Blue Zone

Chronicle pregame: Can Duke get back in the win column against Army?

After five straight losses, Duke will be favored heading to West Point, New York to take on Army, in its most winnable remaining game. The Chronicle's Hank Tucker and Ben Feder break down the Blue Devils chances to win their fifth game and likely earn bowl eligibility due to their high APR: 

Preseason roundtable: Who will break out for Duke this year?

With a back-to-back against Elon and Utah Valley Friday and Saturday, preseason No. 1 Duke will begin its regular season and look to earn head coach Mike Krzyzewski his 1,000th win with the Blue Devil program. The Chronicle's men's basketball beat writers break down Duke's first two games and offer predictions for who will break out for the Blue Devils this year: 

X-Factor: Do Elon and Utah Valley have the post presence to compete with Duke?

After finishing their preseason with two dominant exhibition game victories, the Blue Devils will look to open their season on the right foot this weekend. Duke will play both contests in the cozy confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium, taking on Elon Friday before returning 24-hours later to face off against Utah Valley. Here is a look at a key player from each team who could be the difference-maker in the game:

Duke: Forward Wendell Carter Jr.

All the focus this weekend will be on the debut of No. 1 overall prospect Marvin Bagley III and Grayson Allen’s maturity and ability to keep his emotions in check—his most recent tripping incident came last season against Elon on guard Steven Santa Ana. 

But the player to watch is not either of them—it's Wendell Carter Jr.. In two exhibition games, he averaged a double-double with 17 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game while shooting an otherworldly 80 percent from the field on an otherworldly 80 percent shooting.

Lining up as one of the tallest teams in the country, the Blue Devils will very often have opportunities to exploit mismatches in the post and finish up possessions with offensive rebounds and second-chance points. Defenses have been focusing on Allen and Bagley in the early going, and with both Elon and Utah Valley starting lineups with only one player above 6-foot-10, Carter will be set to benefit. 

Look for the freshman forward to exploit smaller opponents and record a stat-line similar to that of the exhibition games, with a large number of offensive rebounds leading to easy second-chance buckets.

Elon: Forward Karolis Kundrotas

Although the Allen's matchup against Santa Ana will draw much scrutiny, Karolis Kundrotas is the primary player on Elon who could help lead the Phoenix to a stunning win. With Duke’s size, the 6-foot-11 forward will be expected to step up in a big way, being forced to guard either Bagley or Carter and pull down defensive boards against a Blue Devil team that had 29 offensive rebounds in its exhibition games.

Kundrotas will look to emerge as a threat for the Phoenix after only averaging about 10 minutes per contest last season, contributing just 5 combined points and rebounds per game. The only way Elon can conceivably pull off an upset and halt the Blue Devils’ 132 non-conference home winning streak is if Kundrotas outperforms expectations.

Utah Valley: Forward Akolda Manyang

The only player taller than anyone in Duke’s starting lineup this weekend is Utah Valley’s Akolda Manyang. The redshirt senior—who transferred from Oklahoma—will look to the stop the Blue Devil big men and prevent head coach Mike Krzyzewski from recording his 1,000th victory with the program (assuming a victory against Elon).

Manyang, who averaged 2.5 points per game and 2.1 rebounds per game off the bench for the Sooners last season, will try to emerge as the primary scoring option for the Wolverines. If he can lock down the paint for Utah Valley, he could spoil what figures to be a big night for Krzyzewski. 

Key three: Can Duke coalesce by the time it takes on No. 2 Michigan State?

The top-ranked Blue Devils will kick off their 2017-18 season with contests against Elon and Utah Valley, on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Here are three keys for Duke to start their season on the right note.

Avoid distractions

Senior guard Grayson Allen’s career has been defined in equal parts by his stellar play­—including key contributions to the Blue Devils’ 2015 national championship—and his numerous on-court tripping incidents. The most notable of these trips came in Duke’s Dec. 21, 2016 matchup against Elon, when the then-captain stuck out his right leg in the direction of Phoenix guard Steven Santa Ana. This play culminated in Allen being stripped of his captaincy and suspended indefinitely—although it ended up being for just one game. With Elon and Santa Ana returning to Cameron Indoor Stadium this Friday, it is crucial that Allen and the Blue Devils focus merely on playing sound basketball, and not past transgressions.

Experiment with Rotations

Duke’s talent level is widely seen to be the best in the nation. But the Blue Devils are returning only one player who averaged more than 10 minutes per game last season—Grayson Allen. Duke will have to rely on blue chip recruits including Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Gary Trent Jr., and Trevon Duval to take on big roles immediately. Additionally, returning players who received light minutes last season, such as Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier, will see the floor more consistently. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski will need to test different rotations. This task is made much less daunting considering the size and versatility of many of Duke’s players, such as Trent and Carter, who can easily play multiple positions.

Develop chemistry

As a whole, the Blue Devils lack experience, with just one senior and two juniors on their roster. Duke needs to learn to play together quickly, as they take on No. 2  Michigan State on Tuesday. Before one of the biggest regular season games of the year across college basketball, the Blue Devils have little time to learn to play together, and will need a crash course this weekend in their back-to-back contests against Elon and Utah Valley. Duke's youth needs to coalesce—and quickly—before taking on preseason All-American Miles Bridges and the Spartans.

Duke women's basketball 2017-18 player preview: Rebecca Greenwell

Rebecca Greenwell

  • Year: Redshirt Senior
  • Height: 6-foot-1
  • Position: Guard
  • Last year’s Statline: 16.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.4 APG

Game Breakdown: Greenwell excels on all sides of the ball, matching sharpshooting capabilities with defensive intensity. She feeds off energy created by transition breaks and will commonly go coast-to-coast, tacking on an assist to another teammate if she does not finish the shot herself. Greenwell has developed into one of the Blue Devils’ most important defensive powers, jumping in passing lanes and rattling ball-handlers.

On the offensive side of the ball, Greenwell also excels. She has one of the highest three-point percentages in the NCAA overall, hitting almost 40% of her three-point attempts last season. She also has the most rebounds per game of anyone on the Duke squad. Greenwell is the cornerstone of the Blue Devils’ offensive efforts, working with guard Lexie Brown to tally around half of Duke’s points each contest.

Role on the Team: Greenwell has proved to be the heart of this Duke offense in her past four years as a Blue Devil, being a captain for the second year in a row.  With the graduation of both of Duke’s veteran post players, Oderah Chidom and Kendall Cooper, the Blue Devils will depend even more heavily on their guard play and Greenwell’s perimeter play will be even more important. Greenwell will also step into more of a defensive role this season, needing to fill the gap left by Kyra Lambert’s injury.

Projected Stats: 18.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG

Feel free to check out the other player previews for the 2017-18 Duke women's basketball team. Previous players previewed include Lexie Brown, Kyra Lambert, Jade Williams, Jayda Adams, Madison Treece, Mikayla Boykin, Emily Schubert,Leaonna Odom, Sofia Roma, Haley Gorecki, Faith Suggs, Erin Mathias and Bego Faz Davalos.

Duke men's basketball 2017-18 player preview: Grayson Allen

 Grayson Allen

  • Year: Senior
  • Height: 6-foot-5
  • Position: Guard
  • Last year's statline: 14.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.5 APG

Game breakdown: After being unable to escape the headlines last year for his scandals on the court, not play on it, a fully healthy Allen looks to recapture the magic he flashed in his sophomore season. In that year, Allen was one of the best scorers in the country, from beyond the arc and creating off the dribble.

Last year, his field goal percentage was the lowest of his career, and wasn't the consistent force that Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski needed to lead a young team. The tools are all there for Allen—he's a hyper-athletic guard that can make shots from anywhere and plays with a motor like no other. That aggressive play helps him act as a force on the boards—for a guard—and while that fire sometimes leads to carelessness with the ball, it also helps him play stronger defensively.

Role on team: On one of the youngest Blue Devils teams in the Krzyzewski era, Allen will be the team's leader and captain. After losing several key players to graduation, Allen accumulated more than 70 percent of the returning minutes on the roster and will be asked to take on the responsibility of developing another top recruiting class.

Duke players gave him a ringing endorsement when he was reinstated as captain, and Allen has said he has learned to control his emotions on the court—but time will tell whether that is just talk.

NBA Comparison: At the NBA level, Allen projects as a shooting guard—and could turn into someone like the Raptors’ DeMar Derozan at the next level. Although DeDozan is a bit taller at 6-foot-7, both DeRozan and Allen are lethal beyond the arc and play with a certain level of grit and explosiveness. Allen might not take as big of a role as DeRozan does at the next level, but could be an effective spot starter or first man off the bench. 

Projected statline: 17.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 4.2 APG

Feel free to check out the other player previews for the 2017-18 Duke men's basketball team. Previous players previewed include Justin Robinson, Jordan Goldwire, Alex O'Connell, Jordan Tucker, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Marvin Bagley III, Javin DeLaurier, Jack White, Marques Bolden and Antonio Vrankovic.

Duke in the NFL: Week 9

Just past the midpoint of the NFL season was a tough week for former Blue Devils, many of whom saw their teams suffer big losses. 

Jamison Crowder, WR, Washington Redskins

A week after posting his best performance thus far in 2017, Crowder sat out Washington’s thrilling victory against the Seahawks this week due to a lingering hamstring injury that kept him out of practice for most of last week. The injury was a major blow to Crowder, who seemed to finally be moving in the right direction after enduring a disappointing start to the season. 

When he returns, the Redskins hope he will continue his upward trend and show more than just flashes of himself from a year ago, when he was one of the best slot receivers in the NFL. He is listed as day-to-day ahead of Washington’s Week 10 matchup against the Vikings, who rank fifth in the league in passing yards allowed this season. 

Ross Cockrell, CB, New York Giants 

After Janoris Jenkins was suspended “indefinitely” for violating team rules, Cockrell and fellow corner Eli Apple were on the field for all of the Giants’ defensive snaps in New York’s blowout loss to the Rams. However, neither could do much to slow down Jared Goff and the rest of the Los Angeles offense, which had five 35-plus yard plays. Cockrell had five tackles for the Giants, who surrendered 51 points in their worst defensive showing of the season. 

Although there were many low points for the New York defense, one of the worst came on a third-and-33 situation for the Rams. Goff dumped the ball off to wide receiver Robert Woods, who threaded his way virtually untouched through the Giants and into the end zone for a 52-yard score, a representative play in an embarrassing game for New York.

Vincent Rey, LB, Cincinnati Bengals

Coming off back to back performances with at least seven tackles, Rey struggled to get going on Sunday against the Jaguars, finishing with just three tackles. Rey saw his tackles decline in October from the first month of the season, and will look to get back on track for Cincinnati, which at 3-5 has significant ground to cover to catch up with the division-leading Steelers. 

Laken Tomlinson, G, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers and Tomlinson continued to struggle Sunday against the Cardinals, scoring only 10 points in their eighth loss this season in another difficult game for the offense. Led by quarterback C.J. Beathard, San Francisco gained only 329 total yards and rushed for just 63. Tomlinson was credited with giving up three sacks.

The most exciting moment for Tomlinson came with just more than three minutes remaining in the game. Cardinals and former 49ers safety Antoine Bethea hit a sliding Beathard late, drawing an immediate reaction from Tomlinson and leading to a brief altercation between the former teammates. 

Duke men's basketball 2017-18 player preview: Justin Robinson


Justin Robinson

· Year: Redshirt Sophomore

· Height: 6-foot-9

· Position: Forward

· Last year’s statline: 0.2 PPG, 0.2 RPG

Game Breakdown: Robinson’s length leaps off the table when he stands on the court. At 6-foot-9, Robinson has the ability to make a difference on the defensive end of the floor— Robinson registered at least 4.5 blocks his last two years in high school—with his gangly wingspan, and can give opposing wing players fits. But an inability to become an offensive threat relegated Robinson to the bench last season after redshirting his first year in Durham, and that should remain the same until he can develop more with the ball in his hands.

Role on the Team: After getting awarded with a surprise scholarship over the summer, Robinson has made a few impressive plays, but should not see much playing time this season. Despite his length and ability to make his presence felt defensively, there is simply too much depth, barring injury, for Robinson to make much of an impact on the court.

However, Robinson has had a chance to display his talents during Duke’s two exhibition matchups this season, as he registered three blocks in 15 minutes against Bowie St. and four points, three rebounds and two assists in just eight minutes against Northwest Missouri St.

NBA Comparison: Robinson’s game brings to mind Portland Trail Blazers swingman Al-Farouq Aminu, especially when Aminu entered the league after getting drafted eighth overall. Aminu has always made his way onto the court as a long defender despite his lack of an outside shot, and he has improved his 3-point shot in recent seasons as well. If Robinson can grow into the three-and-d player that has become so invaluable in the NBA, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski will have no option but to give him playing time.

Projected stats: 0.6 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 0.4 APG

Stay tuned to the Blue Zone for our continuing player previews with sophomore Justin Robinson tomorrow. Previous players previewed include Jordan Goldwire, Alex O'Connell, Jordan Tucker, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Marvin Bagley III, Javin DeLaurier, Jack White, Marques Bolden and Antonio Vrankovic.

Duke men's basketball 2017-18 player preview: Antonio Vrankovic

  Antonio Vrankovic

  • Year: Junior
  • Height: 7-feet
  • Position: Center
  • Last year’s statline: 2.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.4 BPG

Game Breakdown: Vrankovic, standing at 7-feet tall and weighing in at 269 pounds, carries a physicality that is felt the moment he steps on the court. A traditional center, Vrankovic serves as a effective rim protector and inside presence. The Pine Crest School product makes good use of his size to be a strong rebounder. Although his offensive game isn’t flashy, Vrankovic can work in the low post and thrives on putbacks and feeds close to the hoop.

Role on the Team: The Zagreb, Croatia native saw an increased role in his sophomore campaign, and will be eyeing an even larger role in the 2017-18 season. Vrankovic is one of two listed centers—the other being sophomore Marques Bolden—on Duke’s roster. Despite this, coach Mike Krzyzewski will often opt for a smaller lineup where Wendell Carter or Marvin Bagley slides to the center spot. Vrankovic will certainly see some action off of the bench for the Blue Devils, but in all likelihood, his minutes will be limited by the standout freshmen.

NBA Comparison: As a beefy, defensive-minded seven-footer, Vrankovic profiles similarly to New Orleans Pelicans’ center Omer Asik. The NBA veteran isn’t known much for his offensive game, but is highly regarded for his interior defense and rebounding, as is Vrankovic. Although not flashy, Asik has established a defined role for himself in the NBA, and the eight-year veteran should have a roster spot for years to come.

Projected stats: 0.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 0.5 BPG

Stay tuned to the Blue Zone for our continuing player previews with sophomore Justin Robinson tomorrow. Previous players previewed include Jordan Goldwire, Alex O'Connell, Jordan Tucker, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Marvin Bagley III, Javin DeLaurier, Jack White and Marques Bolden.

Duke women's basketball 2017-18 player preview: Lexie Brown

Lexie Brown

  • Year: Redshirt Senior
  • Height: 5-foot-9
  • Position: Guard
  • Statline: 18.3 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.7 RPG

Game Breakdown: Lexie Brown was worth the wait. After sitting out the 2015-16 season with Duke – a tumultuous year loaded with drama – Brown stepped in and immediately righted the ship, leading the Blue Devils to a 17-1 record at Cameron Indoor Stadium and 28-6 overall. After enjoying so much success at Maryland, a traditionally dominant program, for two seasons, expectations were high for Brown. But the Boston native handled the pressure with poise, earning third-team All-American honors while ranking in the top 10 in the country in almost a dozen different categories. 

As the team’s primary ball-handler, Brown facilitates the Duke offense and led the team with 131 assists last season. The redshirt senior is a threat from anywhere on the court, but is a consistent scorer from beyond the arc. She connected on 39.9 percent of her triples last season and her 73 three-pointers was second only to fellow redshirt senior Rebecca Greenwell, who led the team with 83. Brown’s ability translates to the defensive side of the ball as well, where she recorded 96 steals, good for fifth in the country. 

Role on the Team: Duke finds itself this season in the rare position of having its two most prolific scorers as the team’s oldest players. As such, in addition to taking on a prominent role on the court, Brown and Greenwell will both be active leaders on the team in their final year of eligibility. Greenwell and Brown combined for 34.7 points per game in 2016-17, making them arguably the most dynamic duo in women’s collegiate basketball this season. With the addition of highly touted freshman guard Mikayla Boykin – who shattered a variety of North Carolina high school scoring records – Brown will have a variety of options to help generate offense and push the ball in transition.

Though Brown has spent just one year playing games with the Blue Devils, she has already cemented herself as one of the most decorated and accomplished players in program history. With high expectations for the team this season – Duke is No. 12 in preseason polling – all eyes are on the team captain to repeat and even improve upon her performance from last year to get the team farther in the NCAA tournament. 

Projected stats: 19.1 PPG, 4.5 APG, 3.3 RPG 

Stay tuned with the Blue Zone for our continuing player previews with Lexie Brown tomorrow. Previous players previewed include Kyra Lambert, Jade Williams, Jayda Adams, Madison Treece, Mikayla Boykin, Emily Schubert, Leaonna Odom, Sofia Roma, Haley Gorecki, Faith Suggs, Erin Mathias and Bego Faz Davalos.