The last time Kansas and Duke met on the court, the Jayhawks took down the Blue Devils to clinch a 2018 Final Four berth.
Just five players—Duke’s Javin DeLaurier and Alex O’Connell and Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike, Silvio De Sousa and Marcus Garrett—that appeared in that contest remain at the two schools. But when the Blue Devils and Jayhawks meet again at the Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden, memories of the heartbreaking Elite Eight loss from two seasons ago for Duke will still linger.
No. 4 Duke will be looking for revenge against No. 3 Kansas Tuesday night at 7 p.m., though it’s more a matter of starting the 2019-20 campaign on the right foot in New York for Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“We want to be good against Kansas, we want to be good in every game we play,” Krzyzewski said following Duke’s exhibition win against Fort Valley State Wednesday. “We want to be great right away. I don’t know if we’ll ever be great, but we want to win basketball games, play well, stay healthy and prove worthy to be in the NCAA tournament and not blow out any shoes two weeks before the tournament.”
Tuesday will mark the first official action for the Blue Devil freshmen, with four newcomers—Vernon Carey Jr., Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley—all set to play significant minutes for Duke.
This year’s freshmen will have quite the act to follow in their debut, as last year’s R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson-led bunch combined for 89 points in its season-opening trouncing of then-No. 2 Kentucky. With the lights shining brighter than ever before, the young Blue Devils will be tested right away.
“When we get to Tuesday and we’re in that environment in [Madison Square Garden], we just need to prepare in the same way and go through the same routines,” Duke senior captain Jack White said. “It almost feels like we’ve been there before.”
While the “Mecca of Basketball” can intimidate nearly anybody, Madison Square Garden is a familiar place to the Blue Devils. Duke took down eventual national runner-up Texas Tech last season at Madison Square Garden in a back-and-forth 69-58 affair.
Then-freshman Tre Jones shone for the Blue Devils in that contest, putting together one of his best overall performances of the season, with 13 points, five rebounds, five assists and a season-high six steals. Now the leader of this year’s Duke team, Jones is eager to return to the historic arena.
“[It’s] a big-time matchup, big stage in New York [at] Madison Square Garden,” Jones said. “It’s one of the best arenas. I think it’s my favorite arena to play in, so you just got to enjoy [it], be in the moment.”
Though Jones is projected to be the Blue Devils’ best player, Duke is still a freshman-heavy team, with three freshmen starting each of its exhibition contests. On the other hand, all of Kansas’ expected starters are veterans, led by lethal sophomore guard Devon Dotson and 270-pound senior center Azubuike.
The Blue Devils’ starting lineup will likely be up in the air until tip, but the five that get the official nod from Krzyzewski may not be the ones that get the most minutes. Duke has 10 players that could be a major part of the rotation, a major change compared to the thin rotations that Krzyzewski has used in recent years.
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“This group is going to be a unit, not a starting five,” Krzyzewski said. “Everybody has got to be ready to play. It’s more...old school, like older Duke teams. Not like the [Christian] Laettner, [Bobby] Hurley or [Shane] Battier [led teams], but a team that needs to play really good defense and kids [who] want to do that.”
After the showdown against the Jayhawks, the Blue Devils will return to Durham for a series of easier matchups, hosting Colorado State, Central Arkansas and Georgia State over the next two weeks.