On Friday, the Phil Knight Legacy tournament will begin, this time honoring the Nike co-founder’s 85th birthday. Before their turkey dinners Thursday, the Blue Devils will travel to Portland, Ore., to tip off a three-round tournament featuring seven other Division I teams from across the nation. Duke’s first round will be a matchup against Pac-12 team Oregon State at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Big shoes to fill
Duke last appeared in a Phil Knight event in November 2017. The Blue Devils, under former head coach Mike Krzyzewski, won their bracket that year after knocking down Florida, which had beaten out Gonzaga, in the championship round. Both of these teams are reprising their roles this year, with Florida being a potential second-round matchup for Duke and Gonzaga a possible championship game opponent.
Five years ago, the Blue Devils returned to Durham with a tournament trophy and MVP honors for freshman forward Marvin Bagley III. The 2017 PK80 was the first of its kind; returning for their second appearance under new head coach Jon Scheyer, the Blue Devils have big shoes to fill.
The Pope problem
The Phil Knight Legacy unites a potluck of varying talent in the eight-team bracket. Oregon State, particularly when compared to No. 6 Gonzaga, seems to pose little threat to No. 8 Duke in Thursday’s first round.
Yet anything can happen in a tournament, and the Blue Devils have certainly not been immune to pressure from unranked teams this season. Standing in the way of the Phil Knight title is freshman guard Jordan Pope, who has carried the Beavers to their 3-1 record this season, averaging 15.5 points a game.
“Pope can knock it down,” said Duke associate head coach Chris Carrawell in a media availability Wednesday. “He can shoot the ball, he’s been aggressive and can score on all three levels. We’ve got to take him out of the game.”
The small but mighty shooting of this 6-foot-2 guard will require a dominant defense from the Blue Devils, especially beyond the arc. Pope has hit 40% of his 3-pointers this season, and threes were a factor against Duke in its last game against Bellarmine, as the Knights took 18 points from downtown.
When it comes to scoring on Oregon State, shots from afar might be the way to go. Beaver blocks have come largely from senior forward Dzmitry Ryuny and junior center Chol Marial, who have tallied a combined 14 to head up their team’s defensive play. If Marial and Ryuny stay beneath the net on defense, then freshman forward Mark Mitchell and graduate center Ryan Young could have a tricky time near the basket.
If the Blue Devils can channel whatever force took control of their threes Monday night against Bellarmine, the pillars of Oregon State’s defense will pose little threat.
One thing has become apparent from the first few weeks of the season: Duke has depth. Leading the team in points and rebounds per game is freshman center Kyle Filipowski, but he is certainly not carrying anyone—against Bellarmine, 30 of Duke’s 74 points came from the bench. This depth has only grown with the recent return of top freshman recruits Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead, who will likely play more minutes in the Phil Knight Legacy now that they have both had time to get their feet wet on the court. The pair seems ready to blend with the rest of the team.
“When you have [Filipowski] on the perimeter and Lively rim-running, that sucks the defense in and now you can kick out for shooters,” said Carrawell. “Those two guys play well together and they’re only going to get better.”
One to watch in Portland will be Gonzaga forward Drew Timme. The Richardson, Texas native is a fourth-year force on the court, averaging 21 points per game early in his senior season on standout 62.5% shooting from the field. Timme carries the advantage of experience for the Bulldogs, something Duke lacks in its starting lineup—junior captain Jeremy Roach is the sole returning starter among a pack of freshmen. The 6-foot-10 Timme also headlines a team drenched in talent and experience; Few recruited just two freshmen for this season.
“[Defense] was the emphasis for us in the preseason and leading into the season,” said Carrawell. “We spent a lot of time on defense… Our guys have done a heck of a job of buying into it. Defense, for me, is all about effort.”
Timme himself has never actually seen success against the Blue Devils. When Duke played Gonzaga almost exactly a year ago, the Blue Devils won by a slim margin of 84-81. Timme did boast a solid 17 points, but should the Blue Devils face him Sunday, he should be stoppable.
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