*College basketball is here (unlike the NBA), and this year might be one of the best in recent memory. The powerhouse is back, while the Cinderellas believe. That’s a deadly combination. We know some of y’all have been asking for some previews. We have you covered â€“ the top 16 teams in the nation will be previewed individually in the next few weeks. After we broke down Louisville earlier today, we’ll keep this going with the team everyone loves to hate, No. 6-ranked Duke (ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll).*
Disclaimer: I am a shameless Duke fan who goes to the University of Oregon. I have no relationship to Duke or even the state of North Carolina. My only excuse to “why are you a Duke fan?” is that they won the National Championship in 2001 when I was an 11-year-old bandwagoner who liked their jerseys and that tall white guy (Mike Dunleavy). I’ve been to Cameron once but not for a game. I applied to Duke and framed my declination letter.
The following will be biased.
Well…this one’s pretty easy. Coach K is the best coach in college basketball, probably the best coach in all of basketball – and in my biased opinion – currently the best coach in all of sports. He’s won four national championships at Duke, been to 11 Final Fours, won 13 ACC championships, an Olympic gold medal with arguably the most talented – yet egotistical assortment – of athletes ever to be contrived, oh – and he’s been offered the Lakers job like 47 times. Look up the word “loyal” in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of this beautiful polish man (told you it’d be biased). Coach K is the reason Duke is a national championship contender year in and year out. His incredible ability to stay poised in the most hostile of situations, to stay seated on the road while his team blows a 12-point lead, his refusal to call a “momentum stopping” timeout after the opposition has just made consecutive threes to bring the home crowd to a deafening roar. His Herculean-like ability to get his players’ attention as he slowly rises from his seat to call a play or make the slightest of adjustments. That menacing scowl that haunts officials into- never mind… This is what makes him the best. This is why he will be the all-time winningest coach in men’s Division I basketball history. And you know what, I’m just glad my bandwagon-ass has him on my side.
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With arguably the best backcourt in the country, Duke will once again rely heavily on their 1s, 2s and 3s. Seth Curry will attempt to do his best John Scheyer impersonation as he moves from shooting guard to point guard a la 2010 when Duke won their fourth National Championship. Austin Rivers and Andre Dawkins give Duke an absolutely lethal perimeter, with Rivers serving more as the break-you-down-off-the-dribble slasher and Dawkins more of the three point specialist. Both will need to improve their on-ball defense as well as their movement without the ball, but expect these three to put up big numbers. Freshman Quinn Cook and sophomore Tyler Thornton will battle for the back-up point guard position in what should be a fascinating series of events. Cook is the prototypical point guard with elite court vision and that fearless East Coast mentality. Thornton is the best on-ball defender on the team, something Coach K absolutely covets. His lack of offensive firepower however seems to be what regularly holds him back. If Cook’s troubled knee can hold up, don’t be surprised to see him sneak into the starting lineup in February and March.
In terms of the bigs, Duke returns both Plumlees as well as Ryan Kelly and Josh Hairston. If you watched Duke’s exhibition games in China this summer, Ryan Kelly is a different player. After shedding some weight and strengthening his core, Kelly is more aggressive than ever. Senior Miles Plumlee also made tremendous strides in China, thus leading to his anointment as senior team captain. We’re (yes, I use we when referencing Duke) still waiting for Mason Plumlee to emerge into the unstoppable force that we know he can be, but he’s shown some progress in the two exhibition games that have been played so far. This will be one of Duke’s deepest teams, (I didn’t even mention Alex Murphy and Michael Gbinije, two freshmen who most definitely will have an impact this year) a characteristic they’ve so rarely possessed in past years. So look for a lot of threes, a lot of alley-oops, and maybe even some full-court press with this potential Grand-Canyon-deep rotation.
First and foremost, can Seth Curry play the point? But more importantly, can he play it well? Seth is an elite shooter with a knack for getting in the lane and simply making plays. But will his skill set translate smoothly in the facilitating role? Going from scorer to distributer will be foreign at first, especially in tight games when his scoring instincts are pleading to take over. Next up – the bigs. Can Duke get any offensive production this year from their bigs? Based on what I saw in China, I would think so. Kelly has developed a nice turn-around fallaway to go along with his 15-18 foot jumper, and Miles Plumlee seems to finally be comfortable with his back to the basket. His jump hook looks promising, we (there it is again) just need his brother to stop traveling every time he touches the ball at the block. Side note: every time Mason gets a post entry, watch the opposing bench as they all rise from their seats and motion the traveling signal for the duration of his possession. Yea, it’s bad…
This isn’t one of Duke’s strongest teams, but it’s definitely one of their deepest. And though they don’t have the senior leadership like last year (Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler – god I miss them), they do have four juniors and a senior who can hopefully fill that void. But don’t get me wrong, Duke is the preseason No. 6 for a reason. This is one of the best shooting teams in the country, playing for a coach who lives and dies by the three. They have loads of talent, maybe the most lethal (definitely the most confident) freshman in the country. Bottom line, look for Duke to win their fifth national championship in what will later be described as the most lopsided title game in the history of college basketball. Go to Hell Carolina, go to Hell (I told you I was biased)!
All photos courtesy of Jon Gardiner, Duke Photography.
Does Duke have enough inside to compete for a championship? Is that the x-factor?
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