Duke Basketball: Who Will Be the Alpha-Blue Devil in Durham for 2013?

Jimmy Kelley@JimmyKelley_Correspondent IApril 16, 2012

Duke Basketball: Who Will Be the Alpha-Blue Devil in Durham for 2013?

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    Duke basketball has a tradition of producing some of the finest college basketball players in the history of the sport. Every year the Blue Devils boast one or two players who unequivocally own the team and leave no doubt about who will be in possession at the end of the game.

    In 2010 it was the three-headed monster of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith who took the reins. Each player stepped up in crunch time, carrying Duke to the national championship.

    2011 belonged to Smith. While Singler was still around and Kyrie Irving's influence was obvious, Smith raised his game to the next level en route to ACC Player of the Year honors.

    2012 was a bit of an identity crisis, but Austin Rivers stepped into the role of alpha-Devil late in the season. The obvious coming-of-age moment for Rivers came in the North Carolina game in Chapel Hill when Rivers buried the game-winner over Tyler Zeller as time expired.

    But who will step into that role in 2013?

    With Rivers gone to the NBA, there is an obvious opening for that position and Mike Krzyzewski is taking all applications. Here is a look at the possible takers for this prestigious role.

Mason Plumlee

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    • Senior
    • 6-foot-10, power forward
    • 11.1 points per game
    • 9.2 rebounds per game
    • 57.2 percent field goal shooting

    Mason Plumlee is the leader in the clubhouse for the position at the moment. After deciding to hold off on the NBA for now, Plumlee will be expected to be that go-to post scorer that Duke has lacked in recent years.

    Looking at his raw numbers, it is easy to see how even slight improvements would make him that transcendent player. His per-game averages of 11.1 points and 9.2 rebounds were good enough to land him on the All-ACC Third Team.

    The glaring hole in Plumlee's game is his free-throw shooting. His career mark of 50.5 percent is bad enough, but the inconsistency of his numbers are just as concerning. After shooting 54.3 percent as a freshman, that number dropped to 44.1 percent as a sophomore before climbing back up to 52.8 percent this season.

    As we have seen with the "Hack-a-Shaq" routine in the NBA, it is never good to have your go-to player struggle from the free throw line. If Plumlee can become a decent free-throw shooter, he would quickly become a dominant offensive player.

Seth Curry

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    • Senior (5th year)
    • 6-foot-2, shooting guard
    • 13.2 points per game
    • 42 percent field goal shooting
    • 38.3 percent three-point shooting

    Seth Curry created a lot of buzz when he transferred to Duke from Liberty following the 2008-09 season. Much of this had to do with the sensational season his brother, Stephen, had in 2008, but he certainly brought a big game with him to Durham.

    Curry had a bit of a breakout year this season after sitting behind Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith in 2010-11. Curry was second on the team in scoring at 13.2 points per game and trailed only Andre Dawkins (67) in made three-pointers with 64.

    Like his brother, Seth does his best work from the outside and is an elite outside shooter. He functions best when in drive-and-kick situations, which is easy to see when looking at the decline in his shooting percentage from 2011 to 2012.

    With Smith in 2011, Curry shot 43.5 percent from three due to Smith's ability to dish out of the lane. With Austin Rivers in 2012, Curry's percentage dropped to 38.3.

    Next season, Quinn Cook will likely play most of the minutes at point guard, which should open up more catch-and-shoot opportunities for Curry.

Rasheed Sulaimon

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    • Freshman
    • 6-foot-3, shooting guard
    • McDonald's All American
    • No. 12 in ESPNU 100

    Mike Krzyzewski has been on a roll on the recruiting front the past few seasons. Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers were both top recruits who will have long NBA careers ahead of them, and Rasheed Sulaimon could be the next in that line.

    Sulaimon is more like Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins in that he does his best work off the ball and with the jump shot. With his size and skill set, he will remind a lot of people of Curry, which is good because Curry will need to sit here and there.

    It is always hard to predict how well highly-rated recruits will translate to the college level, but if Sulaimon can play the way he has in the post-season showcases, he could be a go-to guy for the Blue Devils next season.

Ryan Kelly

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    • Senior
    • 6-foot-11, small forward
    • 11.8 points per game
    • 40.8 percent three-point shooting

    Ryan Kelly had a breakout season for Duke this year and became arguably their most important player. In the mold of Kyle Singler, Kelly was dangerous both inside and out, and created matchup problems at both the small forward and power forward positions.

    When Kelly went down with a foot injury prior to the ACC Tournament, the void he left was palpable as Duke struggled to beat Virginia Tech before falling to Florida State. The loss was felt even more when Kelly missed Duke's second round NCAA Tournament upset loss to Lehigh.

    Kelly will be back next season and will be expected to take on a bigger role as one of the six rising seniors who will have one more shot at a national championship. Kelly will need to have a season reminiscent of Singler if the Blue Devils are to be serious contenders.

    Whether it is Plumlee, Curry, Sulaimon, Kelly or someone we don't see coming, the Blue Devils will need an alpha-dog for 2013 if they are going to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.