After two years of waiting, the Blue Devils have finally gone with Randolph and Williams as the team's starting frontcourt, and the results were certainly positive on opening night. The duo combined for 24 points and 25 rebounds while limiting their minutes to less than 26 each.
After a superb preseason Williams continues to be one of the focal points in the Duke offense, receiving the ball inside and immediately trying to go to the basket. A common theme that will continue to develop will be Williams taking several trips to the free throw line as opponents continually do whatever they can to prevent him for powering the ball up. On Saturday the big guy went to the line 14 times in 26 minutes, making nine attempts for just 56%. Obviously "The Landlord" will need to improve on that, but otherwise he looked to be on pace to have a big year.
Meanwhile Randolph put up 11 points and 12 rebounds while playing with the kind of fire and killer instinct that Duke fans have been waiting for from him. After an initial attempt inside where he seemed tentative in the post, Shavlik began scoring by going hard to the basket and finishing strong. While there is no doubt he's at his best when playing alongside Williams, Randolph proved to be capable inside as the default center by blocking a pair of shots including pinning a break away dunk to the rim.
Perhaps the biggest difference you notice with Randolph is that he's looking for his offense every time down the floor instead of just being a ball screener. As the season continues he'll certainly continue to improve and refine his offensive game.
Freshmen Start Strong
While many never expected it, freshman wing David McClure started his first collegiate game and proved to be a crucial addition for the Blue Devils. McClure's first collegiate basket was a highlight reel windmill lay-up, and after that he seemed comfortable with every situation on both sides of the ball. While it's obvious that he's not yet ready to kill the opposition with his offense, the 6'6 forward did enough to defensively to make him and instant favorite in Cameron. The comparisons to former ACC Player of the Year Chris Carrawell certainly seem valid at this point as McClure makes his living off the same kind of hustle plays and hard nosed defense.
Meanwhile it was finally time for freshman DeMarcus Nelson's debut. After missing the preseason with a torn legitimate in his thumb, Nelson entered the game and quickly brought energy and excitement by logging 10 points, and nine rebounds. Many of the rebounds required the 6'3 scoring guard to get inside and jump over defenders who were half a foot taller for the tip in. As Coach K said after the game, the sky is the limit for this kid once he adjusts to the college game.
Many wondered if running the point would take away from Daniel Ewing's scoring ability. After a 20 point performance on opening night, the feeling we got was that Ewing will be more William Avery than Chris Duhon, though that may not be a totally bad thing as the entire Duke roster seems willing and capable to make the extra pass. While that may not translate into a ton of assists for Ewing, it makes Duke a bit more dangerous in the half court sets.
Meanwhile the newly streamlined J.J. Redick also added 20, but while he hit just 4-of-12 three pointers, Redick showed the ability to hit the midrange jumper and to drive to the basket. He's also worked on his ball fakes and passing, which yielded a few Sports Center moments for the Crazies.
Getting 40 points out of the starting backcourt each and every night is a luxury many teams don't have, especially when both players have shown the ability to go for over 30 on any given night. Given the success of the post players inside, it's likely that Redick and Ewing will get more open looks this year than ever before, which could translate into big years for both.
The Bench Is Deeper Than Expected
Throughout the preseason the constant thought was that Duke had exactly seven players who would play big minutes for Coach K. However in the opening night the head coach rotated 10 players, and the Devils never seemed to miss a beat. At times K was stealing minutes with McClure, Love and three guards. At other times it was Love and Patrick Johnson in the game by themselves instead of spelling one of the big guys. While neither Love or Johnson is going to score in bunches, it's positive to see Krzyzewski trying to steal early minutes and get both experience as the Devils move forward in the early part of the season.
That experience and the fact that Williams and Randolph both played less than 26 minutes, will certainly pay dividends down the line.
Player of the Game
All the off-season work has begun to payoff as this version of J.J. Redick looks like a dynamite scorer who will be tougher than expected. For his initial efforts, Redick is our player of the game.
Duke takes a big step with Monday's game against the Davidson Wildcats, a team capable of winning against anyone – as Missouri will attest. It's a game that Duke should win, but can't win by playing down to their competition.