautifully so far including the incorporation of a stud freshman guard, would focus so much of its attention on the potential introduction of a redshirt freshman center who in any likely scenario won’t play more than 10 minutes per game this year, but there it is. There is just so much anticipation of what Marshall Plumlee can bring, for this year and the future. For this year, as the guy who has the size to truly spell his brother down low. And for the future, as perhaps the only true big that Duke may have on the roster next year.  How good is he?

Marshall_PlumleeDon’t be disappointed, though, folks, if Marshall isn’t the next coming of Anthony Davis against Cornell, or Elon, or Santa Clara. It’ll be his first action. He’s going to be rusty. He’s going to be nervous. He may not be ready for game speed. Don’t judge him on one game, or two or three. Give the kid a chance to get comfortable with whatever role the staff carves out for him. It may not turn out to be much of a role this year, and if that’s the case, fine. He’s going to have a long and productive career in a Blue Devil uniform. He doesn’t have to do it all against Cornell. Seems to me that when it comes to Plumlees, patience is rewarded in the long run.

As for the rest of the team, you might expect some post-layoff rust. It’s been 11 days. I don’t know how rocking Cameron will be given that it is holiday time. It is the first game of a back-to-back undoubtedly created by Coach K to simulate postseason tournament schedules, so it will be good to see how the team reacts to it, in particular Seth Curry and his bum leg and Rasheed Sulaimon in his first go-round. But even if the team starts out a bit sluggish, they’ll get it into gear and win this game comfortably. Duke’s defensive pressure is going to be like nothing Cornell has ever seen, and Mason Plumlee is going to be able to play right over the top of the Big Red. Cuz the Big Red, in addition to being poor shooters is, well, not that big. The goal here is to brush off any rust, try to find that tremendous groove the team was in over the first four weeks of the season, and get Murphy, Jefferson, and Marshall Plumlee some time. Oh, and avoid injuries. Do all of that and it’ll be mission accomplished.

BDN on Duke’s Undefeated Starts Through The Years

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 02 Clemson at DukeTo the surprise of many, the Blue Devils have started this season undefeated through nine games, including wins over at-the-time top 5 teams in Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State, plus solid Minnesota, VCU, and Temple squads.  Let’s be honest: the next three, against Cornell, Elon, and Santa Clara, all at home, are going to be wins.  They’re going to get to 12-0.  Even after that, January starts with Davidson in Charlotte and then Wake and Clemson at home.  Though those are not gimmes on the order of Elon, nevertheless Duke stands a pretty good chance to go into Raleigh on January 12 at 15-0.  Nine right now, 12 almost for sure, and a pretty good chance to get to 15.

Beginning the season with a substantial winning streak is nothing new for Duke under Mike Krzyzewski, but I thought it might be interesting to take a look at those hot starts and see what they entailed compared to this year’s start, and how those seasons ended up.  Incredibly, prior to this year, Duke has gotten off to starts of 9-0 or better fourteen different times under Coach K.  14!  That in itself is simply amazing.  By way of comparison, in the same period (starting in the 1984-85 season, which was K’s first team to start at least 9-0) Kansas has started off 9-0 or better eight times; North Carolina has done it only five times.  Kentucky has only done it three times.  Indiana three times, including this year.  UCLA, three times.  And nobody has ever accused Duke of creating creampuff early season schedules in order to pad its record.  Usually, just the opposite actually.

Bobby HurleyThe best start Duke has ever gotten off to is 17-0, and they’ve done it twice.  Not surprisingly, the powerhouse 1991-92 team was one of them.  That team started out the season ranked #1 and beat 5 ranked teams in those 17 season-opening wins before losing by a bucket at #19 Carolina. The Blue Devils would only lose once more that season en route to a second consecutive national championship, rolling Michigan in the finals by 20.

But the other 17-0 team was the 2006 team, led by J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams.  That team also started out ranked #1 and they beat six ranked teams in those first 17, including the memorable shellacking of #2 Texas in Madison Square Garden, featuring one of the greatest shooting exhibitions I have ever seen, by J.J.  The streak was broken by an unranked Georgetown team, in D.C.  That Duke team won the ACC Tournament, but hit a wall against LSU, shooting 27% in a bitter Sweet 16 loss.

One thing that I noticed in looking at all these seasons was that in the years up to and including 2000-01, whenever Duke started off at least 9-0, they almost always had major success in the NCAA Tournament.  There were eight such seasons, which I’ll detail below, and in five of them they at least reached the Final Four.  However, starting in 2001-02 with the team that began 12-0, the six teams that began at least 9-0 (prior to this year’s squad, of course) have not advanced beyond the Sweet 16, though all but one won the ACC Championship.  Kind of strange that in the (roughly) first half of Coach K’s Duke career, undefeated starts of at least nine games usually led to a Final Four, while in the second half of his career, they never have — despite almost always being good enough to win the ACC.

So here’s a rundown of Duke’s hot starts over the years:

1985: The Blue Devils, a rising power under the young coach with the unpronounceable name, won their first 12 games, although none were against ranked opponents.  The streak was broken at unranked Maryland, and the Devils then lost again, to Wake.  After thumping #6 UNC on the road, Duke then lost its third of four, this time to State at Reynolds.  The team lost in the ACC semi’s and in the second round of the NCAA’s.

alarie1986: K’s first great team, led by the Dawkins-Alarie senior class, started off 16-0, including beating three ranked opponents.  The highest rated was Kansas in the old Big Apple NIT, which was really a big “statement” game for the program.  The ’86 team, ranked #3, was finally beaten in mid-January by #1 UNC at their place, and then lost again at #4 Georgia Tech — two in a row, just like the previous season when the streak was stopped.  This outfit, though, was a machine. They would not lose again in the regular season, stormed through the ACC Tournament, and made it all the way to the NCAA Finals before losing the heartbreaker to Never Nervous Pervis and Louisville, 72-69.

Three years later the Danny Ferry-led ’89 team started out 13-0, but the #1 ranked Blue Devils did not beat any ranked teams among the 13.  And this time, once they lost — at home to #13 Carolina by 20 points — they then lost their next two as well, at unranked Wake and at #15 State, so it was a three game losing streak all of a sudden.  After winning one, the Devils dropped their fourth in the last five, this time at unranked Georgia Tech.  The team lost in the ACC Finals and had an excellent run in the NCAA’s, getting to the Final Four before the bizarre loss to Seton Hall.  Longtime fans will recall that Duke led that game 26-8, only to see Seton Hall stage your basic, everyday 37 point turnaround to lead the game at one point in the second half by 19, ultimately winning by 17 despite a brilliant 34 point performance by Ferry.

Then came the ’92 championship team, discussed above.

Duke got off to hot starts the next two seasons as well.  In 1992-93, the Blue Devils won their first 10 games, two against ranked teams, included top-ranked Michigan.  The team was first beaten by #10 Georgia Tech in Atlanta, and actually went on a tailspin where they lost three of six games.  That team did not have great post-seasons success either, losing in the first round of the ACC Tournament (to Georgia Tech again) and then came the upset second round loss in the NCAA’s to Jason Kidd-led Cal.

grant-hill-dukeThe next year, Grant Hill’s senior year, the Devils started off 9-0, beating two ranked teams in the process, before being stunned by an unranked Wake Forest team, at home no less.  Duke lost in the ACC semi’s that year before Hill absolutely carried that team all the way to the final game of the NCAA Tournament, only to get hurt in that game — which Duke would’ve won anyway had Arkansas swingman Scottie Thurman not thrown in a 3-point heave with one second on the shot clock in the last minute of the ballgame.

The next undefeated start of at least nine games did not occur until 1997-98, when Duke featured Trajan Langdon as well as star freshmen Elton Brand and Shane Battier.  Horror of horrors, a four year gap!  Of the nine season-opening wins, only one was against a ranked team, but that team was top-ranked Arizona, in Hawaii.  Duke’s first loss that year was at unranked Michigan, by which time the Devils had ascended to the #1 spot in the polls.  They were #1 at the end of the regular season too, but the star-studded Blue Devils lost in the ACC Finals and then blew a 17 point lead to lose to Kentucky in the Elite Eight in St. Petersburg.  That one smarted.

Three years later the Blue Devils, featuring five future pro ballplayers in the starting lineup, ran out to a 10-0 record, beating two ranked teams, before #3 Stanford beat them by a point in Oakland.  Duke’s team was a powerhouse, though, led by Jason Williams and Shane Battier, winning the ACC Tournament and then the whole thing by beating a very good Arizona team in Minneapolis for the title.

But that was the end of Duke’s hot starts leading to Final Four runs.

The following year, 2001-02, Duke won its first 12 games, two of them over ranked teams.  The top-ranked Devils lost in Tallahassee to an unranked FSU team, then won their next 11.  Another repeat national championship seemed possible, but after winning the ACC Tournament, Duke lost a 17 point lead and was upset in the Sweet 16 by Indiana in Jason Williams’ final college game.

With a lot of new players being integrated into the team, in what was seen as –for Duke — a rebuilding year, the result was pretty much the same deal the following year, as Duke won its first 12 and was ranked #1 before losing at #17 Maryland.  Another ACC Championship was followed by a Sweet 16 loss, this time to Kansas in Anaheim, which to me was one of the least bitter tournament defeats Duke has experienced, due to the youth of the team and it having exceeded expectations to that point.

shelden_williamsIn 2004-05, that JJ/Shelden/Daniel Ewing team ran out to a 15-0 record, beating only one ranked team, before losing to unranked Maryland at home.  Same result in postseason: Yet another ACC Championship — nothing to sneeze at, mind you — before Michigan State got them in the Sweet 16.

Then came the 17-0 start in 2006, discussed earlier.

The roster in 2007-08 was young and did not seem all that strong, for Duke, but the team started out 10-0 anyway, including beating two ranked teams, then lost to #11 Pitt at Madison Square Garden before reeling off another 12 in a row.  This team did not win any championships, though, losing in the ACC semi’s and then being outclassed in the NCAA second round by West Virginia.

Finally, the 2010-11 team, ranked #1 in the pre-season, won its first 15 games before losing at unranked FSU.  This was the Kyrie team, which amazingly survived the loss of that transcendent player to again be perhaps the best team in the country.  Duke won the ACC’s yet again, but really struggled to re-integrate Kyrie in the NCAA Tournament, and got blitzed by an Arizona team playing out of its collective head, again in Anaheim.

So what does all this mean for this year’s team?  Probably nothing.  But based on the totality of all this experience with long winning streaks to start the season, the likelihood is actually that the team that first knocks off the Blue Devils will probably be an unranked ACC team playing at home.  Of the fourteen seasons that Duke has started off at least 9-0 under Coach K, in ten of them, the first loss has come on the road.  That’s not surprising.  What is surprising is that seven of the 14 “first losses” have come to unranked teams.  Three have come to top 10 teams and four to teams ranked #11-25.  And ten of the 14 “first losses” have come to conference foes.

 

Mansfield OL Austin Davis is ready to start his Duke career.

Austin Davis recaps his official visit to Durham

Mansfield OL Austin Davis is ready to start his Duke career.

The Blue Devils hosted a number of official visitors last weekend, including several impressive offensive linemen. Among those was 6’4″ 300 pound commit Austin Davis from Mansfield, Texas. Davis committed to the Blue Devils back in March of this year, and has seen the Duke program reach its first bowl appearance since 1995. The big lineman caught up with BDN shortly after his visit to Durham. [private]

How was your official visit overall?

It was an amazing weekend. The staff put it on great. It was very well organized. It was great. It was awesome seeing most of the people I’m going to go to school with and are a part of Duke. To see everyone, all the restaurants they took us and the food – it was all great.

Can you talk a little about who you were able to hang out with and who your host was?

Yes. I hung out with mostly the offensive linemen. I was able to meet Gabe Brandner and Sterling Korona for the first time and they’re great guys. I really thought it was great that we could hang out together, the chemistry is great. Our hosts were Matt Skura, Lucas Patrick, Tanner Stone and Dave Harding. They’re just great guys. They’re really just so easy to be around, seeing how great they are and they’re sincerely glad that I’m going to be part of the program. This whole weekend just makes me ready for college. I also got to meet Parker Boehme, he is going to be the quarterback in our class. It was great just seeing him this weekend on campus. I met Jake Kite. I met T.J. and Johnell. I met Joseph Ajeigbe and I got to meet Quay Mann. I got to meet a lot of commits. I think I met 10 or 11 of them. There were a few guys who weren’t there.

How did your conversations with the coaches go?

They were good. It couldn’t have been a better weekend. The coaches and the staff, they put on a great show from the beginning. We also got to watch some practice. Of course, that was awesome because there’s the first time we go to a bowl game in awhile and it was awesome being a part of it and seeing everything. It’s awesome to know that the classes above us, have set the bar and that we have something to work for now and we have a goal, we all have a  common goal that’s decisive, that’s a cut above. Now, we’re on the map. The classes above us really put Duke football on the map, so it really prepared us.

What was it like to watch the team practice?

Oh, the practices, I love it. It’s like I said earlier, everything they did this weekend was perfectly organized. They scheduled everything. Their practices are perfectly organized. It’s efficient. Everything is efficient. It’s cool to see how they do it officially and that’s great. That’s one thing I wanted. I got to talk to Coach Latina and he really talked football with us, talked to players, we learned a lot of plays, which is great. Then he was talking a lot about what I need to work on to get better, things like my weight and size, things that I need to work for us. A lot of goals. I watched them do some drills. I can do some drills on my own so that I can come up and try to practice hard, so I’ll be ready.

Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on it, how would you assess your senior season?

I thought I played very well. I thought I gave it my all on the field and my best. I know my team, we’re all together. We went two rounds into the play-offs and we’re hoping to do more always. Always shooting for our goals and we didn’t reach our goals, so it was kind of sad that it’s all over but I enjoyed my senior year, my team. I love those guys. It was great; we gave it our all. We ended our senior year on a good note. We made it to play-offs and that was a goal. It’s sad that it’s over but as one door closes another one opens and that obviously is Duke football.

Congratulations on a great career and I can tell you’re excited to start your college career.

Yes I am. I’m very excited about Duke football and this weekend just reassures me that I made the best choice in my life. I can’t wait.

[/private]

No Rainy Days with This Monday – Duke Punter Named All ACC

Will Monday, Duke Freshman, All ACC – Photo, Mark Watson, BDN

DURHAM, N.C. - Several years ago a sugary pop group named the Carpenters had a big hit on the charts called “Rainy Days and Mondays.”  The lyrics went like this:  “Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down.”  There was a time when that type of gloominess and despair applied to Duke’s kicking game, but Will Monday has changed all that.

A couple of weeks ago, Monday, Duke’s freshman punter, was in class when a friend messaged him on Facebook telling him he’d been selected to the All-ACC team. Monday was elated at the news. “It’s something that has definitely been one of my goals and to win it as a freshman, and it means a lot to me and has helped me achieve one of my goals,” he said. But Monday had to admit that he actually was not surprised; in fact, he expected the honor.

That’s one of the things I learned about the ACC’s best punter during our recent conversation. Monday places very high expectations on himself, and does not consider failure to be an option. To him, being the top punter in the ACC is just a start. What he really wants is to be the best in the entire nation. And it’s that kind of confidence in his abilities plus his desire to improve further that should drive him towards his goal of being named 1st team All-American.

The youthful Monday, son of Bedford and Judy Monday, hails from Flowery Branch, Georgia. And when asked who congratulated him first on the all-ACC selection, Monday said, “Well, my parents were very happy for me. They were so excited knowing this is something I had been wanting, to be able to be named the best at your position in my freshman year, and so they were proud of how much I have worked to get this. I got texts from my coaches and high school teammates as well.”

Monday was a known commodity coming out of high school, ranked as the best schoolboy punter in most of the recruiting ratings. The expectations that come with those rankings are something he learned to deal with early on, so it was no surprise that he was cool under the pressure of big-time college football, right out of the gate. “I felt pressure in high school. I felt pressure in camps and I felt pressure when I got here. But it is not something I am not used to and I have always put expectations on myself to succeed and be the best I can at every opportunity. So while it is challenging, you have to keep your head up and move on to the next play.”

Standing 6’4″ and weighing in at 210 pounds, Monday is not likely the butt of kicker jokes. In fact, he played baseball, basketball and soccer before trying out as a kicker for his high school football team as a freshman. So we’re talking about an athlete here. “I started kicking in my freshman year in high school and did really well,” said Monday. “After my sophomore season in high school I really figured out the punting thing, and I have a better frame to be a punter than a kicker. So I went with it, started going to a bunch of camps and started to get recognition. I quickly saw I had an opportunity to get a scholarship in this sport, and it worked out for me with concern to both education and football.”

Monday was recruited by pretty much everybody, and could practically name his school. But he bought into what Duke Coach David Cutcliffe and his staff were selling. “I always liked Duke growing up and the school has always intrigued me. I was a basketball fan when I was little and living in Charlotte. When an opportunity came available, I met with the coaches and liked what they had going on in Durham. They seemed like they were looking out for you and they told us you would grow as a man in our program. I was able to use football to get to a great school, one that without football I would not have been able to go to, and at Duke I think I have really maxed my opportunities in both education and football.”

Patience does not come easily to a confident young man, especially when he’s accustomed to being a star on the athletic field. But before Monday sent his first punt booming in Wallace Wade Stadium, he had to sit out a year as a redshirt. It was not easy sitting behind Duke punter Alex King, who transferred to Texas for his senior season, as he knew Monday was gaining on him quickly. But the redshirt used that extra year to learn from the sidelines, getting stronger every day, and thus the wait — while difficult — proved worth it in the end.

“It was definitely tough (to redshirt) always being a starter throughout high school, and having to come here and sit on the bench. But it was an experience I’m glad I got to be a part of, and I learned a lot giving me time to figure out the coaches and how they did things at Duke. And it allowed me to get stronger and better at what I do,” Monday said.

When Duke heads to the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, a lot of people will analyze how exactly they got there. When doing so it’s going to be hard not to notice the big improvement in the Blue Devils’ kicking game. Monday’s teammate, placekicker Ross Martin, has been earning honors of his own of late, and the two freshmen have stimulated high hopes for a bright future in Durham. “Ross (Martin) and I met each other while at summer camps, so we knew each other. And when he came here, I knew right away that we would have a bond that would carry us through our four years and we would flourish together. Ross is a good guy with his head on straight and from a good family, so we meshed right away.”

It’s been 18 years since Duke last played in a bowl game, and had the Blue Devils not solidified their kicking game it wouldn’t have happened this year either. The days of chip shot field goals being botched as time elapses or a key punt being shanked are over for the foreseeable future. And if the rest of the team commits to perfecting their game in the same way that Will Monday has, then the best of Blue Devil football is yet to come.

Key Duke prospect Jabari Parker - BDN Premium 1271 word recruting update posted.

Jabari Parker set to make decision December 20th?

Key Duke prospect Jabari Parker

Word came out of Detroit, Michigan today that the nation’s top rated prospect, Jabari Parker, would choose his college destination on December 20th. While that date has yet to be absolutely confirmed, it falls in line with what the Parker family has said all along –their son wanted to make a a decision before his high school season in order to take the pressure off and enjoy his senior year.

Parker is considered a sure bet at every level, and his addition would make any team a contender.  It has long been thought by those who have followed his recruitment that Duke and Michigan State were neck and neck for his services. Parker, who is of Mormon faith, also lists BYU, Florida and Stanford as finalists.

You can see Parker in action this Thursday evening when his Chicago Simeon High team takes on DeSoto, a team that feature future Duke shooting guard Matt Jones. The game will be telecast by ESPN with a 9:30 PM start time.

For more information and the latest thoughts on Parker, join Blue Devil Nation Premium, our extended subscription service. There you can read multiple past interviews and hear from knowledgeable folks who have seen him play upwards of 20 times each, as our staff has covered his recruitment for more than two years . We also have our latest Duke Basketball Recruiting Update posted on the members message board.

Hard-hitting Florida LB Dominic Zanca-McDonald is down to Duke and Tennessee.

Lake Brantley LB Dominic Zanca McDonald switches to Duke

Hard-hitting Florida LB Dominic Zanca-McDonald is down to Duke and Tennessee.

The 2013 Duke defense got better today, as the Blue Devils secured a verbal commitment from 6’2″ 240 pound LB Dominic Zanca-McDonald from Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Florida. The top LB prospect had committed to Tennessee back in April before a disappointing season in Knoxville resulted in a complete coaching staff change. After an official visit to Durham and a conversation with new Volunteer Head Coach Butch Jones, the play-making linebacker switched his pledge to the Blue Devils. After a standout senior season where he racked up 17 tackles for loss and 9 sacks, Zanca had scholarship offers from Duke, Purdue, and Tennessee, along with interest from a number of top ACC and SEC schools.

“I’m a Blue Devil!” Zanca told BDN earlier today. His relationship with Duke’s LB Coach Jim Collins and Head Coach David Cutcliffe played a big role in his decision. “I told them about it yesterday and they were really pumped,” he said, “I just feel like I fit in with the staff from Duke better than the new staff [at Tennessee]. I love everything about my visit and I’m excited to be there in the spring.”

Dominic will graduate from Lake Brantley this month and enroll at Duke in January. He asked BDN to pass along the following to Duke fans: “Get ready to see some head-banging when I get to Duke!”

BDN caught up with the newest Blue Devil shortly after his official visit.

Check out his highlights here.

Welcome to Duke, Dominic!