The Duke Blue Devils were one win away from reaching the Final Four last season.
Now, Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of his team have spent the offseason working to replace three senior starters from last year and making that next step of reaching a Final Four and competing for another national championship.
To the delight of many, the college basketball offseason is nearly over. However, the Blue Devils still have a few things they need to work on before the season officially begins.
Here are the top five things still remaining on Duke’s offseason to-do list.
Duke currently only has one recruit committed for the class of 2014—shooting guard Grayson Allen.
Though a few top prospects have recently committed to other schools, the Blue Devils are still in very good shape with some of the best players in the country, including Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor, two top-five prospects.
Okafor and Jones have repeatedly talked about playing together in college, and their commitment would immediately launch Duke up the recruiting rankings for the class of 2014.
They’re planning to take an official visit to Duke the weekend of Oct. 25, and the Blue Devils should break out the full-court press to get these two outstanding players to commit.
Entering the 2012-13 season, Mike Krzyzewski talked openly about how Marshall Plumlee had dramatically improved and would be a regular part of the rotation for the Blue Devils.
That all ended when Plumlee suffered a foot injury prior to the start of the season, and he was never 100 percent healthy for the entire year.
After having surgery in April to repair the foot that bothered him all season, Plumlee has been working this offseason to improve his strength and become a legitimate post presence for the team.
Duke needs him to continue to improve and be prepared to serve an important role as a physical post presence that can come off the bench and provide solid defense and rebounding.
With the amount of depth on the Duke roster this season, it makes sense for the team to use a strategy that incorporates pushing the tempo and forcing the opponent to play in transition.
In order to successfully do that, the Blue Devils need to be one of the most well-conditioned teams in the country. The roster is loaded with talent, but now the talented players need to put in the hard work that will give them an extra advantage in the final five minutes of a close game.
The best Duke teams featured players who never seemed to get tired, no matter how many minutes they played. Guys like Jon Scheyer, Shane Battier and Grant Hill could always wear down the opposition.
This year’s team will need that same type of mentality and fitness.
He said Quinn Cook would likely be the fourth starter but wasn’t as definitive with him as the other three.
It’s a good problem that Duke has great depth in the backcourt, and there is clearly a fierce competition for those final two spots in the starting lineup, but it will be important for the team to develop continuity and chemistry once the season begins.
Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon were regulars in the starting lineup last season, but they’re clearly being pushed by Tyler Thornton, Andre Dawkins and others. It would be great if a couple guys could emerge from the pack and really separate themselves with their play.
While solidifying the starting lineup is important, it’s just as important for the players on the bench to carve out their roles and identify the ways they can contribute this season.
Josh Hairston and Marshall Plumlee could be huge assets if they can commit themselves to being lockdown defenders and aggressive rebounders. Along the same lines, Semi Ojeleye and Andre Dawkins could be incredible defensive stoppers if they put in the work in practice.
With Mike Krzyzewski talking about using as many as 10 players in his rotation this season, the opportunities will be there for the players on the bench to earn playing time. It might be in a role they aren’t accustomed to, but it will be a chance for them to show their versatility and step up to the challenge.
If the bench can do that, Coach K will have a squad that has a great chance to overcome that hurdle from last season and reach another Final Four.
What other things do the Blue Devils need to do before the season begins? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.