The Duke Blue Devils (1-0 ACC, 10-1 overall) return to the court tomorrow to face Brown after their last long layoff of the season. Most of the team's players returned home to spend the holidays with family.
During the downtime, current players can reflect on the season to date and discuss things with their families. The coaches do not have the same kind of break for they are attending high school basketball tournaments for recruiting never stops when you are a high profile program.
Despite the busy schedule, the staff still works with current players and there are individual discussions on what to ponder before the season begins in earnest.
The season to date has been a success despite the upset loss to Stephen F. Austin. And for what it is worth, a loss to an eventual NCAA Tournament team will not look as bad as the season progresses.
Duke has early wins over Kansas and Michigan State in their backyard. In their last outing, they demolished Wofford which sent them into the break with momentum and a number three ranking in the coaches poll.
Here are some reasons why Duke is playing winning basketball -
In a year when offensive production is down in the league, Duke is atop the league in scoring. The Blue Devils also have the largest margin of victory at 18.8 ppg.
Vernon Carey has been as solid a freshmen as Duke has had. He is a walking double-double and Duke will continue to grow his game while adjusting their offense to fit his skill set. Carey is 4th in the ACC in scoring and the 3rd leading rebounder and 1st in made FG percentage,
Tre Jones has been a solid leader and has expanded his aggression on the offensive end while setting the tone with his defense. He is 9th in the league in scoring and Jones leads the ACC in assists and charts at 2nd in steals per game.
The Blue Devils are still very much in the process of grooming this year's team. In the preseason, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said that different players could step up in each game. He was not kidding.
Duke has not had a lot of separation from players past Carey and Jones, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. While ideally, you want players to step up and take command, Duke is developing depth and playing ten players on a regular basis. Here is a brief take on each player in the rotation -
Matthew Hurt has been steady while learning is one of four players averaging double-figure scoring. If he can learn to go inside out it will expand his game further. Part of learning to be aggressive in the paint comes with continuing to get stronger.
Cassius Stanley was playing great before his injury. He is athletic and capable of doing some good things as his consistency picks back up. Stanley has shown signs of being a great decision-maker, meaning when to pull the trigger. He is a double-figure scorer to date.
Joey Baker has become an offensive go-to guy off the bench and has provided a much-needed spark. Duke wants him to keep this up while learning to contribute in other areas.
Wendell Moore has shown flashes of brilliance and is a defensive disrupter. Better decision making on offense will earn him even more chances as ACC play begins.
Jordan Goldwire has worked hard to stay in the rotation. He provides spark and hustle.
Alex O'Connell has had his moments and helped Duke win some games with his offense. Duke is looking for him to put it all together in a consistent manner,
Javin DeLaurier has not played quite as good as expected. But who out there thinks things will not come around? If so, I point to last year's Michigan State game.
Jack White has shown on more than one occasion, he has earned Coach K's trust. Duke is very lucky to have these senior captain veterans going into ACC play where DeLaurier and White will contribute.
All of the aforementioned players have had winning moments eleven games into the season. It will be interesting to watch and see the growth now that games will come every few days.
Duke has some interesting pieces to work with in a year where there are few dominant teams. The Blue Devils will need to improve their free throw shooting in that they have flourished with their opponents being 13th in the league against them. You cannot depend on other teams missing that many free throws moving forward, so knocking down your own comes into play.
On the other hand, Duke will build on its strengths. The offense, while good can get even more efficient. The defense has been mostly solid save a few breakdowns and this team has the potential to get better.
So strap in and get ready for January until hopefully April basketball. The ACC season begins in earnest after the Brown game and Duke looks poised to compete.