One thing that is vital for teams who are in the early stages of a season after having major roster changes, is the understanding that struggles are going to happen. The offense won’t flow quite like it should, the timing of passes may be a little off, and guys may look a little uncomfortable. These were all things we saw from Duke in their season opening 74-55 win over the Georgia State Panthers, but, promisingly, they pushed through the early struggles and put together a solid win over a talented, but also inexperience, Panther team.
Duke faced their biggest struggles on offense, specifically in the first half. All we saw early on was a barrage of turnovers, missed open-jumpers, an inability to finish plays, and the feeling that this Duke team is far from a finished product. The biggest area of concern was, for the most part, the point guards. Tyler Thornton got the start from Coach K, came in, played awful, and was pulled out of the game within five minutes of it starting. Quinn Cook came in, played below average, and was also pulled out shortly after entering the game. Thornton and Cook both struggled with turnovers early before developing more of a rhythm later on, ending up with a combined six TOs for the game. This number doesn’t look too bad until you consider that there was only five assists amongst the two men, as well. A 5:6 assist to turnover ratio isn’t going to win a ton of games throughout the season. I’m not saying they need to perform like Jon Scheyer did his senior year when we all started to think he would never ever commit a turnover, but they definitely need to improve.
Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee, Duke’s two senior leaders and biggest offensive threats, showed a ton of promise in this one. Curry went 5-10 from the field, scoring 15 points and showing little signs of the shin injury that had been bothering him for the last few months.
Mason Plumlee, meanwhile, looked phenomenal. I didn’t want to get pumped up about Plumlee’s performance against a smaller and inexperienced team, but it is really impossible not to. Plumlee made plays all over the court, at one point blocking a three-pointer, grabbing the rebound, running the floor, and finishing on the other end. He was a monster on the glass, racking up fourteen rebounds, and he showed the ability to create in the post, something that Duke was hoping he’d improve on in his senior season.
The rest of the offense was so-so. Sulaimon hit a couple three-pointers but was largely insignificant on the offensive end. Amile Jefferson took one shot, made it, then decided he was content with having a 1.000% shooting percentage in his first ever NCAA game, and never shot again. Ryan Kelly made a couple shots and missed a few more and Josh Hairston committed more fouls (3) and turnovers (1) than he did points (0). It wasn’t the prettiest offensive performance from the Blue Devils, but in the second half they showed enough promise to suggest they’ll stand a chance against Kentucky next week and could become a decent offensive team throughout the season.
The defense, on the other hand, was solid. They hounded Georgia State through all forty minutes, limiting the Panthers to 37.3% shooting from the field and 35.7% from beyond the arc, all while forcing sixteen turnovers. The young guys had their struggles, as Sulaimon got lost on a couple of occasions, but Duke fans should have nothing to complain about with the defense.
Overall, this was a solid start to the season against what appears to be a very solid Georgia State team. Duke takes on Kentucky on Tuesday, however, and we’ll have a much better understanding of how good this team is after they go up against the Wildcats, who looked very beatable against the Maryland Terrapins last night, barely pulling out the win after blowing a fifteen-point lead.
Well, it is on to Kentucky for the Blue Devils and Ball Durham. Good win, Duke. Now, go take down the defending National Champions.