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November 1, 2013

Duke set to host Drury for final exhibition

Duke basketball concludes its exhibition schedule Saturday when it welcomes the 2012-13 Division II national champions, Drury University. It has become customary for the Blue Devils to host the previous season's Division II champion for an exhibition game, and the reasoning behind it runs deep.

One of the primary factors in bringing in the previous champion from the next level down is to allow the Blue Devils an opportunity to face off with a program accustomed to winning. One that understands what it takes to win, and will generally be fundamentally sound.

College coaches have two options for the preseason: scrimmage higher level opponents in a closed setting or play a team from a lower division under the lights and in a real game atmosphere.

There's certainly value in both, but for Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils, having an opportunity to play a team that is prideful and prepared to lay it all on the floor for a chance to play Duke is invaluable.

This is particularly true when the current Duke squad is not only adjusting to life after Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, but also welcoming several new potential stars to the hard wood and implementing an entirely new system - both offensively and defensively.

Duke looked strong in its first exhibition game of the year when it battled Bowie State, but, as Krzyzewski pointed out following the game, there remains a lot of improvements to be made.

Even still, this Duke team continues to show that it embraces the system and is prepared to flourish in it.

This second exhibition will give the coaching staff an opportunity to further evaluate their new faces and how they fit into the team.

Clearly, Jabari Parker is and will continue to be a focal point of the Duke offense, as will Rodney Hood. After those two, the weapons are in abundance and the Blue Devils staff has numerous options in terms of who they put on the floor with the two talented forwards.

Amile Jefferson was labeled in the preseason by Jeff Capel as a player that could be poised for a breakout season. Though it's extremely early in the campaign, it appears Jefferson will live up to the expectations of the coaching staff.

He's active on the backboards, more aggressive on offense and is placing a heavy emphasis on improving his defense.

In addition to Parker and Hood, Duke is showing that it has numerous options on offense. Sophomores Rasheed Sulaimon and Alex Murphy, junior Quinn Cook, seniors Andre Dawkins and Tyler Thornton, as well as freshmen Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye are all capable of helping Duke in the scoring column.

That fact creates a lot of pressure on an opponent's defense, as Bowie State found out last weekend and Drury will likely get a taste of tomorrow.

Drury is not a slouch, though. After winning the D-II title, this team is feeling confident. That comes despite the fact the Panthers lost over 50-percent of its scoring from last year to graduation.

Though that is a reality for Drury, the Panthers' still pack a punch and will be looking to keep the Devils in check as long as possible. The Panthers are somewhat undersized, but with Duke's lac of using a prototypical center on the regular, Drury has to like its size matchup and ability to not have to worry about a back to the basket type of player.

Overall, this game will be used as yet another learning tool for both teams, and with the real games just around the corner, the Duke coaches will be able to make a better determination of who should play early in the year, and how much.


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