After a big win against Michigan State, No. 9 Duke men’s basketball returns home to take on Bucknell Friday night. Before tipoff, the Blue Zone is here with three keys to victory for the Blue Devils:
The two frontcourt men of the “Freshmen Four” — TJ Power and Sean Stewart — have been secondary to the star point guards — Jared McCain and Caleb Foster — they matriculated with. Stewart and Power have had their moments in the spotlight, but Foster gained national recognition for his performance Tuesday night against the Spartans and McCain has consistently earned a slot in the starting lineup.
Stewart and Power may not have the cachet of their classmates, but they are going to be vital for Duke this year. In a younger unit of mostly underclassmen, there is sure to be shifts in playing time among the bigs as the year progresses. If the freshmen want to get time of their own, they’ll need to have big performances in games with talent mismatches like Bucknell.
Power especially could benefit from minutes in Friday night’s contest, where the Shrewsbury, Mass., native could get a high number of touches. He was recruited as a three-level scorer and may get the opportunity to show that off against the Bison. Stewart’s game is more focused as a presence in the paint, and he will get the chance to match up against Bucknell’s frontcourt. The Bison have a few young bigs that Stewart will lock horns with, especially 7-foot sophomore Noah Williamson.
In college basketball, the best teams need the best from their benches. This rule of the game rings true in Friday’s matchup. Production from the second unit will prove vital, due to a taxing workload placed upon the starters against Arizona and Michigan State. In two top-25 contests in the past week, head coach Jon Scheyer’s starting guards --- Tyrese Proctor and Jeremy Roach --- have been off the court for less than 12 minutes of gameplay. This Blue Devil team has been lauded for its depth in the backcourt and to see success against Bucknell, the Durham side should jump out to an early lead with the starting five.
If all goes to plan, Scheyer should then be able to hand the backcourt to the likes of Foster and Jaylen Blakes to carry the majority of the remaining minutes. Additionally, the starting frontcourt duo of Mark Mitchell and Kyle Filipowski should cede minutes to Ryan Young, Stewart and Power. These minutes for the alternatives should pay dividends later on in the season as in-game experience and breakout opportunities will help the bench players’ development.
In the college game, upsetting top teams has become the norm, and there will always be a few too many close games against lesser opponents for top-quality squads. For a Duke unit that’s coming off of two emotional games against potential Final Four programs, the Bison cannot be overlooked. However, as long as the Blue Devils are able to stay focused and mentally disciplined Friday, they should be able to defeat Bucknell in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
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