Breaking Down Whether the Duke Blue Devils Will Be Better or Worse in 2014
When a team with three senior starters finishes the season with a 30-6 record and reaches the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament, you would typically expect the same squad to take a step back the next season.
Yet, as soon as Duke's season ended on March 31 after a 22-point loss to Louisville, many Blue Devil fans were already excited about the future.
However, it's important to remember that Mike Krzyzewski will be forced to replace three of the most productive seniors in the history of the program.
So will Duke get better or worse in 2014?
The offense of the 2012-13 Duke Blue Devils was very impressive. According to ESPN.com, the team ranked sixth in the country in scoring at 78.3 points per game while shooting 47.2 percent from the field.
Duke had five scorers average in double figures, and when Ryan Kelly was healthy, the team had the ability to score from anywhere on the court.
When Kelly was injured, the offense was still effective but occasionally struggled with spacing because of defenses being able to clog the lane against Mason Plumlee.
The offense next season will likely look very different and be more perimeter-oriented. The guards and wings are tremendously talented, but the biggest question mark will be how Duke handles the paint. Marshall Plumlee has yet to show any reason for optimism, and putting Amile Jefferson against opposing centers would be a big adjustment for him.
Look for Mike Krzyzewski to feature a lineup full of players with tremendous athleticism, which could mean that Duke will try to push the tempo against opponents.
It may not be as efficient, but next year's team has the potential to be much more explosive.
For a program that has been built on intense pressure defense, the 2012-13 Duke Blue Devils struggled defensively.
In the games they lost, the Blue Devils were unable to prevent teams from making plays in transition, and opposing guards were able to cause problems by getting penetration into the lane.
This was particularly evident in the NCAA tournament loss to Louisville when Duke was unable to defend the pick-and-roll and Peyton Siva had no trouble getting to the basket or finding open teammates.
With the athleticism expected on next year's team, this group should be able to generate more defensive pressure and have better foot speed. The wing players Mike Krzyzewski will have at his disposal can create havoc in the passing lanes and and extend offenses out to the perimeter.
It's a group that will need to learn to communicate effectively, but the 2013-14 Blue Devils should be a stronger defensive unit.
Duke fans are hoping the bench will be the biggest difference between this season's and next season's teams.
The 2012-13 team had eight players average double-digit minutes, but Mike Krzyzewski shortened this to a seven-man rotation once Duke reached the NCAA tournament.
Regardless of who is in the starting lineup, next season's squad could realistically feature a 12-man rotation. Thursday's announcement from Andre Dawkins that he will be rejoining the team next season makes the Blue Devils even deeper.
Duke is also reportedly interested in Memphis' Tarik Black, who will be graduating and transferring, which makes him eligible to play next season. If Black joins the Blue Devils, which I consider unlikely, he would add some needed depth to the front line.
It will be interesting to see how Mike Krzyzewski uses his bench in 2013-14 because it will be one of the deepest groups he's ever had in Durham. Duke could take a page out of North Carolina's book and wear teams down with superior depth.
This is one of the biggest variables going into next season.
The 2012-13 Blue Devils finished the season with a record of 30-6 and went 14-4 in the ACC while playing the nation's toughest schedule. The team also finished with an undefeated record in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
With the ACC adding Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh next season, it will be interesting to see how the conference schedule looks for Duke.
Also, teams like Georgia Tech, Boston College and Virginia appear to be on the rise, which will add depth and tougher competition in league play.
If next season's team doesn't play at a high level on a consistent basis, a 30-6 record might be tough to match.
The 2012-13 Duke Blue Devils were a very good team in a season when college basketball didn't have any truly great teams. At one point, this group was playing better than any team in the country, but it was earlier in the season as opposed to later.
Players like Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson will have an offseason to mature and work on their games, and all three should be major contributors next season.
If those three continue to grow and Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker are as good as advertised, Duke will have a tremendously talented starting five and a very dynamic bench. It's actually a group that would have a lot of similarities with the 2012-13 Louisville Cardinals.
And if next season's team plays like Louisville, it will certainly be better than this past season's team and could end up cutting down the nets to prove it.