Duke begins NIT Season Tip-Off play

Nov. 17, 2013 @ 02:55 PM

To earn a chance to show it learned something from a loss to Kansas last week, Duke will need to win games in the next two days.

The No. 4 Blue Devils begin play in the NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament as one of four host schools by playing UNC-Asheville tonight (7 p.m., ESPNU) at Cameron Indoor Stadium

East Carolina (3-0) and Norfolk State (2-1) will play the second game of tonight’s first-round doubleheader tonight at Cameron.

The winners play Tuesday, with Duke facing either Norfolk State or East Carolina at 6 p.m. and Monday’s losing teams playing the second game of the doubleheader.

Whichever team wins two games over the next two days will advance to New York’s Madison Square Garden for the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals on Nov. 27.

The four host teams are No.4 Duke, No. 6 Arizona and unranked teams Alabama and Rutgers.

The Blue Devils (2-1), having lost to No. 5 Kansas 94-83 last Tuesday night in Chicago, bounced back with a resounding 97-64 win over Florida Atlantic on Friday night at Cameron.

But for Duke to show it has improved from that Kansas performance, the games in New York will offer the best tests. That’s particularly true for the potential NIT Season Tip-Off championship game matchup with Arizona that could occur on Nov. 29.

In the meantime, Duke will face UNC-Asheville (1-2) as a team that is still searching for precision at both ends of the court.

“Our team is young together,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Obviously Jabari (Parker) is a really good player but he’s just played his third college game. Everyone says he’s really good and he is, but he’s not who he’s going to be. This is not like having Ryan (Kelly) and Mason (Plumlee) and Seth (Curry) where they already knew who they were. And so there’s a lot of growing that needs to take place.”

Kelly, Plumlee and Curry, the senior stars on last season’s 30-6 Duke team, have moved on to professional basketball. Parker, the outstanding freshman forward, is headed there some day, too.

He’s averaging 23.3 points and 8.3 rebounds over his first three games. But for him to help Duke play its best while he’s in a Blue Devils uniform, the team needs experience playing together. They’ll get that over the next two nights.

The Blue Devils will seek to improve their team rebounding, which has been an area of weakness so far. A taller Kansas team gained a 39-24 rebounding edge over Duke and

Florida Atlantic was able to secure 16 offensive rebounds despite its lopsided loss to the Blue Devils.

“I’m sure Mike (Krzyzewski) is not crazy about their rebounding the ball defensively,” said Florida Atlantic coach Mike Jarvis, the former St. John’s and George Washington head coach. “We are normally not a good rebounding team offensively but we got a lot of rebounds so I know that is something they are going to be working on.”

Rodney Hood, Duke’s  6-8 redshirt sophomore forward who scored 28 points against Florida Atlantic, said defensive cohesion is something the Blue Devils seek as well.

“Defensively, (our focus was on) playing more together,” Hood said of the Florida Atlantic game. “I think we hugged our men (against Kansas) rather than helping each other out and shrinking the floor.  And I think we did a great job of that (against FAU), and we actually pressured the ball. That’s a big thing that we have to do, especially when we start playing bigger teams – we have to pressure the ball.”