Duke basketball will play its first exhibition of the season as Division II champion Western Washington comes to Cameron Indoor Stadium with tip-off set for 2:00 p.m.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski will have a thin roster to work with this afternoon with Marshall Plumlee (foot stress fracture) and Seth Curry sidelined with injuries. Plumlee will remain out for another month while the team is being cautious with Curry.
In anticipation of today’s exhibition action, here are the three key aspects of the action to focus on:
How does ‘Sheed handle the fire?
With Curry on the sidelines, freshman Rasheed Sulaimon will be thrown into the fire immediately, getting the majority of the minutes at the two. The No. 12 ranked recruit in his class according to ESPN, there is no doubt that Sulaimon will be a menace on the defensive end from day one. At 6-foot-4, he has more than adequate length to play the two-guard position, but the real question is how much he will be able to contribute on the offensive end.
Sulaimon’s offensive game is well-rounded—with a strong shooting touch and a quick step into the lane—but can he draw as much attention from defenses as Curry does? In his Duke career, Curry has shot better than 40 percent from long range and opens the offense for the rest of the team. He struggled at times last season when he was forced to play the point, with Austin Rivers getting the majority of the time at shooting guard, but expectations are high for the senior back at his natural position. This first game will be a chance for Sulaimon to show he deserves big minutes once the regular season begins.
Krzyzewski has shown no qualms hyping forward Mason Plumlee in the preseason, saying that the senior has the potential to be one of the best players in the nation. Plumlee returned to Duke after considering declaring for the NBA Draft, where we would have likely been a first-round pick. After averaging 11.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per game last season, he will—theoretically—have the chance to finally be the focal point of the offense.
But it has been a long time since Duke based its offense around a post player. If Plumlee wants to start his season on the right foot, there is no better opponent than Western Washington—the tallest player on the Viking roster is 6-foot-9. And with Curry out of the lineup, the offense should run even more through the post. He just has to prove he’s ready to be the man.
Let’s get Cook-in’
After starting just four games in his freshman season, the point guard job is Quinn Cook’s to lose. Krzyzewski said in the preseason that Cook will get the first nod running the offense, with junior guard Tyler Thornton close behind. Cook and Thornton are quite different players—Thornton has the potential to be a lockdown defender, but Cook is a more dynamic offensive threat and should allow the offense to flow more fluidly.
But don’t expect the leash on Cook to be super long in the early going of this season—the 6-foot freshman needs to show he is worthy of the job from day one. It will also be interesting to watch, with Curry’s injury, how much Thornton and Cook play together. Thornton is capable of guarding shooting guards on the defensive end, but it will be a more confusing dynamic on the offensive end as neither is a particularly strong shooter.