The Duke Blue Devils (35-5, 13-3 ACC) are probably the best team in the ACC and they may also be the best in the nation. Last season, the Devils tied for first in the ACC and then went to the Big Dance where they won it all. You wouldn’t say last season that Duke was the best team in the country, but they proved to play the best when everything was on the line. It was a validation of sorts for their coach as in recent years Mike Krzyzewski’s teams had been knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the early rounds. People were starting to wonder about the strength of the program. Now they’re wondering if the word “repeat” will be in their vocabulary this season.
The Duke frontcourt features senior Kyle Singler (6-8, 230 lbs., SR, #12, 17.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.0 spg, 35.9 mpg, .415 FG, .399 3PT, .798 FT) at small forward. Last season, after playing two years in the post, he moved to wing. It took Singler some time to adjust to his new position, but once he did he started to pour it on. When all was said and done, he was the MVP of the Big Dance. Duke caught a big break this season when Singler decided to stay in school for his senior year rather than turning pro.
While at Duke, Singler has worked to go from being a good player to a great one. Over his first three seasons, he’s slowly improved his point production, assist/turnover ratio and three-point shooting percentage. Also, he ‘s gone from being a nonentity on defense to a massive force. As a player, he offers versatility as he can play either the post or the wing, depending on the situation.
This season sophomore power forward Mason Plumlee (6-10, 230 lbs., SO, #5, 3.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 14.1 mpg, .462 FG, .543 FT) will be asked to step into the starting spot. When you look at his numbers from his first season, you wonder if Plumlee, who is considered to be a top pro prospect, has the chops to get the job done. At 6-10, he’s got the height and last season, after sitting out a month due to a broken wrist, he eventually came around and showed some true flashes of talent and inspired play.
For the Blue Devils he was the force who came off the bench to inject the team with energy and drive when they needed an extra spark. He’s got a good shot from the floor, and it’s expected that he will take a big leap forward from his frosh to his sophomore year.
Miles Plumlee (6-10, 240 lbs., JR, #21, 5.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 16.4 mpg, .561 FG, .661 FT), Mason’s older brother, is the team’s starting center. Last season, after putting in a humdrum freshman season, he made big strides as he started 24 games and posted four double-digit performances as a rebounder and seven as a scorer. In 2009-2010, he turned into a center who had true double-double potential; this season, he’s expected to give this team numerous double-double performances.
The elder Plumlee, a former high jump title-holder, has prodigious leaping ability that he can use to dominate shooters and the area around the rim. Midway through last season, he started his breakout year, this season he looks to continue where he left off.
Will coach K start freshman point guard Kyrie Irving (6-2, 175 lbs., FR, #1, 24.7 ppg, 6.5 apg)? Irving comes to Duke with a reputation for being a game-changing playmaker. On the U.S. U18 team, he put in several clutch double-double performances in big games. Krzyzewski is willing to adjust how Duke plays the game in order to utilize Irving’s talents. He’s counting on the kid who looks to replace Scheyer, who was a stable force and shot maker, to bring a whole new wrinkle to the Blue Devils.
Nolan Smith (6-2, 185 lbs., SR, #2, 17.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.2 spg, 35.5 mpg, .441 FG, .392 3PT, .767 FT) now a senior, is back to play wing guard. In his first two seasons, it was clear that he had talent and skill, but it was unclear if he would ever find the consistency needed to be a solid starter. Last season, Smith found that evenness in his play and became a reliable shooter from the perimeter. He’s also turned into a very effective on-the-ball defender.
If Smith, who devoted himself to working out and playing ball this summer, comes back even more improved than he did the year before, he could put up even bigger numbers, becoming a backcourt force that every team will have a hard time controlling.
Off the bench, the Blue Devils have some depth at the shooting and power spots. Sophomores Seth Curry (6-1, 175 lbs., SO, #30, 20.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.3 apg, 36.5 mpg, .417 FG, .347 3PT, .832 FT) and Andre Dawkins (6-4, 190 lbs., SO, #20, 4.4 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 12.6 mpg, .397 FG, .379 3PT, .735 FT) can both deliver from downtown. Curry is also a premium foul shooter. At power forward, talented freshman Josh Hairston comes in with a reputation for knowing how to play the game, while sophomore Ryan Kelly (6-10, 230 lbs., SO, #34, 1.2 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 6.5 mpg, .356 FG, .263 3PT, .667 FT) comes back this season having added a lot more muscle and bulk to his frame. He’ll use his transformed body to be more effective under and around the basket.
On offense last season, Duke proved to be first in the nation with an efficiency mark of 123.5. Their defense was also excellent as they ranked fourth at 85.9. That balance is something the team will be looking to achieve again this year. Duke was fairly average on two-point offense (47.0%) and on blocked shots (9.8%). Where they excelled was at the charity stripe, where they hit 75.9% (8th). The national average was 68.9%.
Another huge asset was their offensive rebounding ranking, as they were 7th nationally at 40.3%. While the Blue Devils hit 38.5% (25th) of their threes, their three-point defense, which allowed opponents to convert on just 28.3%, was second nationally. The point being, the Blue Devils forced teams to the outside and when they did, they gave them very few chances to easily convert their attempts.
Krzyzewski (868-279 in 34 years, 795-220 in 30 years at Duke) certainly knows talent but more importantly he knows how to mentor that talent. In 30 years at Duke, he has coached the team to four national titles. His tournament record stands at an impressive 77-22. He’s been to the Final Four 11 times, won 12 ACC Tournament Championships and 12 ACC Regular Season Championships. This season, it looks like 13 could be his lucky number.
Who’s number one nationally? Right now it’s the Duke Blue Devils. This is a team that has a topnotch starting five and a very good bench. Plus, they’ve got an extraordinary coach. Last year, they surprised many by winning it all. This season, with every team in the nation gunning for them, they could very well repeat as National Champions.
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