Belmont-Duke Preview

Much of the talk surrounding Duke over the summer centered on

Mike Krzyzewski’s pursuit of becoming the winningest men’s

basketball coach in Division I history and the debut of highly

touted freshman Austin Rivers.

While Krzyzewski will almost certainly get that record and

Rivers has the potential to develop into a star, starting the

season on a positive note could be tricky.

In an opening round game for the Maui Invitational, the

sixth-ranked Blue Devils take the court Friday night against

Belmont, a team that nearly upset them in the NCAA tournament three

years ago.

Duke needs to win three games for Krzyzewski to surpass Bob

Knight’s record of 902 victories. Krzyzewski had a chance to reach

the milestone last season, but the top-seeded Blue Devils were

upset by Arizona in the West Regional semifinals and finished

32-5.

“We’ve been part of a lot of big games for him, and it’s always

exciting,” said forward Miles Plumlee, the team’s lone senior.

Heading into this season, the biggest challenge for Krzyzewski

is replacing his top three scorers from a year ago – Duke’s only

three players to average in double digits. Nolan Smith, the 2011

ACC player of the year, Kyle Singler, the Most Outstanding Player

of the 2010 Final Four, and Kyrie Irving, the top pick of the NBA

draft, accounted for 52.8 percent of the team’s scoring.

Seth Curry, who averaged 9.0 points last season, is Duke’s top

returning scorer, and Mason Plumlee – one of four players 6-foot-10

or taller – will likely be counted on to provide more offense.

“How we incorporate our (big men) into what we’re doing, both

offensively and defensively, is a change from the last couple of

years,” Krzyzewski said. “And so there (are) some habits to break

as far as how we score, how we defend.”

Curry and Mason Plumlee each scored 30 points in two exhibition

games, with Plumlee going 14 for 14 from the floor.

Rivers also looked solid in starting both preseason games,

totaling 25 points on 10 of 18 shooting. He is expected to help

immediately.

One of three 2011 McDonald’s All-Americans joining Krzyzewski’s

team, Rivers finished his prep career as the second-leading scorer

in Central Florida high school history with 2,957 points.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a lot of years now … waiting

to play college basketball,” said Rivers, the son of Boston

Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “And now that I’m here at Duke, great

players and a great coach and our schedule, I’m very excited to

play.”

Rivers and his teammates could be in for a test.

The only previous meeting between these programs came in the

first round of the 2008 NCAA tournament, with Duke escaping with

71-70 victory thanks to a Gerald Henderson layup with 12 seconds

remaining.

Belmont enters this season with some high expectations, albeit

not quite as lofty as the Blue Devils’.

Coming off a 30-5 season that included both Atlantic Sun

regular-season and conference tournament titles, the Bruins

received eight votes in the AP preseason poll – a mere 1,293 fewer

than Duke.

“We greatly appreciate the recognition and confidence voters

have shown in us,” coach Rick Byrd told Belmont’s official website.

“But we understand that it is of more importance, and significance,

to be worthy of such consideration later in the season.”

The Bruins, who lost 72-58 to fourth-seeded Wisconsin in the

NCAA tournament, hope this season ends with a fifth trip to the

tourney in seven years.

Belmont, which outscored its opponents last season by an average

of 17.5 points – tied with Ohio State for the nation’s largest

scoring differential – has the ability to greatly disrupt opposing

offenses. The Bruins forced an average of 19.0 turnovers,

third-best in the nation.

While Duke is counting on some new faces to carry its offense,

Belmont returns its top three scorers and six of its top seven.

Ian Clark, named to the preseason all-Atlantic Sun team along

with teammates Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders, averaged a

team-best 12.2 points in 2010-11.

Although the Bruins have some experience, they’ve lost 12

straight games to ranked opponents since a 71-67 victory at No. 23

Missouri on Dec. 20, 2003.

The Blue Devils, winners of 12 straight games over Atlantic Sun

opponents, have won 11 consecutive season openers since falling to

then-No. 13 Stanford in overtime in 1999.

They’ve also won 86 straight home games over non-conference

opponents – the longest current streak in the country – since an

83-82 loss to St. John’s on Feb. 26, 2000.