Let’s not kid ourselves, national exposure for the Duke basketball program is not exactly a rare occurrence.
That’s why it should come as no surprise that Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils will be featured multiple times during ESPN’s Big Monday series of double headers during the 2014-15 season. Starting Jan. 5, ESPN will televise a game from the ACC followed by a game from the Big 12 on Monday evenings.
Duke and its crop of game-changing freshmen will battle Pittsburgh and Florida State in those two contests. Let’s take a look at what the team will be up against.
Pittsburgh at Duke, Jan. 19, 7 p.m. ET
The Blue Devils played Pittsburgh once last year and won in decisive fashion on the road.
However, the Panthers will look dramatically different this season after losing their two leading scorers and rebounders. That means freshmen Jamel Artis, Michael Young and Josh Newkirk will have to assume more responsibilities as sophomores. They were all solid role players a year ago, but Pittsburgh needs more than their combined 15.5 points a game to reach the NCAA tournament.
Newkirk and James Robinson will assume the point guard duties. Newkirk can blow by past people off the dribble and create open looks for his teammates, and Robinson is an effective distributor.
Still, Lamar Patterson was the primary ball-handler a year ago, so this will be new territory for both Robinson and Newkirk.
Elsewhere, transfer Sheldon Jeter will finally have the opportunity to contribute for Pittsburgh. The former Vanderbilt player tried to transfer to the Panthers before but was blocked by Commodores head coach Kevin Stallings. The stretch forward has arrived though and commented on the move, via John Perrotto of The Beaver County Times (subscription required):
I couldn’t be more excited. I already have a relationship with a lot of players at Pitt, and I’m looking forward to joining the team.
This took a little bit longer to happen than I wanted it to but I’m happy with the way it turned out. Vanderbilt had their reasons, whatever they were, but I’ve had a lot of people help me.
Duke will certainly be the favorite in this matchup, especially at home. The Panthers are breaking in a lot of raw talent, but the group of players that Coach K has accumulated will be too much for Pittsburgh early in the conference schedule.
Jahlil Okafor should have his way down low against the guard-heavy Panthers now that Talib Zanna is no longer around. Look for a double-double from the prized freshman as the Cameron Crazies make life particularly difficult for the young Panthers.
Prediction: Duke 81, Pittsburgh 65
Duke at Florida State, Feb. 9, 7 p.m. ET
Duke destroyed Florida State 78-56 in Durham in their only meeting last year.
That Seminoles squad featured Okaro White down low and Ian Miller on the outside, but both of them are gone now. However, don’t write off Florida State just yet.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes was Florida State’s top recruit for the 2013-14 campaign, but he was ruled academically ineligible last year. The dynamic shooting guard will lace it up this season as a leading piece for the Seminoles thanks to his ability to hit the long-range shot, attack the rim off the bounce and spearhead the perimeter defense with his lateral quickness and fast hands.
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports is certainly impressed by Rathan-Mayes, who is a former high school teammate of Andrew Wiggins:
Hearing Florida State is going use Xavier Rathan-Mayes at PG in spurts next season. Noles will be as explosive as any perimeter in ACC.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) May 24, 2014
Florida State also brings in transfer Dayshawn Watkins, a speedy point guard who is best in transition. His ball-handling skills and ability to find teammates in the open floor will immediately boost the Seminoles attack.
The Watkins and Rathan-Mayes combination will be a test for freshman Tyus Jones, although it helps that this game doesn’t take place until February. Ideally, the multitalented Jones will be completely comfortable running Duke’s offense this late in the season.
Florida State also brings plenty of size to the table.
Kiel Turpin, Michael Ojo and Boris Bojanovsky all check in at least 7’ tall and will help the Seminoles control the boards and paint throughout the year. Duke was plagued by a lack of interior defense and rebounding a year ago, but Okafor and Amile Jefferson should change that this season.
Even if the Blue Devils advance to the Final Four this year, there will be few opponents, if any, that feature as much size as Florida State. There will certainly be some interested NBA scouts watching Okafor’s performance in this one.
While Florida State should be better this year with a combination of effective guards and size, Duke is still the more talented team. We are talking about a squad that has national title aspirations and elite 4- and 5-star athletes all over the floor.
The freshmen will be seasoned by February and will take care of business in Tallahassee.
Prediction: Duke 75, Florida State 67
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