It’s amazing the kind of talent turnover we see with a program like Duke. Most programs, never mind how happy they would be to have the kind of players Duke gets to begin with, would be devastated to lose two top tier seniors and the best freshman in the nation to the NBA Draft, but Duke is going to have the claim of having brought in the #1 Prospect of all high school students, Austin Rivers. He’s coming out of Winter Park and is well known for being the son of NBA legend and current Celtics coach Doc Rivers, and he should be far better than his father, much as Stephen Curry is to his father, Dell.
Odds of Duke Winning 2012 NCAA Championship: 10/1
Rivers should see big minutes from day one and he will be teamed with another good freshman in Quinn Cook, a 6’0″ water bug point guard from the famed Oak Hill Academy that has churned out so many high level NBA players.
The Blue Devils also bring in an entire front court of freshman, as well. 6’11” Marshall Plumlee is the third Plumlee brother to come into the program, with brothers Mason and Miles having played big roles last season. Marshall at 6’11” stands an inch taller than his two older brothers and should make a difference as a shot blocker and rebounder immediately.
Also in the front court the Devils have freshman Michael Gbinje and Alex Murphy, who will have to fight hard for playing time on a talented Duke team. Murphy is a lot like recent grad Kyle Singler, and should carve out a nice name for himself in the ACC.
Josh Hairston will likely see more minutes this season, though. The 6’7″ sophomore only played 6 minutes a game last season, while appearing in only 27 games, but he has worked hard to improve his conditioning to be in better game shape.
Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins are both deadly shooters in the backcourt and combined for 17.1 points per game last year, along with both having shot better than 42% from the arc. They are joined by Tyler Thornton who is already a good defender, but must find a way to make more meaningful contributions offensively to earn more minutes than the 9.9 he saw per game last season. The aforementioned Rivers and Cook will round out what should be one of the best backcourts in basketball this season.
Can this all be enough to make Duke the best in the ACC? It’s tough to say. Perennial foe North Carolina will be right there with Harrison Barnes and crew, and Mason Plumlee is going to have to make the next step as a player and a leader now that he is an upper classman. He and Curry will have to take charge on a Duke team that has no seniors. Rivers may end up being a one year player for Duke, but they are bound to get a brilliant one year from him. With a coach like Coach K, though, Rivers may see the merit in sticking around for a few seasons to learn before making the jump to the pros. That would be the hope of signing such a recruit anyway.
Regardless of what happens, Duke is going to be making another run. I would be surprised to see them out before the Sweet 16 round, and they could reasonably get to the Elite 8, or even the Final Four. They don’t seem to have the same makings as the truly elite teams in the NCAA, but with a talented host of freshman and some strong incumbents, they have the pieces in place to be a tough team as usual.
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