We're still a long way off from the RCA Dome and the Final Four, but Duke will begin a journey they hope leads them to that ultimate destination tonight in the season opener against Boston University.
Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium as the Devils and Terriers hook up in first round action of the preseason NIT.
Under head coach Dennis Wolff, Boston University has become one of the most consistent mid-major programs in the country. Wolff has taken the Terriers to two NCAA tournaments and each of the last three postseason NITs.
Despite losing nearly 60 percent of their scoring from a year ago, America East Conference coaches have tabbed Wolff's 2005-06 team as the preseason number two team in the league.
Duke and Boston University are each members of a 22 team group that can boast 20-win seasons in each of the last four years. They'll lock horns in the season opener tonight with hopes of moving on to face either Manhattan or Seton Hall in round two play Wednesday night.
Led by senior guard Shaun Wynn, the Terriers will look to slow the game down to a manageable pace against the athletically superior Blue Devils.
With Wynn at the controls, BU at least has to feel they have a fighting chance to make things interesting. Last year, he posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.27-to-1 to go along with great play on the defensive end of the floor.
With Wynn at the point of the defense, the Terriers led the nation last season in field goal percentage defense and ranked third in points allowed per game.
Holding down a Duke offense that has weapons all over the floor will take an amazing effort, however.
The Devils are coming off two exhibition victories in which they averaged 112.5 points per game. You can bet they will be wanting to come out hot early after a sluggish start Thursday night against North Carolina Central.
Getting J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams established in the early going will be priority number one.
Priority number two will likely be establishing the tempo the Devils want to play, which is fast.
How do they accomplish that? By forcing turnovers with suffocating perimeter defense and counting on the shot blocking presence of Williams and freshman Josh McRoberts in the paint when needed.
Duke should have advantages everywhere on the floor, but especially so in the post. The Terriers' top returning post, Kevin Gardner gives up 25 pounds to Williams and has nowhere near the athleticism of McRoberts. The rest of the BU frontcourt is young and unproven.
The experimental rules used during the two exhibition games will also be in effect for the preseason NIT. Those rules include a longer three point line of 20 feet, 9 inches, a wider lane, and a no-charge zone circle under the basket.
The Terriers are no pushover and they figure to play disciplined even in the crazy environment, but Duke just has too many playmakers for BU to hold up for 40 minutes.
Other first round NIT games tipping today
Manhattan at Seton Hall 7:30
Sam Houston State at Missouri 8:00
Drexel at Princeton 7:30
First round NIT games tipping tomorrow
Miami (OH) at Alabama 8:00
Wisc.-Milwaukee at Memphis 8:00
Army at Temple 7:00
New Mexico State at UCLA 10:00