After countless drills, more than two weeks worth of intense practice, and a full offseason now in the rearview mirror, it's finally time to play a basketball game again inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke welcomes nearby foe Shaw University to Durham Thursday night for a 7 p.m. tipoff as the Blue Devils take the court for their first of two exhibition games over the next three days.
It could be argued that these two preseason tuneups are the most important exhibition games in the last several years as Duke prepares to field its youngest team in a couple of generations this season.
Here's a few of the things to keep an eye on tonight as the Devils entertain the Bears.
Familiar Face-Shaw coach Robert Brickey needs no introduction inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. Brickey was a key part of three of Duke's Final Four teams and was a captain of the national runner-up Blue Devils squad of 1990. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski publically applauded Shaw's hiring of Brickey last year and it's safe to expect a warm greeting between Coach K and his former pupil when the two exhange handshakes before and after the game.
Lineup Combinations-For all of the talk about what lineup will start the game for the Blue Devils tonight, the more intriguing lineup combinations will probably be showcased at other times throughout the game. Duke has viable options in both big and small lineups, as well as defensive and offensive lineups. Josh McRoberts and Brian Zoubek will certainly log some minutes together, but that's just the beginning of Coach K's possibilities. Even without point guard Greg Paulus, there are several possibilites available on the perimeter. Once we see the rotations and combinations used in this game, we'll have a better idea of what to expect when the games tip off for real.
Freshmen Encore-The Blue-White scrimmage sent hopes soaring for a freshmen class that will have to at least come close to its billing for Duke to be a serious threat in March. Zoubek dazzled the fans with a 27 point effort in the scrimmage, and he was joined by Lance Thomas and Gerald Henderson in playing very impressively in their first appearances in front of the Cameron Crazies. Jon Scheyer was also steady if not spectacular. All four will get plenty of opportunities to shine against Shaw, with perhaps as many as three of them starting.
Perimeter Shooting-It can be convincingly argued that perimeter shooting will be the X-Factor in Duke's season. The Blue-White scrimmage didn't provide much early optimism, as the Blue Devils sank just 19 percent of their three point tries in the scrimmage. Duke's perimeter players shot just 12-of-39 from the floor overall in the scrimmage. Of course, no judgments can be made from a single scrimmage or even from tonight's exhibition, but it would be nice to see the outside shooting numbers improved against Shaw. Entering a season for the first time in a long time without a college proven perimeter scorer, this will be an area to watch not only tonight, but all year.
What Will Happen: Duke's size and overall skill advantage will easily be enough to claim a victory. In so doing, Brian Zoubek will once again impress and DeMarcus Nelson will respond very well after struggling in the Blue-White game.
Duke can name its own final score. Since we're in the predicting business, we'll go with 109-50.