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Key three: Duke men's basketball needs to feed the freshmen against Colorado State

Freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. had his way with seasoned Kansas 7-footer Udoka Azubuike Tuesday in Madison Square Garden.
Freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. had his way with seasoned Kansas 7-footer Udoka Azubuike Tuesday in Madison Square Garden.

Duke has started off the season on a positive note, taking down No. 3 Kansas in a nail-biting grudge match. Now, the Blue Devils will return home and face off against Colorado State in their first home game of the regular season. The Blue Zone breaks down three key factors for Duke to keep momentum and stay undefeated:

Grab an early lead

After Tuesday’s nail-biter against Kansas, the Blue Devils are surely not looking for another close game. They are looking to blow their opponents out of the water and in the process, develop their game. Colorado State will be the first opportunity of the regular season for Duke to trounce its opponent, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski will not let that opportunity slide. He does not want a close matchup like the team's exhibition debut against Northwest Missouri State, in which Duke beat the Division II team by only six points.

To avoid this outcome, Duke has to come out of the gate strong, using all of its momentum from their last win to propel it to a double-digit lead. After the Blue Devils have attained a comfortable cushion, Krzyzewski will be able to experiment with lineups and see what works in actual game scenarios.

Feed the freshmen

After a hard-fought victory over one of the nation’s best teams, Duke will be returning home with confidence it needs to start the season on the right foot. A far less intimidating opponent in Colorado State will allow the players and team to develop in game situations without the tension of the Champions Classic. By no means should the Blue Devils underestimate their opponents, as we’ve already seen them struggle against less talented teams like Northwest Missouri State. However, they should use their momentum to loosen up and be more confident in their individual shooting and play making.

The freshmen in particular should take advantage of this stretch of unranked nonconference opponents. Each starting freshman showed glimpses of star power in Madison Square Garden Tuesday, but none have broken through that glass ceiling just yet. Matthew Hurt, who shot 3-for-7 from deep against Kansas, needs to keep getting looks, as he has proven himself the most proficient shooter of his class. Cassius Stanley started slow against the Jayhawks but came alive in the second half, finishing with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting. All we can see is potential, but as the season goes on, they should develop into more confident and consistent players.

Lock down Carvacho

Duke freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. had a pretty daunting task at the Champions Classic, as he was pitted against Udoka Azubuike, a 7-foot, 270-pound senior. Despite the size disadvantage, he was able to post 11 points and six rebounds and limited Azubuike to just seven points. Azubuike presented a physical challenge unlike anything Carey had seen before, but he didn’t back down.

The Florida native will be tested again when he’s matched up with Colorado State center Nico Carvacho Friday. While not as physically imposing as Azubuike, Carvacho has three years of college experience and quite the career to show for it. Last season he was the Rams' leading scorer, averaging 16.1 points per game on 59.2 percent shooting, not to mention 12.9 rebounds per game. An inch taller and 35 pounds lighter than Carey, Carvacho is agile and versatile in the paint, which will make a unique challenge for the Duke center. Needless to say, he will be the Rams’ biggest weapon against Duke and for the most part, it will be up to Carey to thwart him.

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