Sunday, December 11, 2011

season preview: Duke

Duke Blue Devils

Media prediction: 2nd

Last season:

Record: 32-5 (13-3); ACC 2nd seed
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
KenPom: 2nd of 345

Returning scoring: 50.5%
Returning rebounding: 58.8%
Returning assists: 44.0%

2010-11 All-ACC:

1st team: G Nolan Smith, F Kyle Singler
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
HM: F Mason Plumlee
Rookie: none
Defensive: G Nolan Smith

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Seth Curry (Jr.)
SG: Austin Rivers (Fr.)
G: Andre Dawkins (Jr.)
F: Ryan Kelly (Jr.)
C: Mason Plumlee (Jr.)


F Miles Plumlee (Sr.)
G Tyler Thornton (So.)
G Quinn Cook (Fr.)
F Josh Hairston (Fr.)

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (31st season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Once: Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, NC State, Virginia

"The ACC is down in football because even though it has many good teams, it doesn't have any dominant ones."

"The ACC is down in basketball because even though it still has a couple dominant teams, it doesn't have as many good ones top-to-bottom."

Dear media: This is why you suck.

Anyway, Duke.  Because they are Duke, they're still one of the league's dominant teams, and will be as long as the country's best recruits shut off their recruiting the moment they get that offer postmarked from Durham, North Carolina.  They may not help the ACC's cause this year as much as usual, though.

Duke has won every one of its matchups this year but one, you see, and in that one they went to Columbus and got their ass beat by Ohio State.  Their other results are lackluster relative to Duke expectations.  Michigan by 7.  MSU by 5.  Tennessee by 10.  Washington by 6.  These are their margins of victory.  Of course, we are splitting hairs here.  98% of teams in the country would love these results.  Duke is still a Team To Beat.

It starts, I think, at the three-point line.  Everyone not named Plumlee has license to shoot them, and they do it very well.  Ryan Kelly is a particular matchup nightmare for teams, because he's 6'11" and shoots threes like a guard.  Seth Curry is lightning-quick, and it's awfully frustrating how well he can open up shots for himself.  And he's 30-for-32 from the free-throw line so far, which is over 93% - outstanding.  And like Kyrie Irving last year, Austin Rivers looks like the real deal as only a freshman.  (Rivers is also a nonstop talker and rapidly establishing himself as everyone's new favorite Dookie to hate.  A lot.)

So not only does Duke have shooters who can hit from everywhere, they've got a plethora of tall center-types, mostly named Plumlee.  Mason Plumlee is the star of the group; he's shooting a whopping .645 from the field (and an incredible .381 from the charity stripe, and no I don't have those numbers backwards) and, according to KenPom, has a 29.6 defensive rebounding percentage, meaning he snags 29.6% of the available ones when he's on the floor.  That's good for 9th overall, in the country.  (Duke has every fucking Plumlee brother, all of whom have trouble fitting in the family minivan, and still the nerve to complain about never getting any good post players.)

So why hasn't Duke beaten everyone by 30?  Because eventually, they have to substitute.  And this just isn't as deep a Duke team as usual.  Outside the starting five, it's very young; the team's only senior is Miles Plumlee, who doesn't really dominate.  Mason is far more talented.  Tyler Thornton plays 20 minutes a game and hardly ever shoots.  It would be interesting to see what happens if any of the starting five get hurt; it would take a lot of points out of the lineup.  The line between the starting five and the bench is sharp and clear, and the main rotation only goes seven deep; they're pushing into Seth Greenberg territory here.

Duke also has, interestingly, an A/T ratio below 1 at the moment.  This is not because they don't take care of the ball, but rather because a highish percentage of their baskets are unassisted - fewer than 50% of their field goals have an assist attached.  Nevertheless, they have the 7th-best offense in the country as KenPom has it - every bit as good as their crosstown rivals in Chapel Hill, who have so far been anointed the ACC's top team.

Duke obviously will be parking themselves in the NCAA tournament, and if they're even as low as a three seed it'd be a surprise.  That assumes health, however; they have national title hopes that won't survive a long-duration injury like Irving's broken foot from last year.  I think eventually in the tournament they'll find a team that's more than their match, and they'll be prone as well to upsets due to their reliance on the three-ball and lack of depth.  But with a starting five as talented as any you can find, so a national championship is always within the realm of possibilities, and any team that beats them can be duly proud of themselves.

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