- Duke will not have a lot of experience on its roster this season, but with senior Grayson Allen back, it should be in position to rebound from a disappointing 2016-17 campaign.
The college basketball off-season is long and largely lacking in major news developments. Programs are still finalizing their 2017 recruiting classes and sorting out which of their players will return for another season or jump to the professional ranks. We’ve got a long way to go until Midnight Madness. To help pass the time, SI.com is asking and answering three key questions about each of the teams in our Way-Too-Early Top 25. Here’s No. 4, Duke.
1. Who will be the Blue Devils' fifth starter?
Four of Duke’s five starters for the 2017-18 season seem close to set in stone: freshman big man Wendell Carter, sophomore big man Marques Bolden, senior guard Grayson Allen and freshman guard Trevon Duval. Mike Krzyzewski and company hoped to land five-star recruit Kevin Knox, a small forward who eventually picked Kentucky in early May, thus filling that fifth spot. Now Duke will have to spend the summer and early fall determining who gets the nod.
My best guess would be Gary Trent or Jordan Tucker. Both freshman wings likely have the talent to start immediately, and it comes down to the question of which pairs better with the first team and which could potentially carry the second unit. That obviously remains to be seen—and this lineup will certainly be tweaked as the season goes on—but it seems like Trent and Tucker should have the best chances at locking down one of those spots. Tucker will need to get stronger, and at 6’5”, Trent will have to hold his own against taller players, but it’s because of these guys that Duke had the no. 2 recruiting class in the country this spring.
2. How big of a deal is it that Coach K won’t have any USA Basketball duties this off-season?
This will be one of the Blue Devils’ youngest teams in terms of players who will see real playing time; there are six incoming freshmen on next season’s roster, and among returning players, only Allen played in more than 25 games in 2016-17. That means there will be a steeper learning curve than ever in terms of getting this year’s team on the same page, and having a coach who isn’t even the tiniest bit tired from a packed summer won’t hurt.
This year’s roster is just another example of how the Blue Devils’ outlook has evolved in the past five years. Once a place where players graduated—or at least played multiple years—Duke has now become a hot spot for one-and-dones. That’s not to say it didn’t see players leave after one year until recently (see: Kyrie Irving) it just didn’t have the volume that it did in seasons like the last few. This spring, Duke had three freshmen—Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Frank Jackson—leave for the NBA, and that model is working. Still, it also involves a fair amount of coaching legwork on the front end of the season.
3. What will Allen’s senior year bring?
Throughout his time in Durham, Allen has been one of the Blue Devils’ most polarizing players. Many were surprised when he decided to return for a fourth season at Duke, but that choice certainly gives Coach K and company a better shot at a title in 2018.
Allen is probably the most famous player in college basketball, and he’s never been a guy anyone considered could make the early jump to the NBA wildly successfully. That’s not to say he won’t have a solid career at the next level—just that more than likely, he’ll have peaked in college. But add in his history of suspensions, and Allen’s legacy becomes even more complex. He has a target on his back. That’ll mean more negative attention directed Duke’s way, but the Blue Devils are used to that, and the upside of having a senior leader can’t be understated. A year ago, Allen averaged 14.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Those numbers alone are a testament to his talent, and a repeat performance could be just enough to push Duke from a great team to the best.