From the stands: Duke v. Central Missouri

Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow remind us of another talented freshman duo that found success on college basketball's biggest stage.

There wasn’t a lot of drama surrounding the result of Duke’s final exhibition game of 2014. Sure, the Mules of Central Missouri raced out to a 13-7 lead, but it was only a matter of time before the Blue Devils locked down on the defensive end and found the range on offense. A resounding 17-0 first half run left the visitors flummoxed and defeated as Coach K’s team rolled to a 40 point win.

Once again it was the dynamic freshman class leading the way for Duke behind Justise Winslow’s game high 17 points. Classmate and preseason National Player of the Year, Jahlil Okafor added 15 points and nine rebounds in limited action while Quinn Cook and Grayson Allen also finished in double figures.

For the second straight game head coach Mike Krzyzewski opted to extend his rotation with 10 players logging 14 minutes or more, and nobody playing more than 25 minutes. The Blue Devils will now return to the practice court in preparation for two games this weekend, the first being against Presbyterian on Friday night.

Here’s our take on the game from the stands…

TWO HEADED MONSTER: While his classmate has gotten all the preseason hype, it’s hard to overlook the exhibition season logged by Justise Winslow. The 6-foot-6, 225 pound forward has been Duke’s best perimeter defender, top scorer, and best all around player. Certainly, the extended bench has limited Okafor’s chances to shine, and Duke has opted to work on things other than Okafor’s offense against two overmatched opponents, but Winslow has been the guy who seems to be everywhere in the first two games.

On Saturday Winslow led the team in minutes (25), points (17), field goals made (6), attempted (12), and finished third in rebounding with six boards. It’s a nice compliment to Okafor who, like Winslow, will make a living at the free throw line as teams try to catch up at the small forward and center positions. And it certainly has Coach K in a chipper mood.

“Justise has been really good since day one,” said Krzyzewski of his five star freshman. “He is really good. He’s already physically mature.  He’s got a great maturity about him on and off the court. Physically he is way ahead. He is 6’6, 225lbs and he’s solid so he is not a normal freshman. He is an outstanding player and he plays both ends. He plays really hard and he is efficient.”

While they differ in a number of ways, it’s hard to look at the early performances of Winslow and Okafor and not see shades of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis from Kentucky’s most recently title team. Davis, of course, played this summer with Coach K and Team USA, and speaking of Team USA’s most recently gold medal squad….

DEFENSE IS BETTER AT DUKE: There’s really no way to put it in a politically correct manner, and it was pretty clear to anyone who evaluated the Blue Devils a season ago…Duke’s defense was terrible last season. And it ultimately led to an embarrassing loss to Mercer in the NCAA”s second round.

Things seem dramatically different so far in 2014-2015 as Duke has played what seems to be vintage Duke defense for extended periods of time in the first two exhibition games, though against clearly overmatched opponents.

Still, the ability for this team to get stops and dictate tempo with their defensive effort is a skill that could propel the Blue Devils into the kind of post season run that has become the expectation during the vast majority of Krzyzewski’s tenure. That manifested itself on Saturday when the Blue Devils began the game cold from the field.

“For a while today we hit nothing,” said Kryzewski. “Then our offense wasn’t run as well because we have been accustomed to in that one game leading to something easy. It’s very good for us. Shooting is the most inconsistent part of the game. We had good shots; our first four threes were in and out. So you are losing when you should be up by 10 if they go in. The game is funny that way and so I was happy with our guys. We thought it knocked us back a bit defensively to begin with. I think they had 13 points in the first five minutes and then they ended up with 22 at the half. So our defense from that point on was very, very good and now we are ready to go and ready to start the season.”

Playing “very, very good” defense has a lot of ingredients for this Blue Devil squad. A season ago there was no center. This year, there’s Okafor - arguably the best in the county. Last season lacked a lock down wing defender. This year Duke has Winslow, a transformed Matt Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon, and even Tyus Jones has shown himself to be a pest by darting into passing lanes. But adding more defensive minded and capable players to the roster was only part of the change.

“Sometimes when you are selfish defensively you hug your man, you’re off the ball or not there for help, you’re not there to help on ball screens. When you’re unselfish, our big guys are coming up on the ball screens. Our ball screen defense we’ve changed it this year to do what we’ve done with the U.S. team. We’re committed to it and I think it’s a good way of doing it. Our big guys are getting better in it.”

The results were there against the Mules as Duke forced 23 turnovers, held their opponents scoreless for nearly eight consecutive minutes, and limited Central Missouri to 37.5 percent shooting for the game. To put it another way…

“Our defense was outstanding. I like that about our team even though we weren’t knocking them down, it didn’t affect our effort on the defensive end.”

TYUS HAS THE KEYS: Coming into the season there was debate about the role of the starting point guard. Would it be Tyus Jones or senior captain Quinn Cook, a player who had taken home All-ACC honors and a tournament MVP trophy during his career in Durham? After 80 minutes of preseason basketball, the early answer is clear. The job is clearly Jones’.

Through two exhibition games Jones logged 17 assists against just two turnovers - the first of which was a long home run pass in the first game after Duke was up by more than 40 points. The Minnesota freshman averaged more than 25 points per game as a senior in high school, but hasn’t shown the inclination to look for his offense just yet. It’s something that’ll come according to Krzyzewski, and something Jones will be drilled on going forward. But for his first two games, it’s hard not to like what’s going on at the lead guard position.

It’s why Duke recruited only Jones at the point guard position for three recruiting cycles despite many high majors in previous classes being interested.

“The first time I saw Tyus, he was in complete control of his team. He played with a great poise and was an outstanding leader. I saw him in the summer between his sophomore and junior years and I knew he’s the guy that we want[ed].”

From his point of view, Jones says he’s just enjoying the game and the college experience at this early stage. He’s also, despite the demands of the point guard position in Durham, not feeling any pressure to do anything other than fill his role.

“I don’t [feel any pressure], and I credit my teammates for that,” said Jones.  “They’ve been very accepting of me, since the first day I got here.  If I make a command on the court, they listen and respond to me and I do the same for them.  They’ve made it easy on me as a point guard.”

IN THE STANDS: Duke welcomed five star center Caleb Swanigan for an unofficial visit.

Currently a senior at Homestead Senior in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Swanigan’s recruitment is wide open with a decision not expected until after the college basketball season. The 6-foot-9, 265 pound prospect is considered one of the best interior players in the class of 2015 and is described by as…

“…a classical low block scoring beast with excellent hands and feet. He obviously can overpower, but he doesn't absolutely have to play that way. He already possesses a spin move and other blossoming scoring options. Once he adds a fully polished drop step and jump hook, he'll command consistent double teams from defenses at the next level. His hands also are sure for tough catches in traffic.”

Schools such as Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Arizona, UCLA, California, Alabama, New Mexico, and Kentucky amongst others have gotten involved in the Swanigan recruitment. Duke evaluated him very early and through the summer, but the parties seemed to separate following the commitment of Nevada’s Chase Jeter. However, sources indicate that Duke has quietly been making inroads with Swanigan over the last month.

Swanigan is rated as the No. 4 center in the country and No. 10 overall prospect by

Caleb Swanigan Scouting Video:

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