Saturday, December 8, 2012

season preview: Duke

Duke Blue Devils

Media prediction: 2nd of 12

Last season:

Record: 27-7 (13-3) - ACC 2 seed
Postseason: NCAA 2 seed; lost in first round
KenPom: 20th of 345

Returning scoring: 70.1%
Returning rebounding: 67.6%
Returning assists: 78.3%

2011-2012 all-ACC:

1st team: G Austin Rivers
2nd team: none
3rd team: G Seth Curry
HM: none
Defensive: none
Rookie: G Austin Rivers

(italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Quinn Cook (So.)
SG: Seth Curry (Sr.)
G: Rasheed Sulaimon (Fr.)
PF: Ryan Kelly (Sr.)
C: Mason Plumlee (Sr.)


G Tyler Thornton (Jr.)
F Amile Jefferson (Fr.)
F Josh Hairston (Jr.)

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (33rd season)

ACC schedule:

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

Yeah, Duke is still Duke.  It was fun watching them go down in flames against Lehigh last year, but they don't ever really go away.  And they've put together an impressive season-opening run that should serve notice that they have no intention of giving up the title of gold standard any time soon.  Their win over Kentucky has lost a little after a couple more Wildcat losses, but if you think Kentucky's not making the tourney you're nuts.  Quality wins over Minnesota, Louisville, and Ohio State have given Duke one of the best starts to a season they've had in ages.

This Duke team is getting back to what Duke has been successful with in the past.  Three seniors are pacing the Blue Devils, an improvement in their situation over letting one-and-done Austin Rivers run the show.  There's still something to be said for senior leadership, and these are familiar faces.  Mason Plumlee has blossomed into a seriously unstoppable force down low; he's shooting an incredible .654 from the field, rebounds everything, blocks shots, shoots free throws, and is basically the early front-runner for ACC POY.  Seth Curry knows about 100 ways to score and is dangerous from everywhere on the court.  Ryan Kelly blocks even more shots than Plumlee, because he's 6'11" and is rarely asked to guard anyone anywhere near that tall.  Kelly has a small forward's game in a center's body, which isn't really fair.

Point guard Quinn Cook was thought of as a potential one-and-done candidate, but he's come back to run the offense for a second year, and is doing a nice job of it.  He's added the three-point shot to his game; this season so far he's made just three fewer threes than he did all of last season, and in fewer than half the attempts.  Duke rounds out their starting lineup with freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, who has actually taken more shots than anyone else on the team, but is fitting in better than Rivers did.  Partly because the show doesn't revolve around him the way it did Rivers.  Sulaimon is a less efficient player than the rest of his lineupmates, but it's not like he's bad, he just looks that way compared to the fairly star-studded lineup around him.

This would be the part where I tell you about Duke's unfairly deep bench from which they rotate guys in and out with little drop-off in play, but they don't have one.  Besides Tyler Thornton, who is essentially a three-point specialist (and who barely averages two shots a game despite getting 22 minutes) nobody else off the bench is averaging double-digit minutes.  Forwards Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson only get spot minutes, meaning Duke is mainly rolling with a six-man rotation.  The rotation might open up a bit when Marshall "I Have No Ambition To Get Out From The Shadows Of My Brothers" Plumlee returns from a stress fracture in his foot, suffered in October practice.  Right now, though, big brother Mason almost never comes out of the game.

So a little foul trouble could go a long way in playing Duke, but nobody's been able to make that happen yet.  And yes, obviously an injury would make a big dent, and they might wear down at that rate etc. etc., but even if Seth Curry's leg falls off or Ryan Kelly gets hit by a tank, they've got more than enough talent to carry them to a win on any given night.  They'll be favorites in their every game this year, the likely top seed in the ACC tourney, and their November-December success has probably locked them up a #1 seed already, assuming they don't lay a massive turd in the ACC season.


Anonymous said...

This is a scary good Duke team. With Cook blossoming into a quality point guard (reminds me of Will Avery, of course Will Avery bolted way too early for the NBA), with a stretch 4 and a solid post guy, this is a classic Duke squad. Add in that both Curry and Sulaimon can attack the rim, and they can create space for Plumlee and their shooters.

The bench isn't bad. It's just young, like ours. Whether or not Coach K is forced to use his bench, only time will tell. Marshall Plumlee is still out, but if talk is to be believed, he was looking great and might be the best Plumlee brother. Alex Murphy offers a stretch 4 option off the bench if something happens to Kelly. Amile Jefferson offers, I guess, a slashing 4 or a big 3. Actually makes me think of Akil Mitchell/Darion Atkins a bit. Josh Hairston is a solid defensive big, and Tyler Thornton is arguably their best perimeter defender.

From a health perspective, they can't afford a loss on the perimeter, as that would thin the bench way too much, with Sulaimon starting. I don't think they want Murphy or Jefferson getting a lot of minutes at the 3. They have interior depth. This will be a tough team to beat. Kelly can defend the post well-enough. There isn't an apparent hole. Of course, some will argue that if you have a quality athletic big, attacking Mason will work, but how many quality athletic bigs are there in the NCAA.

On paper, this looks like Coach K could have a good 2-3 year run. With Rodney Hood, Semi Ojeleye, and Matt Jones coming in, they'll have their wing depth next year They still are in the mix for Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins. The big questions for next year are whether or not Marshall Plumlee and Alex Murphy develop to replace Mason and Ryan Kelly, and whether or not Quinn Cook leaves, because even if Andre Dawkins comes back, Dawkins/Thornton/Sulaimon (and that's if he stays, but their wing additions would minimize the hurt from losing him) would be a worrisome point guard combination for them.

Anonymous said...

Don't think they have a shot with Wiggins.

Brendan said...

Yeah, lemme clarify that about the bench cause I didn't really get it right the first time. The players they've got would get solid minutes on a lot of ACC teams. Hairston could start for a few; Jefferson as well. But Coach K doesn't show any inclination to use them. They blew out Temple and Hairston was a rebound away from a 5-trillion. That's overdoing it.

Anonymous said...

I don't think they have a shot at Wiggins either, but with Parker, they are the favorites as of now, or last I heard.

They might run into problems in 2 years, though. It's hard to see Cook lasting more than 1 more season if he continues to progress. Sulaimon could bolt by the end of his junior year, and so could Rodney Hood (obviously, depends on how they develop, but from a raw talent perspective, the ability is there). It's not hard to envision Parker, if he goes, going on a mission or turning pro early. If Marshall Plumlee is as good as some of the rumors suggest, he can't be ruled out either as someone that turns pro early.

But I think they should have a very good run this year and next.

Anonymous said...

Taking a minor pivot for a moment, but does anyone feel like our baseball team is being under-rated/hyped a bit, nationally and in the ACC.

I certainly recognize that with so many youngsters, there's a level of unknown as it relates to their maturation/development. Thus, I recognize this team could scuffle at times. I'm also not taking anything away from other teams - North Carolina and NC State sure look loaded, and FSU looks to have a solid squad again.

That said, there's a nice core of offensive pieces there already, and a good crop of arms (this year and next). It's not hard to see some similarities between this upcoming season and a few moons ago when Parker was a sophomore, with a stud freshman lefty coming in (Hultzen), a couple solid veteran arms in the rotation and pen (Lewicki/Morey, Packer/Crockett). Obviously, there's some differences with that squad.

Comparisons don't mean much, though. What's important is what this team can do, and if they get good enough pitching, I think they should be in most of their games this year. The hitting should be that solid. It wouldn't surprise me if our boys made a charge in the ACC.