Friday, Duke takes on the Northwest Missouri State University Bearcats in their first preseason game of the season,just a week removed from Countdown to Craziness and the Blue – White. This will be the first chance Duke fans will get to see this iteration of the Blue Devils in action against competition other than themselves.
The Bearcats are coming off of a Division II National Championship season that saw them beat Fairmont State by 10 points in the finals – capping off a 35 and 1 season. They were picked first in the 2017-18 MIAA Preseason Coaches Poll which, was released by the conference office this week, receiving all 13 of the possible 13 first place votes to top the poll.
Duke generally tries to schedule the Division II Champion and other teams that have a history of success in their league. This will be a good game to test the young Blue Devils as the Bearcats are a senior laden team with a plethora of experience on the court. Senior guard Justin Pitts led the Bearcats in scoring last year with a 20.9 point average. Pitts was named the NABC Player of the year, the Central Region Player of the year and is the leading scorer in Northwest Missouri State history with 1906 points. They also return senior forward Chris-Ebou Ndow who led NWMS in rebounding with 6.7 per contest.
NWMS shot 41% as a team from 3 point range last season and averaged 8.7 makes per game, but lost their best long-range bomber Zach Schneider (46%) to graduation.
Duke lost Freshmen Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Frank Jackson and sophomore Luke Kennard to the NBA Draft. They also lost seniors Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones to graduation and Chase Jeter (AZ) to transfer. Duke will have to replace 76% of their scoring and 75% of their their rebounding this season and these spots will be filled with a mostly freshmen team.
The expectation is for Duke to rely much more on points in the paint this year, they will look to bigs Marques Bolden, Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III to fill in those scoring numbers that were perimeter numbers last year. Look for Javin DeLaurier to be a big factor off the bench and on the boards early in this preseason provided his minor injury has healed. It’s not to say that Duke is without guys that can hit the 3, but aside from Grayson Allen there is no perimeter experience on this club. Duke will also utilize Gary Trent Jr. and in the preseason, at least, I’m sure Jordan Goldwire, Alex O’Connell and Jordan Tucker will have a green light to take shots as well. Shot selection will be key but Duke should definitely be a strong rebounding team and that should hopefully off-set any perceived or actual lack of long-range shooting they may have.
Duke’s size should be enough to overwhelm the Bearcats who don’t have a player on their roster standing taller than 6’8. I expect a disciplined effort from NWMS that could give the young devils fits early in the game but eventually talent should rule the day.