Fresh off its 19th Elite Eight appearance in school history, the Duke basketball program will enter the 2013-14 season with even greater aspirations.
Like he always does, head coach Mike Krzyzewski will reload with a talented three-man recruiting class to go along with a wealth of experience to help soften the blow of losing departed seniors Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee.
With a Top Five-caliber roster that is expected to contend for a national championship, the following slideshow will give you a detailed look at what Duke's primary strengths and weaknesses will be next season.
In recent seasons, the Duke bench, or lack thereof, has gradually become a weakness with each passing year. Heavily relying on a steady eight-man rotation, the most vital contributions, more often than not, have only come from the starting five as the bench production has been less than consistent.
That should all come to an abrupt halt next season, as Duke will be loaded with its deepest squad in nearly a decade chock-full of an outstanding amount of talent.
To replace the departing three-man senior class consisting of Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, Duke will bring in three highly-touted freshmen—Jabari Parker, Semi Ojeleye and Matt Jones—which 247Sports ranks as the third-best class of 2013.
Additionally, Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, a dynamic athlete, will begin his first official season at Duke after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. And if that wasn't enough, Andre Dawkins will return to the team as a fifth-year senior after taking a one-year hiatus from the game of basketball due to unfortunate circumstances stemming from the death of his younger sister in 2009.
While those five superior talents are all capable of providing an immediate impact, Parker and Hood specifically are the two players that will begin the 2014 season in the starting lineup alongside Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and most likely Amile Jefferson.
Nevertheless, the value of Dawkins, Ojeleye and Jones are not to be dismissed. They will join a deep bench that also includes seniors Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton, and sophomores Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee that will provide the Blue Devils with a significant amount of contributions throughout the course of the season.
Unlike in year's past where depth has largely been a concern for the Blue Devils, it will be their biggest strength next season. A strength that could likely result in a championship-winning season for the fifth time in the program's storied history.
As mentioned in the previous slide, Amile Jefferson will be the probable starting big man for Duke next season. However, the 6'8" sophomore is not the definitive answer to an abundance of questions in a flawed frontcourt for the Blue Devils.
Those questions ranging from the progression in the weight room for Jefferson, to Josh Hairston's contributions as a vastly undersized big man at 6'7", and the rehabilitation and ongoing development of Marshall Plumlee.
While Jefferson is clearly the best of the three players after showing glimpses of success in his first year, he still has his individual hurdles to clear. The biggest being improving his strength to go along with an unmatched desire and effort.
For Josh Hairston, he has spent the entirety of his college career in the frontcourt as a role player for Duke which will continue in his senior season. While extremely limited offensively, he makes the most of his scoring opportunities on the offensive glass corralling missed shots. He also led the Blue Devils in charges taken this season, an asset that has become his most essential.
After undergoing surgery to repair an injured left foot, Marshall Plumlee is expected to miss four months of playing time. As the biggest player for Duke, it is a crucial blow not only to the Blue Devils' roster as a whole but to the overall development of Plumlee, who showed next to nothing last season in rare minutes.
For now, Jefferson, Hairston and Plumlee are the primary big men for Duke. Although, that number could grow to four if the Blue Devils are able to land Memphis transfer Tarik Black. Including Duke, the 6'9", 260-pound center is also considering Georgetown, Kansas and Oregon as his college destination next season. Black visited Duke on Monday marking his first trip to Durham.
As the Blue Devils sit and wait for Black to make his decision, his addition would give them much-needed experience and considerable bulk up front. If he opts for elsewhere, the frontcourt will remain as the most glaring and significant weakness for the Blue Devils, which could be the difference in claiming a national championship or falling just short in their quest.
As Duke's depth will receive a much-needed boost next season, so will the overall athleticism of its roster, thanks in large part to five key additions.
The incoming three-man recruiting class consisting of Jabari Parker, Semi Ojeleye and Matt Jones, along with Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and fifth-year senior Andre Dawkins will join the likes of Rasheed Sulaimon and Alex Murphy to make up a bevy of athletic wing players that will give the Blue Devils plenty of contribution and the opposition a host of problems.
Each talent possesses the skills necessary to be successful in 2014, as all seven have the ability to score from multiple areas on the floor at a high rate as well as providing the Blue Devils with length and quickness at the defensive end.
With its deepest and most athletic roster in a number of years, Duke will rely on its two biggest strengths to guide them through the course of the season with the 2014 Final Four in North Texas as the ultimate destination.
While Duke's depth and athleticism will go hand in hand as its two biggest strengths next season, the same can be said about its two biggest weaknesses.
Issues in the frontcourt and team rebounding stand out significantly for the Blue Devils as their main flaws. In a year where they were completely inferior on the glass ranking 213th nationally (33.8 rebounds per game), the rebounding woes are likely to continue in 2014.
Instead of focusing directly on the three primary big men for Duke—Amile Jefferson, Josh Hairston and Marshall Plumlee—who are all capable of averaging steady rebounding numbers, the majority of the attention should be placed on incoming freshman Jabari Parker.
Parker is likely to begin the season as the starting power forward for the Blue Devils, which in all likelihood is his most natural position on the floor. At 6'8", the Chicago native has great size with even better instincts around the rim that will allow him to lead this team in rebounding next season.
Additionally, there is still the slight chance that Duke can secure Memphis transfer Tarik Black for his final year of eligibility. But for now, the burden is being left for three key returnees and one highly-touted freshman to carry much of the rebounding load for an otherwise elite Blue Devils squad.
Without stellar point guard play, aspirations of a championship-winning season are bleak. Luckily for Duke, it has two terrific talents in Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton that are essential to its success next season.
Quinn Cook enjoyed a tremendous sophomore campaign for Duke this season, as he was second on the team in minutes played (33.6), fourth in scoring (11.7) and finished with a 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio. He also led the Blue Devils to the Battle 4 Atlantis championship while capturing the Most Outstanding Player award.
Despite finishing the season on a sour note, the strides made during his second year in Durham leaves many fans and media alike eager to see how his junior year will play out.
Tyler Thornton is not going to dazzle you with his play. But what he will do, however, is earn your respect for how hard he works while on the floor.
The rising senior began the season as the starting point guard for Duke, although, it was apparent that that would be short-lived in favor of the better, all around play of Cook. Nevertheless, Thornton was able to provide the Blue Devils with solid minutes off the bench in relief for the starting sophomore guard. As an invaluable asset to this team, Thornton's play on either end of the floor is crucial going forward in his final season in Durham.
In any case, Duke is in good hands with two veteran point guards at its disposal to guide it along the road to the 2014 Final Four.
For the moment, the 2014 Duke Blue Devils are without a leader or group of leaders, which qualifies as a significant weakness next season.
Sure, there are names that can step up right away like the freshman sensation Jabari Parker, or the emotional junior point guard Quinn Cook, or even the senior trio of role players Andre Dawkins, Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton to emerge as the team captains for the Blue Devils following the departures of Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee. However, it remains as a legitimate question mark for next year.
All signs point to the program-changing, do-it-all forward Jabari Parker to take the reins and exceed the lofty expectations placed on him in what is likely to be his only season at Duke.
Although, that is no small task even for a player of Parker's caliber.
The next best options would be the veteran point guard tandem of Cook and Thornton who have an abundance of experience to their credit.
And it's plausible to assume that rising sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon, who was dejected following the Blue Devils' season-ending loss to Louisville in the Elite Eight, will take on more of a leadership role next season.
Regardless how deep and talented Duke will be next season, without the proper leadership, it'll be a team constantly searching for an ever-elusive identity that could prove to be detrimental to its championship hopes.