In the wake of an injury to a starter, two experts are in disagreement over what the Duke basketball starting lineup should look like at Michigan State on Tuesday night.
Note: This "Experts exchange words" series resumes each time site experts Matt Giles and Kevin Connelly decide to spar over a Duke basketball matter. Depending on which one is arguing against an opinion the other previously published, we'll apply the apt subtitle: "Matt mouths off to Kevin" or "Kevin knocks Matt down a notch."
Experts exchange words: Matt mouths off to Kevin
Now that freshman Cassius Stanley — a starter across No. 10 Duke's 7-1 start — is out until least after Christmas with a hamstring injury he suffered in Friday's home win over Winthrop, the Duke basketball team's makeshift starting lineup needs to balance what matters most: scoring and defense.
Furthermore, taking into account the quality of the next opponent and the game's sure-to-be raucous environment, Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski should institute the "What have you done for me lately?" approach when deciding which lineup will take the floor for the tip. In other words, at No. 11 Michigan State on Tuesday at 9 p.m. (ESPN), Duke cannot afford a slow start.
If Krzyzewski opted for Ball Durham co-site expert Kevin Connelly's proposed experience-driven starting five -- replacing Stanley with either of Duke's junior guards, Alex O'Connell and Jordan Goldwire, while keeping the other four recent starters the same -- then the Blue Devils would face unnecessary risks.
With a starting five that includes O'Connell, who started seven games last season and three of the first four this season, Duke would potentially have to wait for Mr. Unpredictable — granted, he'd best make up for Stanley's absence in terms of bounce — to rediscover his confidence.
After averaging 11.0 points through three games, he has scored five points combined across the five games since (0-for-8 from downtown during the stretch), seeing only single-digit minutes in each of the past three. Maybe O'Connell is due to provide a spark against the Spartans, but banking on that by starting him, after what we've seen of late, seems unwise.
With Goldwire as a starter, and without also inserting another sharpshooter into the group, Duke would be taking an unnecessary gamble by having no proven 3-point weapons across positions one through three.
That said, Goldwire does have plenty to offer from the get-go in games. Offensively, though he's not much of a creator, he rarely makes mistakes. Defensively, he picks pockets and passes like no other — i.e., he could serve as a perfect tone-setter.
Plus, by occasionally guarding an opponent's primary ballhandler, Goldwire can give starting point guard Tre Jones a bit of a breather without the sophomore co-captain even having to head to the bench.
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Therefore, Goldwire should fill in for Stanley as the starting two-guard. However, in order to compensate for his lack of offense, sophomore Joey Baker should replace freshman Wendell Moore as the starter at small forward (Moore has started the past four outings while Baker has never started for Duke).
After all, until Baker's hand cools off — 24-for-45 from deep across all appearances in a Duke basketball jersey, including 9-for-15 spanning the past five games — keeping this invaluable piece of the team's overall arsenal on the bench either at the start or for long stretches doesn't seem to make much sense.
Neither does curbing his ability to dictate a game's momentum through his intensely positive vibes. Though Baker is an admirable cheerleader from the bench, his sometimes-lackadaisical teammates need to regularly feed off his energy up close — sometimes by way of a two-handed floor slap, a program tradition he dusted off for these Blue Devils a few games back.
As for Moore, it's true he played a huge role a week and a half ago in Duke returning from its trip to Madison Square Garden with a trophy in tow. Altogether, though, his performances have been wildly inconsistent and turnover-prone (2.9 per game). Now, no doubt he's beginning to learn the pace of the college game; by settling down, he's also finding his place on this team.
As for now, though, Moore's place should be on the bench to start — at least until Baker proves he's capable of missing more than one or two 3-point attempts in a row. Besides, the thought of Baker and Hurt taking turns splashing shots from all around the arc is simply too sweet to pass up.
Of course, all this being said, chances are Coach K decides on a starting five against Michigan State that differs from any Ball Durham has put forth. By that time, though, we'll all already be on to exchanging words about something else, hoping it all just somehow leads to a Duke basketball win down the road on April 6.