Saturday, October 26, 2013

Duke vs. Bowie State: What to watch for in exhibition basketball

Saturday at 1 p.m., while I'm finishing up my drive into the mountains of Southwest Virginia for football, the basketball team will take the floor back in Durham for the season's first exhibition game, vs. Bowie State. Here's a quick list of things to watch for (the final score isn't one of them--exhibition basketball is more about the means than the end)

Pace of play Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has talked about how he wants the Blue Devils to push tempo and get up and down the floor. Tyler Thornton told us scribes at media day that Krzyzewski normally pushes them to double their speed in practice. Last year's Duke team averaged 69.4 possessions per game, which ranked 116th out of 347 Division-I teams. Look for that number to rise.

Now, watching Duke play its first exhibition game won't be the final word on how quick they will go, as much of the second half (if not all of it) will be non-competitive basketball. But it will be interesting to see how many possessions the Blue Devils log in the first half.

Starting five Barring anything totally out of left field, I can tell you which four players are sure bets to start: Quinn Cook, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson. That leaves one spot for either Rasheed Sulaimon or Andre Dawkins. As hard as it is to believe Sulaimon might not keep his starting spot from last year, all preseason indications point to Dawkins getting that final spot.

Again, another caveat: who starts in exhibition play isn't certain to stick until the season opener on Nov. 8 against Davidson. Alex Murphy started both of last year's exhibition games. Those were his only starts on the year

Off the bench rotation So after the starting five, who else gets in the first half of the game? Kryzewski has said this team could be deeper than typical Duke teams (which I feel like gets said every year). Maybe, though, with the full-court press that will be employed this year, that will come to fruition. It's hard to imagine Thornton, Sulaimon/Dawkins (whoever doesn't start) and Josh Hairston not logging meaningful minutes, since all did last year. And what about newcomers Semi Ojeleye and Matt Jones? It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Official visits Really, this should be at the top of my list, because make no mistake about it: the most important thing for Duke basketball this weekend is that the visits of PG Tyus Jones, C Jahlil Okafor and SF Justise Winslow go well. All rank in the top 15 of the class of 2014, and Jones and Okafor are rated No. 1 at their respective positions (with Okafor No. 1 overall as well). Jones and Okafor have long insisted they are a package deal ( more on that here), and Winslow has suggested he would like to play with them, too. Should the Blue Devils land their commitments in November, they will be the early frontrunners for the 2014-15 title, regardless of who on the current team stays or goes.

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-- Laura Keeley

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Syracuse's Jim Boeheim: 'Duke is a rival'

CHARLOTTE -- Remember when Jim Boeheim was unhappy Syracuse was leaving the Big East?

That's all in the past now.

It's not that hard of a transition to come here," Boeheim said Wednesday at the ACC's media day in Charlotte. "If we would have left 20 years ago, I would have had trouble with it."

The Orange were founding members of the Big East in 1979, but Boeheim's time in Syracuse stretches back to 1962. There were rivalries before the Big East, and there will certainly be rivalries now, after its demise.

"Before the Big East, St. John's was our rival," Boeheim said. "We got in the Big East, and Georgetown became our rival, and St. John's still, and then Connecticut popped up, and then Pittsburgh popped up and then Louisville popped up. So, it's who is good in those years, that's your rival. It doesn't take 10 years.

"A rivalry can happen like that," he said, snapping his fingers. "One game, you can have a rivalry, and that's what will happen. Our fans already think Duke's a rival, they sold it out faster than they sold out Georgetown. So they must think that's going to be a rival game. And if it's a good game, then it will be. That's the way those things work. New rivalries will be created instantly. Overnight, there will be rivalries."

Tickets to the Feb. 1 Duke at Syracuse game did sell out in record time, and the Orange have sold about 5,000 more season ticket packages this year compared to years past (about 20,000 this year, Boeheim said). Why?

"The fans are excited about it. They're looking forward to it," he said. "Our fans think they're in a better league. The only thing they're unhappy about is not going to New York City. They're not unhappy about the league at all. They'd just rather go to New York City to play in the tournament. That's all."

And it's certainly a possibility that the ACC Tournament could find its way to the Big Apple in a few years.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski , who has been at Duke since 1980 (four years fewer than Boeheim has been at the helm of Syracuse) echoed his new rival's excitement.

"We love to play in lively places because that means it means something more," Krzyzewski said about going to the 35,012-seat Carrier Dome. "It will be an honor to play there and have a capacity crowd."

- Laura Keeley

Brooks named preseason SoCon Player of the Year, Davidson picked second

Southern Conference coaches tabbed Davidson senior forward and former Hopewell standout De’Mon Brooks as the preseason SoCon Player of the Year, and coaches and media picked the Wildcats to finish second in the conference.

Brooks averaged 13.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last year after being named the preseason conference player of the year. The honor was eventually awarded to his teammate, Jake Cohen. Brooks won the award after his sophomore campaign in 2012.

The Wildcats have one player on the preseason all-conference team in Brooks.

In a narrow vote by both the coaches and media, Elon was selected to win the SoCon with Davidson, last year's conference champion, coming in second. The Phoenix received seven first-place votes by the coaches for a total of 96 points. Davidson received three first-place votes with a total of 90 points.

In the media poll, Elon finished with 270 points and 14 first-place votes compared to Davidson’s 268 points and 12 first-place votes.

This is the last season in the SoCon for both Elon and Davidson. Elon will move to the Colonial Athletic Association next year while the Wildcats will move to the Atlantic 10.

Appalachian State tied for fourth in the coaches preseason poll and sixth in the media poll.

--Jonathan Jones