Welcome to Division I, North Carolina Central.
The Eagles’ first game since jumping from Division II is Friday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, among the toughest venues in college basketball and a building where Duke has not been a warm host to its season-opening visitors in recent years.
The 13th-ranked Blue Devils have won their last 25 home openers and their 51-game home winning streak in non-conference play is the longest in the nation. They’ve won their last seven season openers by an average of 28.4 points.
They also have more motivation this season than usual.
Duke finished 22-11 last season and fell to 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It was the Blue Devils’ worst season since 1995-96, also the last time they lost in the first round of the NCAAs.
“I’m OK with someone saying, ‘Coach, you didn’t do as good a job.’ My team actually did a pretty good job, but not in comparison to that standard,” said 28th-year coach Mike Krzyzewski. “A team can suffer a little bit from what’s expected of that coach. And I don’t want that.”
But the expectations are again lofty as Krzyzewski has another highly regarded team. Duke only lost one starter (Josh McRoberts) and 18.6 percent of its scoring while adding another recruiting class loaded with former McDonald’s All-Americans.
All three of this year’s freshmen earned that honor last year. The best of the bunch is Kyle Singler, a 6-foot-8 forward from Medford, Ore., who averaged 25.0 points and was Duke’s leading scorer in two exhibition games. In those contests, Singler hit all 19 of his field-goal attempts from inside the 3-point line.
“He’s obviously a special player,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a two-handed player. He plays every second he’s out on the court. If every kid anywhere, no matter what their abilities, played every second they’re on the court, they’d all be better.”
This year’s lone senior, guard DeMarcus Nelson, led the Blue Devils with 14.1 points per game last season, while sophomore Jon Scheyer (12.2) and junior Greg Paulus (11.8) also averaged double digits. Those numbers could increase this year in a new up-tempo system installed by Krzyzewski, who said he plans on utilizing his team’s depth and use at least a 10-player rotation.
The first test comes against N.C. Central, located across town from Duke in Durham. The Eagles won the Division II national title in 1989, but finished 13-15 last season, including a 2-10 record on the road.
They graduated their top three scorers after finishing eighth in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and losing in the league quarterfinals, but made the jump to Division I, where they’ll compete as an independent.
Duke and N.C. Central have never met in the regular season, but they did play exhibition games each of the last three seasons. Duke won all three by an average of 42 points.
“Both programs felt that their entrance into Division I, for our community and to show the great relationship we have between North Carolina Central and Duke, it’s really the only matchup you can have for them,” Krzyzewski said.
The Eagles’ schedule doesn’t get much easier. They play 21 road games, including two more against ACC teams Wake Forest and North Carolina State and a matchup with two-time defending national champion Florida next Wednesday.
N.C. Central’s only returning starter is junior guard Bryan Ayala, who averaged 9.9 points per game last season.