Belmont-Duke Preview

BY foxsports • November 10, 2011

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.