Quiet opening for No. 9 Duke as it hosts Gardner-Webb

NCAA Basketball

It’s not unusual for Duke to have numerous new elements when a season begins. This time that goes to entirely new heights for the No. 9-ranked Blue Devils.

They’re slated to start the season Wednesday night against visiting Gardner-Webb with a freshman cast expected to be prominent. That’s typical for Duke.

But playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., will have a different vibe for Duke. There won’t be fans in attendance — at least for the early weeks of the season — at one of the most renowned playing venues in college basketball.

So just about everything will be different for Duke — except that it will be under the direction of Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, who embarks on his 41st season at the university.

“Getting accustomed to environment is huge,” Krzyzewski said of playing in a gym that will have a different set-up. “Because you want total focus when you’re in a game.”

Duke compiled a 25-6 record last season. The halt to the season because of the coronavirus pandemic came several hours before the Blue Devils were slated to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinals, so that left Krzyzewski, who’s the all-time winningest coach in the sport, with 1,157 victories.

Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils have had “good enthusiasm” and they’re anxious to play games. While the preseason has been unusual, the veteran coach said the time has been beneficial for his team.

“This has been a really good group,” he said.

November often is a time for introductions for potential new standouts for Duke. This time the list is bound to include forwards Jalen Johnson and Henry Coleman. Johnson was named to the All-ACC preseason first team.

Coleman has demonstrated several notable traits.

“He has been our most energetic and he’s kind of loud, in a good way,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s not like your typical freshman.”

The Blue Devils are counting on the emergence of sophomore forward Matthew Hurt, who had an inconsistent first season. Still, he showed flashes of being a player with a huge upside.

“My mentality changed a lot since last year,” Hurt said. “I think just being aggressive, just trying to be the best player on the floor each time.”

Forward Wendell Moore Jr., who made 11 starts as a freshman last season, has added a leadership role. Duke also has experienced players in senior guard Jordan Goldwire and junior guard Joey Baker.

Duke’s frontcourt could be aided by 7-foot freshman Mark Williams and 6-9 Patrick Tape, a graduate transfer from Columbia.

The visit to Duke is the first of several major-conference opponents on Gardner-Webb’s schedule as it also will head to Florida State, Georgia and Pittsburgh.

“This is a challenging nonconference schedule, but we have always taken on the best to prepare for the rigors of the Big South,” said Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft, whose team had games in a multi-team event nixed. “… We look forward to competing against some of the best in college basketball.”

Gardner-Webb went 16-16 last season, with three starters returning. That includes guard Jaheam Cornwall, who posted 13.1 points per game last season. Cornwall is an All-Big South Conference first-team preseason selection, while forward Kareem Reid is a second-team choice on that list.

A key addition for the Runnin’ Bulldogs is guard Jacob Falko, who averaged 23.7 points per game for Cecil (Md.) College on the junior college level.

Gardner-Webb also has 6-6 redshirt freshman Anthony Selden. He’s the younger brother of former Kansas standout Wayne Selden.

Duke won two previous meetings with Gardner-Webb, winning December games in 2009 and 2013.

–Field Level Media

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