Tuesday night marked the first major test of John Scheyer's tenure as the lead man for Duke Basketball.
While the Devils were unable to pull off a victory over the 7th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks, falling 69-64, there are a lot more positives than negatives to be taken away from the game.
I'm sure when asked, John Scheyer would give us the cliche' coaches schpeel about how there are "no moral victories" but the fact of the matter is that a 5-point neutral court loss to the defending National Champions without potentially your best player (Dariq Whitehead) and another of your top options (Dereck Lively) limited, has to be looked on positively.
The Blue Devils completely manhandled the Jayhawks on the boards all night to the tune of 21 offensive rebounds and 46 rebounds total including 14 for Kyle Fililpowski. Filipowski also added 17 points despite shooting just 6-18 from the field but the rebounding numbers certainly alleviate some concern about how this young Duke frontcourt will handle the physicality of other top teams. Dereck Lively was able to add 4 offensive boards in just 20 minutes of play as well and should see his production increase substantially when his minute restriction is reduced.
Tyrese Proctor struggled with his shot again going just 3-9 but you can see the game slowing down for him out there and with the addition of Whitehead over the next few weeks taking some of the scoring pressure off, I expect Proctor will be a reliable option by conference play much in the same way Jeremy Roach was able to step into a bigger role last season.
The main concern of the night was Ryan Young. Young was expected to give the Blue Devils a veteran presence in the front court and to bring some much-needed experience to the locker room. The problem is Young's athleticism (or lack thereof) was a constant target of the Kansas offense, particularly in pick and roll. It will be interesting to see how Scheyer handles the big man rotation going forward with Christian Reeves, a raw but ultra-athletic freshman, sitting on the bench. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Reeves have a midseason emergence similar to Mark Williams a couple of years ago if Young continues to struggle.
A lot of people expected (hoped) that the Blue Devils would be completely in over their heads against the defending Champs. All in all, Duke looked like a very young team that is still learning how to win big games. But the fact that they showed up and played competitively with a highly-ranked team that is laden with veteran talent should put the rest of the country on notice that this squad is as dangerous as any.
It's still way too early in the season to make any bold proclamations but based on what we've seen out of Duke so far and what we have yet to see, it seems pretty safe to say there won't be much of a dropoff in Durham this season.