Duke basketball is on top of the world.
Mike Krzyzewski’s team is undefeated and ranked first overall in the AP polls. But now ACC play is about to kick off.
Even with how dominant and impressive the Blue Devils have been so far this season, some major obstacles still remain that could individually—or collectively—prevent them from winning the conference.
Here they are.
Right now, Duke forward Mason Plumlee is arguably the best player in the country.
The senior is averaging an impressive 19.5 points and 11.6 rebounds per game for the Blue Devils. If he continues his dominant play through the ACC season, Duke will be a lock to win the conference.
But if he slows down or succumbs to the constant attention from opposing defenses, Duke could be in trouble. Part of what has made Duke so successful this year has been its ability to run an effective inside-outside game on offense.
If Plumlee cools off at all, it could turn Duke into an outside-oriented, one-dimensional attack. Such a scenario could hurt Duke’s chances of taking the conference.
Entering the 2012-13 season, many experts pegged the ACC race as a three-team contest between Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State.
As conference play begins, this notion hasn’t changed. If Duke doesn’t end up winning the ACC regular season, it will likely be because either the Tar Heels, Wolf Pack—or both—have overtaken them.
Neither North Carolina nor NC State made it through their respective nonconference schedules unscathed. Still, that doesn’t mean Duke will run through both teams.
North Carolina possesses strong wing scorers—like James Michael McAdoo—and appears to have righted the ship after winning five of its last six games. The Wolfpack were picked by many in the preseason to win the ACC. Led by the dynamic C.J. Leslie, NC State has begun the season at 11-2.
Both squads could be major potential road blocks during Duke’s road to the ACC title.
North Carolina and NC State are two of the most formidable teams standing in Duke’s way in ACC play.
But that doesn’t mean other teams in the conference aren’t capable of knocking off the Blue Devils. Maryland, for instance, has stormed out to a 12-1 start this season. Sophomore center Alex Len is a Terrapin who could give Mason Plumlee fits in the low post when Duke and Maryland meet up down the line.
Virginia is another team who could pull off an upset, as its slow-down style could give the Blue Devils fits.
Even last year’s bottom feeder, Boston College, looks improved this season. Sophomore Ryan Anderson is averaging 16 points per game for BC, and if he goes off against Duke, it could lead to the upset of the year.
Duke will be favored in almost every conference game. However, a loss here and there could add up, leaving Duke empty in its ACC title chase.
It’s pretty obvious that in the ACC, the Blue Devils will only go as far as their heralded senior trio of Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly will take them.
Or is it?
As talented and productive as those three players are for Duke, they’re going to need some help navigating the Blue Devils through the ACC. This is where Mike Krzyzewski’s talented freshman class needs to start stepping up.
Guard Rasheed Sulaimon has certainly been doing his job, becoming the dynamic scorer recruiting experts envisioned he would become at Duke. But what about the other diaper dandies?
Forward Amile Jefferson has been getting more playing time recently. Duke fans are hoping that trend will continue.
In addition, Marshall Plumlee is just now getting over his stress fracture in his foot. It’s going to take some time before he works his way into the rotation.
And then there’s Alex Murphy. At the beginning of the year, he saw virtually no playing time. The talent is there, but the productivity has yet to show up.
Maybe it will be Duke’s freshmen—not its seniors—who are going to determine the Blue Devils’ fate in ACC play.
In sports, injuries don’t discriminate. They’ve derailed the championship hopes of many a talented team in the past.
There is always the possibility that the injury bug could bite Duke in its quest to capture the ACC in 2013. It’s already struck the likes of Seth Curry and Marshall Plumlee.
Curry has been battling a shin injury that’s expected to linger for the rest of the season. Plumlee is just returning from a stress fracture in his foot that has kept him sidelined for the entire season.
What happens if Mason Plumlee suffers a devastating injury?
Ryan Kelly missed the end of last season with an injury, and it ended up dashing Duke’s championship hopes. Could déjà vu strike if Kelly were to hypothetically go down again?
The bottom line is if Duke doesn’t stay healthy, the Blue Devils won’t win the ACC.