Odds to win Title: +500
2017-18 Record: 29-8 (13-5 ACC)
NCAA Tournament: Lost to Kansas in Elite Eight
The Duke Blue Devils have a lot of turnover heading into this season. It will have five entirely new starters. To think that is problematic is to ignore the quality of the recruits. R.J. Barrett heads to Duke, as the No.1 ranked player in the recruiting class. In addition to that, it also managed to land Zion Williamson, a literal cannonball at 285 pounds who is somehow still able to perform free throw line dunks. Tre Jones will be one of the top players at the 1-spot, and he was ranked top-15 in the class, too.
And then there is Joey Baker, whose shooting alone makes him plenty valuable, and also a top-35 recruit in his own right. Duke spent much of last season centering its play around Marvin Bagley and its big men, but this year it will be a more well-rounded offensive team, and probably also a more talented team, overall.
NCAA basketball oddsmakers concur, listing Duke as the favorite alongside Kentucky to take him the 2019 NCAA title.
What Coach Mike Kryzewski likes most is the fact that his players are versatile, or “position-less” to use his precise verbiage. He also feels that Tre Jones is the type of point guard who can keep the ball moving through Duke’s talented cast of performers, not one who will let the ball stick in his hands or waste time with pretentious dribbling shows (something Coach K does not tolerate at any rate).
Marques Bolden is sort of facing a must-breakout season now, after coming in as a top recruit in 2014 but spending his first two seasons battling nagging injuries. At nearly 7-foot, he is a strong defensive force in the middle who should be able to deter plenty of slashes to the rim. He managed to get some consistent time last year off the bench, but the notion that he is merely “scratching the surface” of his true potential is real. He will be a force defensively, with the proverbial “if” he can manage to stay healthy finally. Duke is hardly limited to playing him at the 5-spot, though.
It can go small and put Javin DeLaurier at center, and he is an excellent offensive rebounder who led the team in O-Rebound rate a year ago. The real draw will be Zion Williamson though. At 6’7” 285 he is almost not built like a basketball player, and then one sees the amazing things he can do, particularly with his dunking abilities.
The question marks on Williamson are legitimate, though, as he dunked “so” much at the high school level that many question the overall well-roundedness of his offensive game. For Duke to invest in the youngster, it most certainly is there, but the question really is what Zion can do when he is not dunking. We will find out in due time.
In the backcourt, Duke has the younger brother of former standout and NBA talent Tyus Jones, Tre. Coach K said Tre has better athleticism than his older brother and that he is a better penetrator. Considering that, it should set up plenty of plays for him to “dump it off” to Williamson and Bolden around the basket. Penetration almost always frees up easier looks, and Duke stands to benefit from having a point guard capable of breaking down and collapsing both man and zone defenses.
With Tre, the Devils will start either Barrett or Reddish, and both of them are expected to be high picks in the 2019 NBA Draft. Barrett is a multi-positional talent at 6’7” who should translate well to the next level, but while at Duke he can take advantage of his mid-range game or get to the bucket with the best of them. His three-point shot is shaky but not awful. He is mostly a streak shooter, for better or worse, at this point.
Reddish has a better looking and better-producing jump shot, and he is an excellent defender. One can easily envision him becoming a “Three and D” prospect in the NBA, and his strength should enable him to bully small forwards while his speed will overtake power forwards. More of a hybrid than a tweener, his future is bright.
Duke has more than ever had to overcome chemistry issues with the vast turnover due to its “one and done” players. Coach K is also fully a senior citizen at age 72, so he took the summer off from his usual Team USA duties.
Hopefully, with enough energy in his mind and body, he is hoping he can return Duke to the Final Four, a mark it has missed oddly enough for three-years straight now.