Duke basketball currently sits fourth in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll, behind the trio of Kentucky, Michigan State and Louisville. Four other Atlantic Coast Conference teams are ranked in the Top 25, while new member Pittsburgh also received votes.
Fellow first-time ACC teams Syracuse and Notre Dame are ranked seventh and 22nd, while North Carolina is slated at 11th and Virginia 25th. Duke finished second in the league a year ago behind Miami, a team that lost nearly everyone from last season's team.
Though Duke is the favorite to get back atop the ACC standings, it will be a challenge. Coach K and company's unfamiliarity with the league's new members should make for interesting matchups both ways. Here is a look at three players who could pose problems for the Blue Devils in 2013-14.
Listed are the anticipated Duke starters, by position: center, forward and guard. Listed under the respective Blue Devil player is someone who Duke will have to game-plan for big time, one being a big, one a wing and the last a perimeter player.
Center: Amile Jefferson
James Michael McAdoo—As a freshman, McAdoo played behind the likes of Tyler Zeller and John Henson, while still scoring over six points per game off the Tar Heel bench. McAdoo came into his own as a sophomore, averaging 14.4 points and 7.3 rebounds in just under 30 minutes of action.
Jefferson, who played behind seniors Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly as a freshman, will need to take a similar leap as McAdoo during his sophomore campaign. Both Jefferson and McAdoo stand 6'9", though McAdoo does have a 20-point weight advantage of the 210-pound Jefferson.
Duke's weakness is its frontcourt and McAdoo could expose that. The youngest of the Plumlee brothers, Marshall, will also get his shot to guard McAdoo when these two bitter rivals face off. At 7" and 260 pounds, Plumlee's size alone could cause issues for McAdoo.
Forwards: Jabari Parker/Rodney Hood
CJ Fair—After Syracuse lost three starters from last year's Final Four squad, Fair is the clear go-to guy for the Orange in 2013-14. Fair is a versatile forward, who can play small forward when 'Cuse goes big with DaJuan Coleman and Rakeem Christmas, or bump up to power forward when Jerami Grant is in the game.
Fair averaged similar numbers to McAdoo, at 14.5 points and 7.0 rebounds. He also is key in the Syracuse zone, as he posted averages of 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks as a junior. Fair can also stretch the floor on offense, as he was successful on 47 percent of his long-distance looks.
Fair, who played 34.9 minutes last season, will be tough to take off the court during his final collegiate season. Physically, Hood and Fair are matches at 6'8" and 215 pounds. Stud freshman Parker also stands 6'8", though he weighs in at 235 pounds. Still, a savvy veteran like Fair could cause fits for the Dukies.
Guards: Rasheed Sulaimon/Quinn Cook
Joe Harris—As a junior, Harris took a major leap as Virginia's best player. Previously, Harris was overshadowed by former Cavalier Mike Scott. After averaging 10.8 points during his underclassmen years, Harris increased his scoring average 5.5 points to a 16.3-point mark.
Harris, who stands 6'6", is two inches taller than Sulaimon and six inches taller than Cook. Harris is more than just a scorer though, as he also grabbed four rebounds and dished out 2.2 assists per night. He also connected on 43 percent of his three-point attempts, a rather impressive mark.
Harris can also take the guard matched up against him off the dribble, as he took more than four free throws per contest. Harris rarely comes off the court, as evidenced by his 32.5-minute per game clip, so the Blue Devils may have to throw a variety of defenders on this senior stud.
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