Duke may be young, but the Blue Devils have all the pieces.
Sure it was an exhibition game, and sure it’s a long season, but I saw something in Duke’s latest basketball team that I haven’t seen in years – not even with the 2015 edition that won the NCAA championship with three freshmen starting.
These Blue Devils took the court with four freshmen and senior Grayson Allen, and from the tip it was clear that Mike Krzyzewski had his starting lineup and his complete rotation. That is rare, a combination of youth and talent from day one.
The four freshmen starters are clearly better than any of the other newcomers to the program. They can all score and they can all soar. Marvin Bagley III, who reclassified after his junior year in high school, is the best of a superb bunch. He shoots the lefty three from inside and out and has a perfect post mate in Wendell Carter Jr. who at 6’10” and 259 lbs. is an inch shorter and 25 pounds heavier than Bagley. This is a beastly combo inside.
Gary Trent Jr. is the small forward who can also shoot the three and take it to the hole. He and Allen present a lethal pair of wings, as both can drive the basketball or step back and fire it. Lead guard Trevon Duval, a lithe 6’3”, can also make the trey.
The reason this Duke team will build cohesiveness quickly is that there is no competition for a starting position. The first three subs off the bench already have and know their roles; they are good, but not as good as the guys they are playing behind.
Marques Bolden, the 6’10” sophomore whom Coach K talked out of transferring, will sub for either Bagley or Carter inside. He is as good as any big man reserve in the country, but not good enough to start. Fellow sophomore Javin DeLaurier is the fourth player in the rotation 6-10 or bigger, but he is more of a wing than a post and can spell Trent or Allen, if the Day Tripper ever comes out of the game. If he does, 6’6” freshman Alex O’Connell is another athletic back-up.
When Duval needs a blow, Duke has 6’2” freshman Jordan Goldwire, who can handle the ball and looks like he can shoot it as well. So, Duke has the luxury of five fixed starters and a bench that can go seven, eight or nine deep.
As a Carolina fan, I always watch Duke with a skeptical eye. But the perfectly crafted lineup I saw the other night may not meet its true match until the NCAA regional or the Final Four.