2009-10 record: 35-5 overall, 13-3 ACC (first)
Postseason: NCAA Tournament (6-0, national champions)
Projected starting lineup: G Kyrie Irving, G Nolan Smith, G Seth Curry, F Kyle Singler, F Mason Plumlee
• More scoring options
Duke won a national title with three consistent, viable scoring options. This team returns two of those parts, in seniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, and adds two more in freshman point guard Kyrie Irving and sophomore transfer Seth Curry.
Plus, sophomore forward Mason Plumlee, who missed the preseason and six games with a wrist injury last year, is healthy. The younger Plumlee has NBA tools and the potential to provide consistent interior scoring, which Duke has lacked for the better part of the last five years.
While departed guard Jon Scheyer was tremendous, particularly his decision-making, Irving is a more dynamic point guard. Add Curry, a shooter's shooter, to that mix, and Duke's got more octane in its offense.
The last four Duke teams have labored, particularly late in the season, to score points. They wanted to grind out wins in the 60s. This Duke team will be more like the 2001 and 2002 versions, which routinely cranked the tempo into the 90s and 100s.
Talent goes far (see Kentucky), but only so far (see Kentucky). You want talent that has played together and has a shared experience.
I picked Duke last summer (when other people were picking UNC) because the familiarity Singler, Smith and Scheyer had with each other. UNC had more talent on paper, but the Tar Heels had never fought together. This Duke group has undergone a transformation from an also-ran to UNC to national champions.
Duke's got a real team, not just a collection of talent. True, there are valuable parts missing from last year's team but the experience of Singler and Smith together — with the Plumlees — is invaluable.
• Dirty work
Duke was built like a good hockey team last year with top-line scorers and third-line plumbers. Forwards Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek not only understood their role as rebounders, defenders and screeners, but embraced that role.
Mike Krzyzewski will be pliable with his personnel, and won't attempt to plug different parts into the same template, but the selfless element that Thomas and Zoubek contributed to the Big Three will still need to be present.
Junior forward Miles Plumlee has hard-hat credentials, as does freshman forward Josh Hairston, who is cut from the Lance Thomas mold, but will they be as effective as Thomas and Zoubek?
• Hunter > hunted
There was no shortage of motivation for last year's Duke team. It was easy to get lost in all the UNC hype, and no doubt Krzyzewski played that to the tilt, but the "No respect" card is gone, that's what happens to national champions.
Their motivation — and let's face it, Krzyzewski's is the master of this — will have to come in the form of a pursuit of history. That can be complicated carrot to dangle in front of team that has every right to be satiated.
As Urban Meyer learned at Florida last college football season, keeping a champion motivated isn't easy, no matter how talented.
This Duke team has the talent, experience and right-place, right-time alignment to match the 1999 team's 19-0 ACC exacto.
At some point, Scheyer's poise and late-game, shot-making will be missed but the down moments will be few and far between for this team.
Singler and Smith will take so much pressure off of Irving and Curry that those two young players will have the luxury of merely playing their games. And they both have the opportunity to be exceptional.
And this team will have more flexibility, in terms of going big or small, and finding a mismatch for Singler, instead of leaving him in one spot.
The trips to Virginia Tech and Florida State could be dicey, but either way, 14-2 looks like the worst-case scenario.
Anything less than a return to Houston, where Duke won the South Regional last year, for the Final Four would have to be considered a disappointment.
|Returning players ||Yr. ||PPG ||RPG ||APG |
|F Kyle Singler||Sr.||17.7||7.0||2.4|
|G Nolan Smith||Sr.||17.4||2.8||3.0|
|F Miles Plumlee||Jr.||5.2||4.9||0.3|
|G Andre Dawkins||Soph.||4.4||1.1||0.3|
|F Mason Plumlee||Soph.||3.7||3.1||0.9|
|F Ryan Kelly||Soph.||1.2||1.1||0.4|
|Gone ||PPG ||RPG ||APG|
|G Jon Scheyer||18.2||3.6||4.8|
|F Brian Zoubek||5.6||7.7||1.0|
|F Lance Thomas||4.8||4.8||0.9|
|New ||Yr. ||Ht. ||Wt. ||Rank |
|G Kyrie Irving||Fr.||6-1||170||2|
|F Josh Hairston||Fr.||6-8||215||33|
|G Tyler Thornton||Fr.||6-2||180||—|
|G Seth Curry (Liberty)||Soph.||6-1||175||—|
Recruiting analysis by Dave Telep, scout.com:
Irving: "He's a game-changer and at Duke that means you alter the national landscape. He has improved every facet of his game and he'll be tough off the bounce, ready to lead and his talent doesn't come around often."
Hairston: "His game took a step up last season as he polished up his perimeter play to mid-range. Think Lance Thomas with more offense."
Thornton: "He could have wavered once they got Irving but he never did and that speaks to his character and team play. He's a defensive specialist, four-year player and a coach on the floor."-- Joe Giglio