Sunday November 23rd, 2014

Before the start of the 2013-14 season, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, “He likes to eat his young.”

Brey, who was an assistant under Coach K for eight seasons, was referencing Krzyzewski’s impeccable record against his protégés. Coming into Saturday night’s match with Stanford in the championship game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Brooklyn, Coach K was 18-1 all-time vs. his former assistants. Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins, a Duke legend and 10-year assistant on his former coach’s staff, became the latest victim.

No. 4 Duke defeated Stanford 70-59 to improve to 5-0 on the season, while the Cardinal (3-1) dropped their first game of the year. With the win, Duke upped its record to 8-2 all-time in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic and captured its second CvC Classic title. The previous one came in 2008.

Here are three thoughts on the game:

1. Duke is not as big a three-point threat as it is traditionally  

The reason for this is two-fold. First, the addition of 6-foot-11 star center Jahlil Okafor changes the dynamic of the Duke offense. The No. 1 recruit in the 2014 high school class collected 10 points and 12 rebounds on 4-of-10 shooting vs. Stanford and is the most talented frontcourt weapon Coach K has had in recent memory. The Blue Devils will be, and should be, looking inside more often. Krzyzewski said he wants to get Okafor at least 20 shots per game, and with a big man who has the athleticism and skill set that Okafor possesses, you’d almost expect that number to be higher.

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Duke also does not have the quality of three-point shooters it’s had historically. Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon are good, but not great, options to be firing from distance and aren't the type of shooters for whom an opponent prepares or adjusts its game plan. They pale in comparison to great Duke shooters of the past 15 years, namely Mike Dunleavy Jr, J.J. Redick or Jon Scheyer. Cook (4-for-9 on 3-pointers) did have a solid night shooting but is prone to streakiness, and the rest of the Blue Devils shot just 5-for-16 from behind the arc.

Freshman Grayson Allen, a top-100 recruit from Jacksonville, is the Blue Devils’ best pure shooter, but he’s played just 38 total minutes in the team's first five games and didn't see the floor on Saturday. Justise Winslow has a nice stroke but is far more dangerous as a slasher. Tyus Jones has range, but is better served driving and distributing. For the first time in a while, Duke has a more balanced, in-and-out offensive approach and as a result is that much harder to stop.

2. The Blue Devils’ talented freshmen won’t be the reason they win a national championship

Duke edged Kentucky for last year’s No. 1 recruiting class, and while Okafor, Winslow, Jones and Allen have the talent to lead Duke to glory, the leadership of veteran role players Cook, Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson will be the reason Duke does or does not cut down the nets in Indianapolis.

Freshmen-laden teams are just that: compiled largely of freshmen. In tight games, especially in the ever-competitive ACC, experience often trumps talent. Who executes better in a late-game scenario? Who doesn’t let a hostile road environment get the better of him? Who remains calm when the game seems to be getting out of reach? It’s situations like these when you want the ball in composed, veteran hands. In Cook, Sulaimon and Jefferson you get just that, but with little talent drop off. It’ll be difficult to knock off a team with that DNA in March.

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3. Stanford has Sweet 16-level talent and could compete with Arizona for the Pac-12 conference title

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This will be the year that Stanford makes a push for Pac-12 supremacy. The Cardinal start three fifth-year seniors, have formidable size and quickness, and multiple scoring threats. Chasson Randle led all scorers Saturday night with 22 points and will be a first-team All-Pac-12 performer. Anthony Brown (11 points) will average double-figures. Freshman Reid Travis, a McDonald’s All-American, is arguably Stanford’s most talented player, despite a mediocre performance (two points, 1-for-7 FG) Saturday night.

Add in big man Stefan Nastic (13 points, 13 rebounds) and Stanford causes all sorts of matchup problems for smaller teams. After upsetting Kansas last season in the Round of 32, Dawkins & Co. have their eyes on another trip to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend. Stanford won’t surprise anyone any more, as it shouldn’t. At this point, anything less than a top-three conference finish should feel like a disappointment.

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