Seth Curry will take over the point guard duties this season. (Icon SMI)
By Mark Cunningham
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
Duke Blue Devils
Last Season: 32-5 (13-3 ACC)
Key Losses: Kyrie Irving, Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith
Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Seth Curry 6-2 Jr.
SG: Austin Rivers 6-4 Fr.
SF: Andre Dawkins 6-4 Jr.
PF: Ryan Kelly 6-11 Jr.
C: Mason Plumlee 6-10 Jr.
Key Reserves: Miles Plumlee 6-10 Sr. C, Quinn Cook 6-0 Fr. PG, Michael Gbinije 6-7 Fr. SF, Alex Murphy 6-8 Fr. SF, Marshall Plumlee 6-11 Fr. C, Tyler Thornton 6-1 So. PG
Some teams rebuild. Others reload. Duke falls into the latter category, possessing the best freshman ammunition in the ACC and trails only Kentucky nationally in that regard. Seventy percent of the points Duke scored in its season-ending loss to Arizona came from players not on the 2011-12 roster.
Despite losing three players (Kyrie Irving, Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith) who went in the top 33 selections of the NBA Draft, the Blue Devils aren't expected to miss a beat. Mike Krzyzewski enters his 32nd season in Durham with 900 wins, only three shy of passing Bob Knight as the winningest men's basketball coach in Division I history. If Duke opens the season by beating Belmont and Presbyterian at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Coach K will have his first crack at the record in Madison Square Garden against another legendary coach, Tom Izzo, and his Michigan State Spartans.
Perhaps Krzyzewski can borrow Doc Rivers' services until the NBA lockout concludes. Doc's son, Austin, has received rave reviews on the recruiting scene since around the time his older brother, Jeremiah, began his college career at Georgetown. Jeremiah didn't live up to expectations with the Hoyas and, eventually, at Indiana. However, Jeremiah didn't have Austin's skill set. Even the best defenders in the ACC will be having nightmares preparing for Rivers' NBA range and uncanny ability to create shots. The son of an NBA all-star, Rivers is accustomed to the spotlight and won't feel the pressure that putting on a Blue Devil uniform brings to most 19-year-olds. Look for number 0 (Rivers' high school number, 25, was worn by Art Heyman in the early 1960s and is now retired) to knock down a few clutch shots in what will likely be a short stint in Durham. Could Duke have guards go No. 1 in the draft in consecutive years? Don't be surprised if that happens.
Rivers will make up one of the best backcourts in the country alongside Seth Curry. Stephen's younger brother saw a decrease in production transitioning from the Big South to the ACC. With the amount of attention defenses will show Rivers, Curry could have a barrage of 3-point attempts coming his way. Curry was much more efficient with his shot selection from behind the arc last season. A 34.7 percent clip at Liberty rose to 43.5 as a sophomore at Duke. As a Flame, Curry heaved over eight treys per game compared to just four per game last year. If he can get more open looks as a result of playing with Rivers, his points per game will climb back into the teens. Freshman Quinn Cook, a McDonald's All-American, may be a better true point guard than Curry. The Oak Hill Academy product has a superior court sense and will find Rivers from anywhere. Florida is probably the only program with more weapons at the guard spot than Duke.
Krzyzewski's frontcourt consists of not one, not two, but a staggering three Plumlee brothers. The Atlantic Coast Conference has never seen three brothers composed on one roster. The Indiana natives reunite for the first time since leading their high school to a state championship in 2008. Will all three see the court together? That's unlikely. Freshman Marshall Plumlee could be redshirted, but he'll still enjoy the unique opportunity nonetheless.
"It takes patience to grow at your own speed," Marshall said. "But I'm happy to be part of the mix and to have Mason and Miles show me the path."
No matter how well Duke's guard play is, Mason and Miles need take their respective games to another level in order to upend North Carolina for the conference title. Albeit younger, Mason outshone his older brother, Miles, as a sophomore. Miles really came on strong in the ACC tournament (All-Second Team) and needs to carry that type of play on a consistent basis as a senior.
Combo-forward Ryan Kelly developed as a sophomore after not contributing much as a freshman. At times, Krzyzewski could send out three players 6-feet-10 or higher with Kelly at the small forward position. At 6-foot-11, Kelly isn't afraid to step behind the arc and shoot, highlighted by a 4-for-4 performance against Wake Forest last season.
Tournament success has eluded Duke in recent years, with only one Elite Eight appearance in the last seven seasons (2010 National Championship). While this group lacks experience, the depth it possesses might be unmatched during Coach K's tenure. North Carolina is still the ACC favorite and a Final Four showdown between the Tobacco Road rivals would send New Orleans into a tizzy.