Friday night's game will be the regular season opener for both the Panthers and Blue Devils. Each team won a pair of exhibition games. Duke beat Winston Salem State by 24 and Western Washington by 18. Meanwhile Georgia State defeated Life by 23 and Albany State by 20. For the Panthers, there was noticeable improvement.
“We improved a great deal from our first exhibition game to the second,” said head coach Ron Hunter after the win over ASU. “You could tell that we were nervous in the first half against Life, but we came out with much better intensity against Albany State. We will need to play with great intensity against Duke."
With a roster that has 10 underclassmen, Hunter is hoping to have his team prepared and focused for the spotlight of Cameron Indoor Stadium and a nationally televised game.
"I will continue to remind my team that we are playing the players on the court on Friday, not the logo on the jerseys. I have a great deal of respect for Coach K and the Duke program and so do our players. However, our guys have played against most of those guys whether in high school or in AAU and will definitely be up to the challenge on Friday night."
Friday's game will be the first meeting between the two programs. The Panthers have never defeated an ACC program in 23 chances.
"I really wanted to test our team early. Obviously playing Duke to open the season will be a challenge, but I wanted to test our team early." - Ron Hunter
"It’ll always be an eight-man rotation. It’s what I’m comfortable with. I thought about going a bit deeper but I’m not." - Ron Hunter
"I’ve got Burger King guys, they’ve got McDonald’s guys. My Burger King guys have to play up to McDonald’s guys. We don’t have to beat them out-of-seven. We only have to play them one time. For one night, my Burger King guys have to beat McDonald’s guys." - Ron Hunter
Hunter Legacy: A former three star recruit with offers from Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Iowa, Cincinnati, and Miami, R.J. Hunter certainly had his choice of high major destinations. Instead he chose to stay home and play for his father, the now second year coach at Georgia State. In his first two exhibition games, the younger Hunter averaged 26.0 points, six rebounds and four assists. He shot 57.1 percent from the floor, 53.3 percent from three-point range and 80.0 percent from the free throw line. An interesting note for the Hunters is this is the first season the 19 year coach has ever coached his son:
"No, he has never coached me one second,” said Hunter of playing for his father. “It is going to be awkward at first but I think it will be good."
On the ball defense: Duke is breaking in a new starting point guard with sophomore Quinn Cook taking over the reigns in Durham. In two preseason games Cook has struggled with turnovers, committing nine turnovers against just four assists. Against Hunter's Panther squad Cook will face a team that averaged 9.3 steals per game. That trend of tough, on the ball defense and darting into passing lanes continued in the preseason as Georgia State forced 40 turnovers including 28 steals in two contests.
Preseason team building: Prior to the preseason schedule kicking off, Georgia State traveled to South Africa for a team-guiding exercise. Unlike other programs who travel abroad in order to play a number of late summer games, the aim of the this trip was to work with a non-profit organization charged with distributing shoes to children in South Africa. The trip included a number of charitable activities and also allowed the team to visit the various sightseeing points of the country. More importantly, according to Hunter, the team came together and grew closer:
"It's just their mentality and how they communicate with each other," said Hunter of the trip's benefit. "One of the things that I thought would be a big problem with this team that I haven’t seen yet was mental toughness."
Dynamite guard: A season ago the Blue Devil defense was certainly below expectations. One of the biggest questions surrounding Duke this season is how the team will defend off the dribble. It'll start with Cook, and his first big test of the year will come Friday when he lines up opposite of junior lead guard Devonta White. A season ago White scored a team high 12.9 points per game, while recording three assists and 1.8 steals per night. White started 33 of 34 games during his sophomore season and is known for quickness with the ball and the ability to break down a defense. After sitting out the first exhibition game, White returned against Albany to score 19 points and hand out seven assists while making seven of eight free throws. For his career, White is a 76 percent free throw shooter and enters Friday's game having made 17 straight free throws in regular season games.
New blood: The Panthers will likely play just eight players on Friday night. Of those eight, two are true freshmen (Hunter and Markus Crider), and three more are transfers - Manny Atkins from Virginia Tech, Cameron Solomon who played at High Point University and then Brevard Community College, and Denny Curguillos who played two seasons at Casper (Wyo.) College.
NUMBERS TO NOTE
- The Blue Devils have won 30 consecutive home openers and are 31-1 in home openers under Mike Krzyzewski. Duke’s last loss in a home opener was a 76-75 double-overtime defeat to Vanderbilt on Nov. 28, 1982.
- The Blue Devils have won 12 straight season openers. The last loss in a season opener came in 1999 when Duke opened the season with a 80-79 loss to Stanford in The Opening round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in New York City.
- Duke is 78-29 all-time in season openers, including a 30-2 mark under Coach K.
- Duke has been ranked in the top 10 of the AP Poll for an amazing 94 straight weeks. The Blue Devils have been a top 10 team since November 19, 2007.
12 Devonta White (5-10, 170, Jr.) - 12.9 ppg, 2.9 apg
22 R.J. Hunter (6-5, 175, Fr.) - N/A
23 Manny Atkins (6-6, 205, R-Jr.) - N/A
33 Markus Crider (6-6, 205, Fr.) - N/A
50 James Vincent (6-10, 260, Sr.) - 3.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg
25 Rashaad Richardson (6-4, 185, Jr.) - 5.4 ppg, 1.4 rpg
21 Cameron Solomon (6-3, 170, R-So.) - N/A
45 Danny Burguillos (6-7, 230, Jr.) - N/A