Duke Blue Devils
Media prediction: 2nd of 12
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%
1st team: G Austin Rivers
2nd team: none
3rd team: G Seth Curry
Rookie: G Austin Rivers
(italics indicate departed player.)
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)
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.