Duke will face its first real challenge Tuesday when it plays Kansas at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. Both the sixth-ranked Jayhawks and seventh-ranked Blue Devils have blown out their first two opponents, but this matchup will be a test for both schools. Here are five things to know before the game tips off at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.
A learning experience for both teams
Both the Jayhawks and the Blue Devils lost a lot of talent to the NBA Draft after their NCAA tournament runs last year. Kansas has added some key freshman pieces in guards Gradey Dick and MJ Rice along with forwards Zuby Ejiofor and Ernest Udeh Jr. Duke has brought in a strong recruiting class as well, headlined by center Dereck Lively II and forward Dariq Whitehead. Both have battled injuries thus far, with Lively seeing limited action against USC Upstate and Whitehead not playing at all.
This will be Lively’s first real test against a defensively stout Kansas team, and the Jayhawks will likely face a similar challenge trying to score on Lively. Whitehead’s status is still uncertain—if not doubtful—for Tuesday’s game, but even if he does play, he will likely see limited time on the floor. This will be a game in which both teams’ freshmen are introduced to the highest level of college basketball, and how the young talents respond to the challenge will dictate who comes out on top.
Duke has put up a historically strong defensive performance through its first two games. It allowed just 82 points combined against Jacksonville and USC Upstate, the lowest across the first two games for the program since 1946. While that kind of defense probably will not be possible against a much stronger Kansas team, if the Blue Devils can keep the Jayhawks contained, it will make the game much more winnable.
“We've made life difficult. But [the teams in the] first two games, they've also missed open shots against us and a team like Kansas, they're gonna make you pay for those,” said Duke head coach Jon Scheyer in his media availability Monday. “We've done a good job, but it's Kansas, we need to step our game up and do even better. But I really just think consistency of our defense every single night, every single possession, trying to limit open shots, it's really what it all comes down to.”
This is also the first game of the year in which either team will be receiving true national attention. The matchup will be broadcast nationally on ESPN, and the lights will be much brighter than they were for the first two games. Especially with so much young talent on each squad, it will be important for both teams to tune out all the noise around this game and focus on the task at hand. On a similar note, this will be a good practice round for the higher-stakes games that both teams will likely be playing in when the postseason rolls around.
“There's always gonna be distractions or outside noise or things you need to block out. I'm not too concerned about that,” said Scheyer. “I think we'll be ready to go, it's just a matter of now can we translate what [we] need to do in order to win a high-level game like tomorrow night.”
The Duke big man played limited minutes in his debut Friday against USC Upstate as he recovers from a calf injury that kept him off of the floor for Duke’s exhibition and regular-season opener. Against a much stronger team, it will be imperative that Lively steps up to play more minutes. Scheyer indicated his confidence Monday that Lively would be “ready to take that next step” in Indianapolis. Without Lively, this game more than likely slips away from the Blue Devils. With him, it is very winnable for Duke.
A team effort
While Lively will be important for the Blue Devils, this game will also hinge on production from the rest of the team. Freshman guard Tyrese Proctor has been relatively underwhelming through the earliest part of the season, and although he did show some flashes of what he could be against USC Upstate, Duke fans are yet to see his full potential. Freshman forward Kyle Filipowski has put up a double-double in each of his first two games, and the Blue Devils will need more of the same from him. The supporting cast around Lively will need to be on its A-game for the matchup in Indianapolis to beat a talented Kansas squad.
“I think we're doing a great job overall of just holding our roles and beliefs that are accountable for what our roles are,” said Filipowski at Monday’s media availability. “I'm gonna do whatever I can right now just to get the win.”
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