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Duke Basketball: 3 Reasons Duke Will Be Better Without Austin Rivers

William SmithCorrespondent IJanuary 3, 2017

Duke Basketball: 3 Reasons Duke Will Be Better Without Austin Rivers

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    After Duke's stunning loss in its first game of the NCAA Tournament to Lehigh, point guard Austin Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics' coach Doc Rivers, had a tough decision to make.  

    Did he want to return to Duke to improve his skills and lead the Blue Devils deeper into the tournament, or would he declare for the NBA draft, where he was projected to go somewhere in the first round? 

    Rivers choose the latter and was selected 10th overall by the New Orleans Hornets, joining Kentucky power forward and No.1 overall pick Anthony Davis on a young squad. 

    With the departure of Rivers, Duke fans may be worried about their future without their floor general, who got better as the season went along. Rivers will be missed, but the Blue Devils will perform better without him this season.  

    Here are three reasons why Duke's upcoming season will be better despite losing Rivers.

Coach K

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    Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who passed Bob Knight to become the winningest coach in Division I college basketball history last November, will not let the debacle against Lehigh happen again in March of 2013.

    The Blue Devils held a 27-6 record and were a No. 2 seed before losing 75-70 to the No. 15 seed Mountain Hawks, as Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum scored 30 points in the stunning upset. 

    Coach K's Duke teams have never been bounced in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years. In the 2007 NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils were bounced by VCU, led by Eric Maynor, but the following year they were able to rebound and win their first round matchup.  

    Coach K simply will not let his squad get beaten by a team like Lehigh, a 15-seed that most people didn't give a chance. Krzyzewski and his coaching staff know they failed to get their kids ready for the Big Dance, and they certainly will not let that happen in consecutive years.

    Krzyzewski is simply too brilliant of a basketball mind and too good of a coach to let something like this happen again. Even after losing Rivers and Miles Plumlee to the NBA, Coach K will find a new way to prepare his players for March Madness.  

More Sharing of the Ball

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    Austin Rivers led the Blue Devils in scoring with 15.5 points per game, but his ability (or lack there of) to get others involved left a lot to be desired. Despite being on the floor for 33.2 minutes per game, Rivers averaged a meager 2.1 assists per game.

    In the season-ending loss to Lehigh, he scored 19 points but had only one assist.

    Coach K surely appreciated the scoring Rivers contributed, but he knows the Blue Devils must have players who share the wealth and make their teammates better. Seth Curry led last year's squad with 2.4 assists per game.

    Coach K knows one of his guards must step up and find a way to get the ball to open teammates.

    Coach K isn't expecting one of his guards to dish out eight dimes a game, but he certainly will be preaching the importance of ball movement in practice.

    Curry, Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton will have to distribute the ball more if the Blue Devils are to improve without Rivers on the roster.

They Will Improve Defensively

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    When the Blue Devils were crowned National Champions in the 2009-10 season, they surrendered just 61.0 points per game, good for 28th in the nation. Last season, Duke allowed opponents to score 68.6 points per game, ranking them 223rd in the nation.

    Duke plays an uptempo brand of basketball and loves to shoot three-pointers, but those facts should not give the Blue Devils a pass on the defensive end. The team that won the title in 2010 scored 77 points a game, nearly the same as last year's squad that scored 77.3 points per game, and they were still able to play tough defense. 

    Recruits Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson should help shore up a defense that struggled to get key stops in the 2011-12 season. The returning players will commit to playing defense because they learned the hard way in the loss to Lehigh.

    Duke was able to get by for most of the year with a shoddy defense, but they know it will take a greater effort to have a more successful 2012-13 season.

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