A New-Look Duke Team

Austin Rivers fields questions from the media.

The Duke players held media availability earlier this week, and they were obviously asked a lot about head coach Mike Krzyzewski ultimately breaking the all-time wins record, likely against Michigan State on November 15th. But Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins and Miles Plumlee had some interesting things to say about how this team is coming together. It’s odd to think about Duke without Nolan Smith or Kyle Singler, and while this young team might have a few early stumbles, it should right itself quickly in a pretty bad ACC and could be peaking at the right time.

Duke opens the season with Belmont tonight at home, and Belmont is legit (the Bruins, 30-5 last year, were the trendy 13-over-4 upset pick in last year’s NCAA Tournament – they lost to Wisconsin). Belmont rolled through the Atlantic Sun last year but didn’t beat any “name” teams, losing twice at Tennessee (by nine and by one) and once at Vanderbilt (a 9-point loss). But going into Cameron Indoor is not the same as going to Tennessee or Vanderbilt, and though Belmont is a solid team, I don’t see them being much closer than 10-12 points.

Seth Curry transferred to Duke from Liberty, a Big South team, so said he knows that there are some good teams on the mid-major level. Curry’s big brother Stephen Curry has been giving him some advice about his new role as Duke’s primary ball-handler this year (“He has a lot of time on his hands with the lockout, so we talk a lot,” the younger Curry said).

Neither Curry nor freshman sensation Austin Rivers are pure point guards, but it will be interesting to see how that dynamic develops. “In walking situations, I’ll bring it up pretty much every time, just getting us into our offense,” Curry said. “That’s what I’ve been doing in practice. On a miss or a turnover, (whoever is) closer to the ball can just push it up the floor so we can get it up as quick as possible. (Rivers) likes to attack in transition and get to the hole, so that’s good for him to push the ball while the defense isn’t set.”

Opposing fans have already labeled Rivers as cocky and arrogant, in part because of some of Twitter comments over the last year, but he doesn’t come across that way. He was self-deprecating when evaluating his defense: “The first game (against Bellarmine), I played like a freshman and we don’t have time for that – I don’t have time for that – just because of our schedule. … That first game really told me what I needed to do. I came back in the second game focusing on pressuring my guy. That’s one thing I think I improved on is my defense.”

He talked more than once about how others perceive him, so it’s clear he’s conscious of that. And he seems very gung-ho about all things Duke, especially defense: “I actually like to play defense. Whether people really saw it or not in AAU and high school, it’s just because probably you didn’t really have to back then. … That’s how you win games. Coach K knows just about everything about winning and that’s one of the things he believes in, so I believe in it. … When you have assistant coaches like (Steve Wojciechowski) who was Defensive National Player of the Year, you’re going to play defense. If not, you’re not going to play.”

The Blue Devils have five scholarship players 6-8 or taller and seem ready to use them. Miles Plumlee, who seems ready for a big year, sees the change already: “Even in practice, there’s much more of an effort to get it down low. It feels great to be a part of the offense and it’s not always for us to score. We’re kicking it back out and getting a lot of great three’s in practice. It’s much balanced on offense this year than it has been in recent years.”

Other notes:

-Ryan Kelly said his beard is Zoubek-approved. He also said he grew it initially out of “laziness”, but added that the three women in his life – his mom, his girlfriend and his sister – all liked the look, so it stayed.

Ryan Kelly (and his beard).

-Andre Dawkins gave an interesting answer when asked if he’d rather be preseason No. 1 or under the radar (by Duke standards): “I kind of like being preseason No. 1. I think it’s good with the amount of young guys we have on our team, but from our standpoint, our expectations are the same year in and year out. Our end goal is to win a national championship so regardless of what other people think we can do, we’re going to work extremely hard every day to win a national championship.”

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