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First things, first for Duke Basketball

Lance King Photo

The Duke Blue Devils travel to Wake Forest this evening in a game that will tip-off at 9:00 and be televised on the ACC Network.  The Demon Deacons are struggling, but as anyone knows strange things can happen when you are on the road in the modern-day Atlantic Coast Conference.

It has been quite a week for the Duke program.  The team is playing better defensively and the roles of the starters are being defined in a better way.  And there is no avoiding the verbal commitment from Zion Williamson which gives Duke the top class next year.

In a sense, it is hard not to get involved in the excitement and be caught looking ahead.  Virginia will visit Cameron Indoor Stadium this weekend in the best match up of the week.  And there will be a lot of hype for the #2 and #4 teams in the nation squaring off.

But first things, first for the Duke Basketball program.  The team finds itself poised to make a move up the ACC standing ladder but only if it takes care of business.  And that business starts with a difficult starting time against a Wake Forest team which will play loose with nothing to lose.

On paper, Duke should win the game.  Gary Trent Jr. was recently named ACC Player of the Week.  He is turning the corner as a player.  the same can be said for Wendell Carter Jr. who seems more comfortable in his role.  And then there is Marvin Bagley III who is quite simply the leagues best player.

Add to that group, Trevon Duval who leads the conference in assists and the leadership of Grayson Allen and you see why Duke is a 9 point favorite.  But these guys are young and one of the next things they must prove is their ability to handle their business when they need too.

Duke has been fortunate enough to have two games with cellar dweller Pitt of late.  Those games provided the team a chance to work on many things, including their man to man defense.  But the Deacons, even with just 8 wins on the season is a much more talented team.

Wake Forest will come to play.  That Harlely Davidson will rev up before the contest and this is their biggest game of the year at home.  Duke will certainly have some fans in the stands, but this is the game for the Deacon faithful and they always play Duke tough in Winston Salem.

You can expect Duke to play its bench in this game as well.  But the two points they got from the backups in the last outing won't cut it moving forward.  So, the next step is developing some sort of consistency from this cast of players.

So, what we are watching for tonight is whether a young team which is favored on the road at the end of January can focus on the job at hand.  And that will be a task having mentioned possible distractions.  And while we are speaking to distractions, Duke must turn around and play Notre Dame the Monday after the showdown with Virginia.

Duke has a golden opportunity to get back into the regular season race by a week from today.  The three conference games coming up will show us a lot about this teams meddle.  So, in that sense, an interesting seven-day stretch starts tonight.

The Blue Devils are also starting to position themselves for a possible bye in the fast approaching NCAA Tournament.  But before we look too far ahead, first things, first for this team.  Make no mistake if the Blue Devils want to win the regular season crown, business is at hand.

10 Random Thoughts on Duke Basketball

It is time for the third installment of the season of 10 Random Thoughts on Duke Basketball.

Great crowds are not an automatic norm - It seems like a while since Duke has played but we must address how good the crowd was during the FSU game in Cameron.  Even Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told the players they got their first true Cameron experience after a victory over a team shooting lights out.

Now, the odd thing here is that there were no cheerleaders or students to speak of, yet Cameron was at its loudest this season.  It goes to show that spirit is often brought in more-so from fans who really want to see the team and rarely have the chance.

Duke will not play again in Cameron until January the 13th against Wake Forest.  And the bar was set high for when the students come back to keep up a winning atmosphere.  There are games when empty seats are found when the students are there, but Cameron was packed last Saturday and they need to find a way to keep the place full.

Next up, N.C. State - Yes, the Wolfpack was man handled by Notre Dame minus Bonzie Colson.  Yes, Duke is the favorite.  But the Pack has a way of playing their best against Duke no matter their record or national perspective. This will be the first time meeting between Kevin Keatts and Mike Krzyzewski in ACC play.

What will the Pack do?  That's easy  They will launch a ton of three-point shots.  While streaky beyond the arc, that is how this team beat Arizona on a neutral court.  The scouting report on Duke is that you must make your threes to win.

Duke should have an advantage in the paint - The dynamic duo of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. has given Duke their best frontcourt ever under Krzyzewski.  Yeah, I said it.  But Omer Yurtseven and Abdul Malik-Abu will play well and try to make a name for themselves.

Marvin Bagley III

What I think Duke needs to do vs N.C. State - I am convinced that Duke will score the ball inside.  But they will also need to hit their free throws.  Some misses almost caught up to them in the win over FSU.  Duke will also need to knock down a few threes while keeping the starters out of foul trouble early in the game.  N.C. State and other schools play the name on the jersey and look forward to this match up and are therefore loose.

What does a player have to do?  Marvin Bagley III won the ACC Rookie of the Week after his 32 point, 21 rebound stat line against the FSU.  But I am not sure how that stat line and the significance of a key conference game kept him from player of the week as well.

After the Pack?  Duke plays at Pitt on January 10th.  Oh look!  They also play them again just 10 days later in Cameron on January the 20th.

It's on now!  After the game with Pitt, the breaks will be few and far between for Duke.  They take on Wake 3 days later and then travel to Miami 2 days later.  In short, the games will come quick now that conference season has started.  When Duke tips off against the Pack in Raleigh on Saturday, they will have exactly 2 months before the ACC Tournament begins.

Tucker will transfer from Duke.

Duke loses Jordan Tucker - Transfers happen.  Especially when players want to play right away and not willing to ride out the process.  It is worth noting that Duke assistant coach Nolan Smith and many other stars past rode the bench in their freshman season.

We, of course, wish Tucker the best.  At the same time, there is an appreciation for players who trust the process for many Blue Devils have become solid players in their junior and senior seasons.

I mentioned in the pre season that minutes would likely boil down to who won practice battles between Alex O'Connell and the aforementioned Tucker.  I personally feel that O'Connell was a bit better prepared with his overall game to contribute.

The year to date and what is ahead - I mean, the team is ranked 2nd in the nation against a solid schedule and has perhaps the nations best player in Marvin Bagley III.  Freshman starters Wendell Carter Jr., Gary Trent Jr., and Trevon Duval are playing older than they are.  That, which Krzyzewski has stated, must continue.

Grayson Allen has become a leader and Duke has three good options off the bench and maybe even four.  There have been no major injuries and the team likes each other and seems to have fun with the game.

So, not much to complain about.  They are not perfect nor will they be and some more losses lie ahead.  But plenty of wins do was well .  The team can certainly win the league with some luck and make a deep run in March.  I am certain their goal is the exact same one the fans have in mind.  But take it one game at a time folks...one game at a time and enjoy the season.

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Welcome the second installment of "10 Random Thoughts on Duke Basketball," where we take time to reflect during the break in competition.  Give it a read.  It gets better and you go...

Duke is coming off a bad loss -- Look!  I am as big an optimist as anybody, but there is no sugar-coating the fact that Duke Basketball is coming off a bad loss.  The team was a 16 point favorite on the road and it was the all important ACC opener.  But what's done is done.

Good things can come from bad losses --  Nothing gets a good teams attention like an upset loss on the road.  Fans storm the court making an exit difficult and then the players are peppered with questions about what happened.  The young Duke players found out that they will get every teams best shot and that they are not as good as the hype which surrounded them.  Now, the team must look at the ACC standings where they are 0-1 and in last place until they can do something about it on December the 30th against Florida State.  If this does not motivate the team, then there is no hope.

Practice counts -- As I look around I see a lot of people complaining about what the current group of players need to do better.  Well, they are finally getting some time for practice, sort of.  The team will be taking exams this week and that makes for a stressful time.

What needs to happen in coming practices -- Get better on defense.  The team to date is very efficient on the offensive end but their defense, especially against the perimeter has been suspect at best.  One of the hardest tasks the staff has is to teach one and done or young players how to play defense.  But to win and win big, the team must buy into what they are about to learn.  In fact, I would bet that 75% of practices will concentrate on teaching the defensive aspects of the game.  Teams will continue to jack threes against Duke until they prove they can run players off the stripe.

Marvin Bagley III

A little perspective -- Before I go on, may I remind you that Duke has wins over Florida, Michigan State and Texas.  They have a single loss which everyone with the exception of Villanova, Arizona Sate and one or two other contenders do as well.  The team has a bevy of freshman playing key roles who have played together in 12 games and they will get better with the aforementioned practice time and another break to come after the Evansville game.  The teams talent alone will win games, but once they improve things will get even better.  Number four in the country in December is not a bad place to be.  And better to learn lessons now than later.

However -- The ACC is once again good this year and Duke will face a test almost every night out in league play.  A game with Florida State is looming and the Seminoles are ranked and undefeated.   Six league teams are currently ranked and Virginia Tech should be.  UNC is adjusting as is every other team in what will be another brutal league schedule.  There will be many wars ahead as the season progresses.

Evansville is good -- It is always fun to hear fans say, we'll take it out on our next opponent which in this case Evansville.  Well, a look at the standing shows a team that is currently 8-2 and likely to be 10-2 when entering Cameron on December 20th.  The students will be gone for this game and the ACC home opener with FSU, so the fans who have closest to Coach K Court will need to be loud and proud.

The mental part of the game  --  So many things can happen when you have a youthful team.  But the one thing that will no matter how talented the youth might be is there will be a learning curve.  As good as Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval are, they are going up against grown men.  And as grown  men, it is not just their physical aspects which come into play, but the mental part of the game where they can take advantage via experience.  In short, improving mentally is important.  Shot selection, consistency, team play and much else fall into the mental category.

Development -- It is already clear to many what Javin DeLaurier brings off the bench with his motor that helps with energy.  But another freshman in Alex O'Connell seems to be developing and earning the staffs trust.  The key is to play within yourself and not try to do too much when earning burn.

Lastly -- Nobody involved was happy with the loss at Boston College.  But basketball can be a cruel sport at times.  Duke faced a team that had players step up for great games and flirting with a loss via having to stage a comeback caught up with the team.  But the future is bright and this group while not immensely deep is talented.  Keep in mind that this is December basketball and while it counts, the goal will always be to  develop fully come March.  This has and will be a fun group to watch, so enjoy the ride for Duke Basketball never stops.

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10 Random Thoughts on Duke Basketball

10 Random Thoughts on Duke Basketball Volume 1 - Lance King for BDN

Here is the first edition of "10 Random Thoughts on Duke Basketball."  I will be covering various tidbits worth mentioning that will consist of little known facts and things to ponder.

Marvin Bagley III is only scratching the surface - What a phenomenal week for Marvin Bagley III.  He wins ACC Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week while setting various freshman records at Duke.  But he could be in high school for his final season.  What I am saying is he is young and learning and will realize more and more what he is capable of doing as the season wears on.

Duke is more than just Marvin Bagley III - Take a look at Wendell Carter Jr. for a second.  He is having a solid freshman season as are all of the starters.  It is his play and ability to help protect the lane and garner rebounds that helps Bagley to be great.

Duke is going to get a lot better soon - Okay, so you know they will have played 9 games in 20 days after they take on Indiana tomorrow night.  But have you considered that during this stretch there has been little to no practice time?  Once Mike Krzyzewski and his staff has time to break down the film from this run, Duke will make major adjustments and tweak what they are doing.  In short, you ain't see nothing yet.

Duke Basketball players should run their own race and in time their goals will be met.

Run your own race - I have covered Duke basketball for many years.  In that time I have seen great players in time not have the success they would like in their freshman and sophomore seasons.  Heck, ask Nolan Smith about sticking with it after barely playing as a freshman.  Duke has some guys on the roster that may not fully blossom until their junior years, but if they stick with the system, they will become stars with key roles.

What we have learned to date -  You can never count this Duke team out.  Fans should look over their timelines to see how they reacted when Duke was down 17 to good teams.  Moving forward, they should know this team is talented and can wear their opponents down over the course of a whole game.  The confidence gained in these comeback wins will serve Duke well.

Duke Basketball is alive and well.

Special -  Mike Krzyzewski aka Coach K called his team special in the post game after the win over Florida.  Special can mean many things, but he has seen this group will not give up and wants to play together, learn and get better.  What he did not specifically mention is that these are all really good young men off the court as well and that he love teaching them.

Indiana is a trap game - The Hoosiers had one of the worst losses in their fabled history in their opening home loss to Indiana State of Larry Bird fame.  They lost to a good, ranked, Seton Hall team on the road.  But they have shown signs of improvement pushing their record to 4-2.  They are rested and playing in their super bowl tomorrow night.

Duke does not announce their injuries - I often see fans ask what is wrong with so and so or he is having a bad game or two,  It is not policy for the Blue Devils to announce their injuries and do not expect them to help their opponents scouting report by doing so.  Food for thought.

The Duke team will soon get a break but -  the coaches will be breaking down filming in between holiday recruiting events later this month.

That needed break will come - after Duke returns from Bloomington where they will face a good South Dakota team in CIS (Cameron Indoor Stadium) on December the 2nd (Saturday) and then St. Francis in a brutal 9:00 start this coming Tuesday.  Wait!  I am not finished.  The team will then go as far north in the ACC as possible for their league opener against Boston College on the 9th.  At that time comes a much-needed 11 day break.  Duke will then play Evansville on December the 20th in CIS to shake off the rust before another 10 day break when they will come back to take on Florida State at home with the students still on vacation break.  Duke will need their non student fans to be on the top of their game in the home ACC opener.

I hope you enjoyed my first edition of "10 Random Thoughts on Duke Basketball," and return for more.  Remember that we are doubling your membership to all new members of BDN Premium through the new year.  If you join for 1, 3, 6 or 12 months, we will double your membership time.  IOW, 2 years is just $100.00, or if you join for 6 months at $60.00 you get a full year.  By joining you help us spread the news on Duke Basketball on various platforms while getting some inside news.  For recent new members, you now have access to the message board, but it is a separate sign up which will then be approved.

Bagley Named ACC Player & Rookie of the Week

 DURHAM, N.C. – Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III has swept the ACC basketball weekly awards, earning both Player and Rookie of the Week following his MVP performance at the PK80 Invitational in Portland.

 No. 1-ranked Blue Devils (8-0) have garnered six of seven ACC weekly honors in the season’s first three weeks. Bagley III, the ACC’s leading scorer (22.3 ppg) and rebounder (11.3 rpg), was both co-Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week on Nov. 13, while senior Grayson Allen and freshman Wendell Carter Jr., were Player and Rookie of the Week, respectively, last week.

 Bagley was named the Most Valuable Player of the eight-team Motion Bracket in leading the Blue Devils to the title. In four games last week, he scored 106 points and grabbed 53 rebounds, averaging 26.5 points and 13.3 rebounds.

 He is the first Duke player since 1973 to post three consecutive games of 15+ rebounds and is the first Duke player in history with consecutive performances of 30+ points and 15+ rebounds.

 Bagley had 34 points and 15 rebounds in an overtime PK80 semifinal win over Texas, including eight of the team’s 12 points in overtime. He followed with 30 points and 15 rebounds in Sunday night’s win over No. 7 Florida in the title game.

 The 34 points versus Texas tied Duke’s freshman scoring record (J.J. Redick vs. Virginia in 2003). Bagley’s six double-doubles are tied for the most in the NCAA. For the week, Bagley shot 60 percent from the field and 71 percent from the free-throw line, including 9-of-10 in the PK80 title game. He added seven assists, four blocked shots and two steals last week.

Five Questions with Trevon Duval

Trevon Duval, center.

Duke freshmen point guard, Trevon Duval, is in a race to get better before the season starts.  The athletically talented young man will be given the keys to drive the team from day one.  Duval is learning how to play with a lot of talent around him and to be a better distributor to his teammates.

So, what is up so far this year?  I know you are glad to be here and are looking forward to playing against somebody other than Duke players.

It's fun being here on the Duke campus and playing with all these great players,  And yeah, you're right, it does get tiring playing against just your teammates, so I am very excited for the season.

There is a lot of pressure for a freshmen -- having the ball in your hands from day one,  Krzyzewski says he likes what he sees right now, but that he will like what he sees down the road a bit even better,  Talk about how you will go about handling that.

I am kind of starting off new as a freshman this year.  As time goes on I am going to get better.  I am learning a lot of from Coach (K), Grayson (Allen) and a lot of the older players, so in a couple of weeks from now I am going to be a lot better and smarter with the ball.

I followed you in high school, so I know you're a very explosive player.  And you are playing on a team with a lot of explosive guys.  What is it going to be like to play point guard with that many weapons and guys who can all throw down dunks?

It's going to be a lot of fun.  It is going to be a lot of fun with a lot of highlight reels and a lot of fastbreaks.  We are very long and athletic and that is going to get a lot of stops on defense and lead to a lot of highlights.

Trevon, how would you describe your game in your own words, if you were scouting yourself?

I would say play maker, especially on this team -- a play maker for everyone, get everybody shots and make everyone around me better.  Taking and making my shots when I can.

Obviously, you are going to be playing a lot with Grayson Allen and Gary Trent.   What has it been like playing with those guys?

I love playing with both of them, honestly.  They make the game a lot easier for me.  Whenever I drive, they help me out for there is an easy kick and it is pretty much automatic for both of them.  So, playing with them, I will hopefully get a lot of assists.