For the first time in nearly eight months, the Blue Devils will see people other than their teammates on the other end of the court.

As is tradition, Duke’s first exhibition game to kick off its 2017-18 season will come against the reigning Division II national champions, Northwest Missouri State, Friday at 7 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

There may be a bit of rust to start off the game for one of the Blue Devils’ youngest squads ever, with more than half the team comprised of freshmen. For Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the exhibition contest will give him an idea of the players he can lean on as the season progresses, and he said he would rather put them in front of a full stadium than scrimmage another Division I team in an empty building, per NCAA rules.

“You can’t simulate crowd,” Krzyzewski said. “There’s certain kids—especially for this team—I’d rather have them playing in front of a crowd and see how they respond.”

Earlier this week, Krzyzewski tipped his hand on the starting lineup for Friday’s matchup, which he said will include four first-year players. The freshman quartet is likely to be comprised of Trevon Duval, Gary Trent, Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III, and Krzyzewski will have plenty of film to diagnose how his latest batch of five-star recruits performs in their first test against collegiate competition.

With Carter and Bagley likely starting, sophomore and former top-20 recruit Marques Bolden will come off the bench for the second straight season, as senior captain Grayson Allen will occupy the last spot in the starting lineup. But Bolden should see plenty of time on the court, especially against a Bearcat squad whose tallest player is 6-foot-8.

In recent years, Krzyzewski has limited his rotation to a maximum of just eight players, with just two frontcourt players seeing time off the bench. With Bagley—who was voted ACC Preseason Rookie of the Year this week—and a fellow top-five recruit in Carter occupying the top two forward spots to start the season, Bolden will have to take advantage of his minutes to start the season to prove to Krzyzewski that he can handle the center position, potentially allowing Bagley to shift to small forward in a bigger lineup.

Perhaps the biggest question that has been left unanswered is how the Blue Devils will manage their guard rotation. Since having Tyus Jones on the 2014-15 national championship squad, Duke has had unreliable options at point guard, and with Duval, Trent and star senior Grayson Allen destined for heavy minutes, Krzyzewski will have to find someone to take the pressure off the trio early in the season.

There have been concerns about Trent and Duval’s shooting from the outside. Although Trent made three of his five shots from beyond the arc in the Blue-White scrimmage, the Columbus, Ohio, native has never been known as an efficient 3-point threat, and Duval enters the season with a shaky jump shot as well. 

If the Blue Devils want to use a bigger lineup with Bolden, Bagley and Carter on the floor, they will need some outside shooting to space the court. Two freshmen who might not get much playing time in the regular season—Alex O’Connell and Jordan Tucker—have proven more than capable from 3-point range, and should get chances to showcase their skills against Northwest Missouri State.

But unlike most Division II champions, the Bearcats return their key players. Duval and the rest of the Duke backcourt will have their hands full against 2016-17 Division II Player of the Year Justin Pitts, who averaged 20.9 points and 5.1 assists per game last season.

“They’ll be good,” Krzyzewski said. “They’ve won. They’re champions, and we’ve always had good games [against the Division II champions].”

Pitts also has classmates Chris-Ebou Ndow and Brett Dougherty at his disposal. Both big men have been staples in the starting lineup the past two seasons, and Ndow averaged an impressive 12.5 points and 6.7 boards per game last year.

In the end, Ndow and Dougherty should not have the size to match up with Duke’s frontcourt, which boasts six players taller than 6-foot-8. But do not expect the Bearcats to go down without a fight.

“It’ll teach our guys a lesson I think,” Krzyzewski said. “Hopefully not too big of a lesson.”

Hank Tucker contributed reporting.