|Austin Rivers :: Sara D. Davis/AP |
As he stands on the cusp of history, Mike Krzyzewski's 32nd season at Duke will be met with a program reboot. With 900 career wins, Krzyzewski needs two victories to tie his mentor, Bob Knight, for the alltime record and three break it. He'll likely get there in November, but he'll do so with a team that will look nothing like the squad that went 32-5 and won the ACC Tournament before bowing out in the Sweet 16.
The Blue Devils lost a pair of senior stalwarts in ACC Player of the Year Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, plus freshman guard Kyrie Irving, who showed enough skill during his injury-shortened, 11-game season to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. These departures have caused Duke's perimeter-oriented team from last season to transform into this year's version featuring a deep, but not yet proven, frontcourt along with a talented, but mostly inexperienced backcourt.
While Duke lacks a dominating post player, the Blue Devils possess depth and experience that should provide defensive toughness and rebounding. Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee were regular starters last season, while Miles Plumlee started occasionally and was a solid player off the bench. Kelly made a big jump in his sophomore season, contributing points from the perimeter and inside while teaming with the Plumlees to guard the basket well. His three-point shot (31.9 percent) wasn't consistent, but his strength and passing ability make him valuable.
The 6-foot-10 Miles Plumlee became a serviceable cog in the rotation last year while averaging 17 minutes per game. He's not likely to develop into a double-figure scorer but should provide solid rebounding and defense with additional minutes. Junior Mason Plumlee possesses the highest ceiling. He started 32 games, averaging 7.2 points and 8.4 rebounds last season while blocking a team-high 62 shots. More consistent play could make him the kind of double-double regular Duke needs. A third Plumlee brother, 6-11 freshman Marshall, will fight for playing time in the paint.
Sophomore Josh Hairston, an athletic 6-7 forward, saw few significant minutes last season as he adjusted to the physical nature of Division I basketball. His improvement in conditioning will determine how much he'll contribute, while freshman Alex Murphy could force his way into the rotation.
Leading the backcourt is Duke's top returning scorer, junior guard Seth Curry (9.0 ppg). Curry and fellow junior Andre Dawkins bring the most experience, but are both score-first players who will need to provide regular double-figure scoring nights for Duke to be a top-10 team.
Freshmen Austin Rivers and Quinn Cook will provide athleticism and talent. A natural scorer, Rivers will play from Day 1, while Cook has a chance to seize the point guard minutes. Their development, when and if it comes, is crucial to Duke's success.
"It's kind of a rite of passage, from being a good player to being an outstanding player," Krzyzewski says. "Some guys make it freshman year. Some guys do it along the way. I'm looking forward to seeing who does that."
With so many proven players gone, Krzyzewski faces a season in which roles will develop as time wears on. He's not worried, though. "We have talent," Krzyzewski says, "and that's a good place to start."
North Carolina is the overwhelming favorite in the ACC, but Duke is the clear No. 2 pick. If Mason Plumlee emerges as a consistent force and the freshman guards are as good as advertised, a trip to the Final Four is well within reach.
Quinn Cook (G, Fr.): Was rated the nation's top senior point guard.
Michael Gbinije (G/F, Fr.): Will struggle to find playing time in deep frontcourt.
Alex Murphy (F, Fr.): Like Gbinije, the deep frontcourt will squeeze his playing time.
Marshall Plumlee (F, Sr.): Third Plumlee brother will work his way into the rotation.
Austin Rivers (G, Fr.): A high-level scorer who was the nation's top backcourt recruit.