Duke basketball finished the 2012-13 season with a 30-6 record and an Elite Eight appearance before faltering to the eventual national champions, the Louisville Cardinals. Despite yet another impressive season record-wise, last March marked the third straight NCAA tournament where the Blue Devils failed to make the Final Four, last winning the national championship in 2010 over Butler.
The 2013-14 version of Duke basketball should continue the success that is expected under any Coach K team, though there are still plenty of question marks and concerns. On paper, they should be able to fill the voids created by players lost a season ago, but it will not be easy. Here is a look at the most blatant challenges for Mike Krzyzewski and company this upcoming year.
A year ago, Mason Plumlee was the only true inside presence for the Blue Devils. While Ryan Kelly stands 6'11", he was more of a stretch forward than a banger in the paint. Plumlee was one of the nation's top big men, which helped him become a first-round draft pick of the Brooklyn Nets.
Now that Duke's lone frontcourt stud from 2012-13 is gone, Krzyzewski will rely on a bevy of talented yet unproven Blue Devil bigs. Marshall Plumlee, brother of Mason and fellow former Duke big man Miles Plumlee, certainly has the genes of a successful Duke center.
Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson are also capable big men, though both of their roles will increase greatly from a year ago. The Blue Devils also add transfer Rodney Hood, who stands 6'8" but weighs only 215 pounds. What Hood lacks in strength, however, he should be able to make up for in athleticism.
As mentioned in the previous slide, the toughest loss for Duke to swallow is that of Mason Plumlee. Plumlee shone during his final seasons in Durham and was also a key reserve alongside older brother Miles during his freshman season when the Dukies won the national championship.
Though Ryan Kelly was hurt for extended periods during the latter part of his collegiate career, his ability to stretch the floor and do the little things will be missed. Kelly was MVP of the Maui Invitational as a junior and also had a 36-point career-high effort last March.
Seth Curry has also graduated, eliminating another pure shooter from the roster. All in all, the trio of Plumlee, Kelly and Curry played nearly 450 collegiate games combined, so their experience will be missed dearly. They also combined for nearly 48 points per game, which will be tough to replace.
Building off of the previous slide, Kelly and Curry were the Blue Devils' top long-range shooters in 2012-13. Curry knocked down 44 percent of his three-point shots, while Kelly connected on 42 percent. Though their returning players are not totally incapable in this department, they will rely on the three ball less.
Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton were successful on 39 percent of their long-range bombs, while Rasheed Sulaimon buried 37 percent. As a team, Duke made an impressive 40 percent of their threes last year, leaving each of these players just under that mark.
The return of Andre Dawkins to school will help stretch the floor, though who knows what a year off will do to his game and shot. Dawkins' best shooting season came as a sophomore, when he made 43 percent of his triples. Dawkins is almost strictly a perimeter shooter, who should be a spark off Coach K's bench.
Mike Krzyzewski isn't John Calipari. Sure, Coach K has four national championships compared to Calipari's one. Krzyzewski has been able to have more consistent postseason success because of his approach to recruiting and the types of players he has brought to play at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Yes, Calipari did win a national championship in 2012 with a starting lineup of five underclassmen. Up to this point, winning it all with one-and-done players has been the exception and not the rule however. Krzyzewski has still been able to bring in top-notch talent, though most of his players' collegiate careers last longer than, say, a player on a Calipari-coached squad.
In 2010-11, freshman Kyrie Irving was an early-season star for the Blue Devils before going down with an injury that kept him out until the NCAA tournament. Irving left school following a Sweet 16 loss to Arizona and was the top pick in the NBA draft to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The following season, Austin Rivers was a top freshman talent who chose to play at Duke. Rivers never jelled with his teammates and was pegged as a selfish player. Rivers' collegiate career ended in an opening-round loss to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA tournament.
The Blue Devils now have another probable one-and-done player, this being Jabari Parker. Parker is a 6"8" small forward from Simeon in Chicago, where he won four straight Illinois High School Association titles. Parker will be an instant impact player and is a high-character person.
To say that Parker's addition, though potentially brief, hurts the Blue Devils would be foolish. Rather, I think it's safer to say that Duke national champion teams were led by veterans, regardless of whether those squads were Coach K's most talented ones. Parker hopes to change that, though.
Duke finished in second place in last season's 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference. Only the Miami Hurricanes ended the year with a better conference record than the Blue Devils, as Miami finished 15-3 compared to Duke's 14-4 league mark.
While Miami should be relegated back to the bottom of the ACC, both North Carolina and Virginia should be improved from a year ago. Not to mention, the ACC will be adding three members to the league this season, those being the Syracuse Orange, Pittsburgh Panthers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
All three of the above mentioned squads should be immediate players in the league's top half. Syracuse was Final Four-bound in 2013, while Pitt and ND are both consistent NCAA tournament selections. The conference also gains Louisville in 2014, the same time it will lose Maryland.
With these additions, the ACC and Big Ten become the clear top conferences in college basketball. For entertainment's sake, the Big Ten-ACC Challenge each December should be full of intriguing matchups. Even with the upgrade in competition, Duke will be a perennial top-notch team in the ACC.