Final exams are over. The Blue Devils are back.
Ten days removed from its last outing—an 82-55 win against Maryland Eastern Shore—No. 14 Duke returns to action Tuesday to face Wake Forest, the second ACC foe of the season for head coach Jon Scheyer and company. The Blue Devils will do so away from the friendly environment of Cameron Indoor Stadium, with tipoff set for 6:30 p.m. at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C.
With nonconference play officially in the books, the tilt presents yet another beginning for Duke against an enigmatic Wake Forest side that punched above its weight in the ACC a season ago. Here are five things to know about the Blue Devils and Demon Deacons before they take to the court Tuesday night.
Change of pace
There are plenty of ways to quantify strength of schedule, but there is no doubt that Duke assembled—and, with a few speed bumps along the way, successfully navigated—one of the toughest nonconference slates in the sport. The 10-2 Blue Devils covered a ton of ground in the first month-plus of Scheyer’s tenure, playing five neutral-site games in three different states and going 2-1 against a trio of Big Ten opponents in a 10-day stretch.
What separated Duke’s early-season schedule, though, was its non-stop nature. Before breaking for final exams, the Blue Devils’ longest break between games had been just four days. Now, another long rest awaits them on the other side of Tuesday’s matchup, with 11 days before a Dec. 31 game against Florida State at home.
“We went through a big-time stretch there, playing the 12 games in [33 days],” Scheyer said in a Monday media availability. “And so for us, it’s a good chance to evaluate where we are as a team. You’re playing one game in a 20-day stretch, really, when you add in the break we have after this.”
While the Blue Devils hit the road with a refreshed roster, the Demon Deacons have played twice in the past week. They topped Appalachian State 67-66 on Andrew Carr's buzzer-beater Wednesday before suffering an ugly 81-57 loss at Rutgers three days later.
Roach to play
The last time the Blue Devils played, they did so without their captain, junior guard Jeremy Roach. After tying a career-high with 22 points in Duke’s Dec. 6 win against Iowa at Madison Square Garden, Roach sat out his team’s win against Maryland Eastern Shore with a lingering toe injury on his right foot.
It was the first absence of the season for Roach, who has played since suffering the injury in Duke’s Nov. 27 loss to Purdue in the Phil Knight Legacy final. Scheyer confirmed Monday that Roach will return against Wake Forest.
“Jeremy’s in good shape, and he’ll be ready to go for tomorrow night,” Scheyer said. “... We’re as good health-wise as we’ve been all season, so I’m happy to say that.”
The return of Roach—the only non-freshman in Duke’s usual starting five—is key for the Blue Devils, especially with the high-scoring Tyree Appleby running the opposing backcourt. Appleby, a graduate transfer from Florida, is averaging 18 points per game. In a league full of high-scoring guards, he should provide a worthy test for Roach on the defensive end in the junior’s first game in two weeks.
While Roach rested his toe last time out, freshman forward Dariq Whitehead stepped into the spotlight, going for a career-high 15 points in the first start of his career. The former No. 3 overall recruit was at his most explosive since returning from preseason foot surgery: One highlight, in which Whitehead put an unsuspecting Maryland Eastern Shore defender on a poster, summed up a good day for the rising star.
Roach is set to return Tuesday, which likely means a return to an off-the-bench role for Whitehead. Still, the prospect of what Whitehead will look like after the long break—he missed the vast majority of preseason practice after undergoing surgery Aug. 30—is a tantalizing one.
On the glass
Seven-foot freshman Kyle Filipowski has been Duke’s leading and most consistent scorer in the opening stretch of his Blue Devil career. As the headliner of a frontcourt that includes 7-foot-1 freshman Dereck Lively II in the starting five and 6-foot-10 graduate student Ryan Young off the bench, he has played an outsized role in helping Duke develop an inside-out identity reliant on rebounding success.
Duke sits atop the ACC in each of team rebounds, opponent rebounds and offensive rebounds. Against Wake Forest, though, the Blue Devils will be up against a bigger team than most they have faced so far: Demon Deacon starters Carr and Matthew Marsh measure at 6-foot-10 and 7-foot, respectively.
Wake Forest has been a middling team on the glass, but its sheer size remains a challenge for Filipowski and company.
“They played really good motion offense [last year], and they're hard to guard. And you think about the size that last year's team had, and this year's team, those two things stand out to me,” Scheyer said. “But remember, the last time we played them, it was as competitive as could be, it went down to the wire. We expect no different this year.”
For years, Duke has put together tough nonconference schedules in hopes of preparing itself to contend in the ACC. It paid off in a number of ways in 2021-22: The Blue Devils turned a successful first month, with wins over Kentucky and Gonzaga, into a regular-season conference title, a run to the ACC tournament title game and the chance to play basketball into April.
A look back at the early part of Duke’s season and its biggest matchups is enough to see that this Blue Devil team has been through as much as any team to this point. Duke lost its toughest two matchups to Kansas and Purdue (now ranked No. 1 and No. 4, respectively), but rebounded with wins over Ohio State at home and Iowa up in the Big Apple.
Now, as the Blue Devils begin conference play in earnest away from Cameron Indoor, the only thing left to see is whether that preparation will pay off.
“From a competitive standpoint, we've seen different styles of play, we’ve played some of the best teams in the country,” Scheyer said. “We've won some of those games, we've lost a couple of those games, but conference play is different. It’s a different thing, especially playing on the road. I don't think it's something you can simulate the level of importance.”
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.