2008-2009 Record: 30-7, 11-5 ACC (t-2nd)
Key Losses: Gerald Henderson (16.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg), Elliot Williams (4.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg), Greg Paulus (4.9 ppg)
Key Returners: Kyle Singler (16.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Jon Scheyer (14.9 ppg, 2.8 apg), Miles Plumlee (1.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg), Nolan Smith (8.4 ppg)
Newcomers: Andre Dawkins, Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly
The last few seasons, Duke has been notorious for two things - relying on the three-ball to score and their pressuring, over-playing, man-to-man defense. But as the Blue Devils lose so much from their perimeter - Gerald Henderson, Elliot Williams, and Greg Paulus - we are going to be seeing a much different Duke team.
The biggest reason is that the Devils are going to be loaded on the interior this season. It starts with seniors Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas. Zoubek had some fairly high expectations coming out of high school, but has never really found the consistency to be a real factor in ACC play. He isn't strong enough to battle down low and he isn't quick enough to really be a threat on the offensive end. Thomas has been a solid role player in this three years. An excellent athlete with a great motor, Thomas, who may end up coming off the bench, will provide Duke with defense and hustle.
The fact that two seniors may be relegated to the bench should tell you about the potential of this Duke front line. The crown jewels are the Plumlee brothers. Miles, a sophomore, had trouble earning a spot in the rotation last season. He struggled a bit offensively and seemed to get lost at times on the defensive end, but there is no denying his potential. At 6'10", 240 lb, Miles has the build to be an excellent shot blocker but he also has the skills and the athleticism to be a dangerous player on the offensive end. The question is will he put it all together?
Mason, a freshman, might have even more potential. He is a better athlete and more skilled offensively, and while Miles will be stronger in the paint this season after a summer in the weight room, Mason seems to be more of a face-up player. Mason will wreak havoc on the defensive end with his length and should be very dangerous in the open floor.
The other freshman big man is Ryan Kelly. Kelly should be able to fit in at Duke immediately. A lot of scouting reports you read about him are going to say that he plays a "European style". What that means is that the 6'10" Kelly has an offensive game based on the perimeter. He is an excellent shooter with range out to the college three, but he is also a decent ball handler and an excellent passer. Kelly may need a year to become an ACC caliber player on the defensive end, but he definitely will be contributing to the Devils right away.
And then there is Kyle Singler. What can I say about Singler that hasn't already been said? He is one of the best forwards in the country, and will get a chance to prove his ability playing almost exclusively as a three this season. He can shoot, he can get to the rim, he will defend, he can pass, he can rebound. The kid is simply a basketball player, and one of the best in the country. ACC player of the year and first team all-american? Its very possible.
As I said, the back court is where the issues will be this year. Duke only has three guards on the roster - Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer, and Andre Dawkins. Smith is the guy a lot of people are saying will be the x-factor of this team. He is going to be starting at the point, and Duke is going to need to him to live up to the hype he had coming out of high school. An excellent defender and athlete for the point guard spot, Smith's offensive ability has been a bit inconsistent in his first two seasons. While he has shown flashes, he hasn't been the all-around scorer and playmaker he was expected to be.
You know what you are going to get out of Jon Scheyer. He's a heady scorer with a knack for hitting tough shots in the mid-range. An under-appreciated defender, Scheyer is a kid who was looked over a bit from a national perspective. The biggest issue for Scheyer is that he struggles when he has to play off the ball. Not because he doesn't have the ability, but because he is unable to take advantage of his size and strength against bigger defenders. Scheyer played his best basketball last season when Elliot Williams was moved into the starting line-up. All of a sudden, the big, strong, and athletic ACC two-guards were defending Williams, and Scheyer was able to go against the smaller point guards, taking advantage of his superior size and strength.
Which is why the signing and development of Andre Dawkins will be so important. Dawkins, who decided to enroll at Duke early instead of attend a fifth year of high school, is an extremely athletic 6'4" wing. He can score, he can defend, and he can get to the rim and finish. But will he be able to compete in the ACC as an 18 year old? If yes, than that will allow Scheyer to play a lot of minutes on the ball. If not, than Dawkins is still going to be playing a lot of minutes. Duke has no one else.
Outlook: The Blue Devils have a lot of potential on this team, and it is too early to peg them right now. I can see this team putting it all together and winning the ACC en route to a Final Four trip. But I can also see their bigs struggling inside, Nolan Smith unable to carry the torch, and the Dukies ending up outside the top 25 most of the year. With their size, length, and athleticism across the front line, and thanks to Coach K's time spent this summer with Jim Boeheim, Duke will be playing more zone than in years past. Will these guys learn to be effective in it? My prediction: 11-12 ACC wins, 24 or 25 wins on the year, and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen as a 4 or 5 seed.