After a close loss to Kansas in the Champions Classic, Duke men's basketball is looking to rebound against Delaware. The Blue Zone brings you a player on each squad that will be the difference maker:
Duke: Kyle Filipowski
Even after the Jayhawks’ signature offensive prowess and staunch defense seemed to catch the young Blue Devil squad off guard Tuesday night, Duke entered the locker room at the break only down four points. The team needed a hero heading into the second half, and it found it in freshman Kyle Filipowski. The center lit a spark under his squad, helping the Blue Devils jump out to a 59-54 lead with under five minutes remaining before Kansas ultimately came back to take the game 69-64. Despite the loss, the Westtown, N.Y., native became the first Duke freshman to open his career with three consecutive double-doubles, notching 17 points and 14 rebounds. With his 36 total boards, he surpassed Mike Gminski and Zion Williamson for the Duke freshman with the most rebounds through the first three games of the season.
The reigning ACC Freshman of the Week will be the center of attention in Friday’s contest, but he’s proven to be up to the challenge. Using his dominant 7-foot frame, Filipowski is a force at both ends of the court and will strike fear in the hearts of opponents throughout the year. His defensive potential against the Blue Hens will be limitless as he will tower over their smaller roster—their tallest player is 6-foot-9. His agility will be key for garnering defensive rebounds and the occasional steal for quick transitions. Despite his height, his athleticism gives him incredible offensive versatility that he will use to exploit the Delaware defense.
However, the Cameron Crazies are still waiting for Filipowski’s shooting to become consistent. His performance against the Jayhawks was undoubtedly impressive, but converting 6-of-18 field goal attempts, including 1-of-6 from three, is a bit lackluster for a player of his caliber. The matchup against the Blue Hens is the perfect opportunity for the freshman to gain some confidence in his offensive game. Delaware might not be the most dynamic or challenging opponent the Blue Devils will face this year, but its pace and skill will force Filipowski into action in a way that will allow him to bolster his experience.
Friday night’s contest against the Blue Hens will allow Filipowski to continue to showcase his rebounding talents and versatile shooting, but if he can achieve more consistency on offense while getting more active with his height in blocks and steals, he will be a crucial force in sweeping Delaware out of the building.
Delaware: Jameer Nelson Jr.
To compete with the star-studded Blue Devil squad, the Blue Hens will need someone with plenty of experience and talent to act as the team’s engine. Delaware has one such leader in redshirt junior Jameer Nelson Jr. The guard transferred from George Washington before the 2021-22 season and practically lit the court on fire when he burst onto the scene. He started all 35 contests and tallied 13.6 points per game, leading the team and ranking seventh in the CAA. His sharp-shooting abilities earned him the second-most three-pointers on the squad with 56. He is just as much of a threat as a playmaker, doling out 78 assists last year. Defensively, Nelson is a fierce weapon in Delaware's arsenal. His average of 1.6 steals per game placed him fourth in the CAA standings.
The Haverford, Pa., native has plenty of talent in his blood. His father, Jameer Nelson Sr., was the star point guard at Saint Joseph's in the early 2000s, helping to lead the program to an undefeated slate and Elite Eight appearance in the 2003-04 season before being drafted by the Denver Nuggets. Nelson Jr. is certainly following in his father’s accolade-filled footsteps. In his first season with the Blue Hens last year, he was a key factor in Delaware's CAA Championship title, the second in program history. His play earned him a Second Team All-CAA selection to top off his stellar season. Nelson is well on his way to a year full of recognition once again, notching 36 total points and shooting 36.4% from beyond the arc in his first two games.
With so much talent and versatility, the Blue Devils will have to play tight defense to keep him from knocking down shots early on, especially if they get off to another slow start. While Duke, with its height advantage, should be able to guard the perimeter well and prevent him from getting too many inside shots, the offense will run through Nelson. If he is allowed to operate freely, Delaware will have a fighting chance. The Blue Devils must shut him down to cut off the Blue Hens’ game and secure the victory.
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