Two hundred sixteen days—that’s how long it has been since Duke limped off the court at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C.
And after a dramatic seven months that included yet another surgery for head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the late-summer commitment of Marvin Bagley III and the return of lone senior Grayson Allen, the Blue Devils will finally take the floor Friday evening.
Duke will kick off its 2017-18 campaign with the ninth edition of Countdown to Craziness at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The event will feature team and player introductions at 8 p.m., followed by the annual Blue-White scrimmage set to tip off around 8:25.
For college basketball fans, Countdown should give an early look at a Blue Devil team that enters the season with plenty of questions still to be answered—Duke’s roster features seven scholarship freshmen for the first time in Krzyzewski’s tenure.
So what should you be watching for Friday? We discuss the five biggest questions heading into the Blue Devils’ season:
1. Besides Trevon Duval, who else will handle the rock?
When Krzyzewski talked earlier in the summer at K Academy, he told reporters, “I do know that Trevon is going to have the ball and he knows what to do with it. Will he have it all the time? No, he shouldn’t have it all the time. Will he have it a lot? Yeah.... Pretty much, I want [Duval] to get the ball.”
There’s little question that the freshman enters the season as Duke’s starting point guard. Duval is a natural fit at the 1, and it should free up Allen to play a majority of the time at the off-guard spot, where the senior is much more effective as an outside shooter and a hard driver to the hole.
But Allen knows how to run the point as well—he did it for much of last season as the Blue Devils lacked a true ball handler, and their offense suffered at times as a result. Outside those two, however, things become less clear.
Freshman Gary Trent Jr. has the reputation of a slasher, and it seems unlikely that any of the other four guards on the Duke roster will see meaningful minutes this season. Duval, however, is simply not going to play 40 minutes a night. So does Allen continue to spend time on the ball, or will Trent develop his point guard skills? It should be interesting to see who starts at the point guard spot opposite Duval come Friday.
2. Will there be any hints at the Blue Devils’ opening night starting 5?
It seems pretty clear that 60 percent of Duke’s lineup is set—when the Blue Devils tip off against Elon Nov. 10, we can expect to see Allen, Duval and Bagley on the court. But what about the other two?
At Duke’s media day, Krzyzewski mentioned “a small group” that is in the running to be starters. The 70-year-old specifically named sophomores Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden, and in theory, Trent and fellow freshmen Wendell Carter Jr. are in the mix as well.
Outside of Allen, though, that group of six combines for just 242 career collegiate minutes. It’s hard to guess who will make an impact given the small sample size, but Countdown should reveal a little bit about where all those options are in their development processes.
3. How good is Marvin Bagley III?
Ever since Bagley pulled that No. 35 jersey out of the bag on SportsCenter, Blue Devil fans have been waiting with bated breath to see him in live action. They’ve seen the hoop mixtapes and Drew League highlights.
Now, they’ll get their chance to watch the versatile 6-foot-11 forward in a Duke uniform.
“I’m willing to adjust my game and learn those spots so wherever the spot may be, I feel like I can adjust and get comfortable,” Bagley said earlier this month. “Post, top, anywhere Coach K or Coach [Jeff] Capel need me at.”
The Blue Devils could go big with a lineup that features Bagley at the 3 along with Carter and Bolden down low. Or they could go with an uber-athletic lineup, utilizing Bagley as a 5 with Trent and DeLaurier—assuming Duval and Allen fill the two guard roles.
It’s unlikely that they all will play together at Countdown, but we should get a taste of how Krzyzewski plans to use Bagley in what will likely be his only season with Duke before jumping to the NBA.
4. Where is Marques Bolden in his development? And will he have any help down low?
A top-20 recruit entering his freshman campaign, Bolden has yet to live up to the hype. He started the season injured and scored less than two points per game, forcing the Blue Devils to lean heavily on Amile Jefferson.
Still, Bolden earned a spot at USA Basketball’s U-19 World Cup training camp before being cut, and reports from the summer say the sophomore has never looked better.
Duke now has reinforcements, though, with Bagley and Carter, a pair of top-five prospects that should be among the better big men in the ACC from the get-go. But the Blue Devils have struggled to develop big men (see Jeter, Chase) in recent years—with the exception of Jahlil Okafor—and it remains to be seen if this season can break the trend.
5. Are there any role players?
Jordan Tucker, Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White all have the potential to sneak their way into the rotation. Krzyzewski noted that this Duke team is unlikely to be the outside shooting threat that past units have been, and White has a slick stroke that could help in that area.
Tucker, a top-40 recruit who committed in May, has the build to make an early impact. At 6-foot-7 and 212 pounds, the White Plains, N.Y., native should not be too small to get to the hole, and he too can shoot the ball—Tucker competed in the high school 3-Point Championship at last year’s Final Four.
And Vrankovic will certainly be a leader for the Blue Devils, as he is the only scholarship junior on the roster. The forward saw time in just 13 contests last year, though, so it is unclear whether or not Vrankovic can be trusted in big-time situations this season.
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."