Published November 11, 2011
| Sports Network
Durham, NC – The sixth-ranked Duke Blue Devils open up their 12 season in Durham this evening, as they welcome the Belmont Bruins to Cameron Indoor Stadium in opening round action of the Maui Invitational.
Mike Krzyzewski closed out last year with his 900th career victory and is now just two wins shy of matching Bob Knight for the most in NCAA history. The Blue Devils, who are coming off a 32-5 season, including a second-place finish in the ACC at 13-3. The Blue Devils own the nation's longest homecourt winning streak overall (36 games) and against non-conference opponents (86 games).
Rick Byrd has been a fixture at Belmont for a quarter century. His Bruins won the Atlantic Sun Tournament a year ago, earning an NCAA Tournament bid for the fourth time in the last six years. Belmont was the first team in the nation to reach the 30-win mark a year ago (30-5 overall).
Duke is a perfect 12-0 in the Maui Invitational, which expanded to include on- campus first-round games in 2011.
The Blue Devils won the only other meeting between these two teams, a 71-70 in opening round action of the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
The Bruins were terrific a year ago, winning 30 games and making an appearance in the NCAA Tournament yet again. Belmont returns nine players from that team, including a pair of talented senior frontcourt players in 6-9 Mick Hedgepeth and 6-10 Scott Saunders. Hedgepeth averaged 10.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last season, while Saunders posted 9.9 points and 5.2 boards. Senior point guard Drew Hanlen is also back, and is the floor general for the Bruins. Hanlen is a really fluid player, who averaged 23.2 minutes per game and started all 35 games for Belmont last season, leading the Atlantic Sun in assist to turnover ratio. Ian Clark will help along the perimeter. The 6-3 junior led the team in scoring (12.2) last season and was the Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year in 20-09-10.
The Blue Devils haven't missed an NCAA Tournament since 1995 and this year should continue that trend. The Blue Devils led the conference in scoring last season, but most of that production is gone with the departures of Kyrie Irving (top pick in the NBA Draft), Nolan Smith (ACC Player of the Year) and Kyle Singler. Still, there is plenty of talent in Durham and a quick infusion of youth should keep Duke among the nation's elite. The most promising of the young talent is 6-4 freshman Austin Rivers. Son of Doc Rivers, the silky smooth McDonald's All-American is already the best pure player on the Duke roster and could very well be the best player in the country. Other freshmen of note include 6-8 forward Alex Murphy and 6-0 point guard Quinn Cook. All three will play plenty this season for Coach K. Veterans that will be counted on include guards Seth Curry (9.0 ppg) and Andre Dawkins (8.1 ppg) and forwards Mason Plumlee (7.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and Ryan Kelly (6.6 ppg).