Somehow, someway, Duke managed to lose its first NCAA tournament game with a surefire top-five pick and another potential lottery pick on the roster in the 2013-14 season.
Logic would dictate that the Blue Devils would be in for more disappointment now that those two players—Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, respectively—are no longer on campus. However, that is far from the case thanks to the astute recruiting of head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
With Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen joining Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson, Quinn Cook, Matt Jones, Semi Ojeleye and Marshall Plumlee, Duke looks bound to not only compete for an ACC crown but possibly the national title.
What’s more, it looks as if the man behind that recruiting still has plenty of basketball coaching ahead of him if his comments were any indication, via Daniel Carp of The Chronicle: "I'm looking forward to the next five years. I'm going to be here during that time...There's not like, 'When is he going to retire?' and all that. I'm looking forward to playing that out."
Still, just because Coach K is locked into steering Duke to ACC championships for years to come doesn’t mean his squad will win the 2014-15 crown without a challenge. Read on to find out some of the Blue Devils' biggest challengers for top billing in the league.
Any conversation about Duke challengers typically begins and ends with North Carolina, and the Tar Heels will be ready for the Tobacco Road fight this season.
James Michael McAdoo is no longer around, but the return of Marcus Paige was arguably the most significant player news in the ACC this offseason. The game-changing point guard could potentially challenge for ACC and even National Player of the Year honors, and he should guide UNC deep into March this time around.
Paige isn’t the only talented player on Roy Williams’ roster, as Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson and Joel Berry give the Tar Heels some formidable young firepower of their own. Throw in J.P. Tokoto, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks, and North Carolina is loaded across the board with potential.
There’s a new face in the ACC in 2014-15, and it just so happens to be one of the top programs in the country.
Where will Louisville finish in its first ACC season?
Yes, the Cardinals lost prominent playmakers Russ Smith and Luke Hancock among others, but they will be bolstered by an unexpected return just as the Tar Heels will be by Paige.
Montrezl Harrell could have been a lottery pick in this year’s draft, but instead he will bring double-doubles to ACC arenas near you all season. He will certainly pose a challenge to freshman Okafor when the Blue Devils face Louisville and could control the flow of entire games with his interior defense.
Throw in Chris Jones and Terry Rozier on the outside and Wayne Blackshear on the wing, and Louisville could shake up the ACC establishment in year one.
Blue Devil and Tar Heel fans alike may still not be accustomed to living in a world where Virginia is a serious ACC title threat, but after last season it would be foolish to discount the Cavaliers.
Which team is the biggest threat to Duke?
Yes, the departure of Joe Harris is a significant one, but so are the returns of Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson. Ideally, those three would be productive contributors every game while big man Mike Tobey develops into a force down low and point guard London Perrantes hits his stride on the perimeter as the season progresses.
There is also Virginia's unique style of play to be considered. The Cavaliers slow the tempo and stifle opponents on the defensive end, which has a nasty way of altering game plans that seem so ironclad before the game actually starts.
Duke fans certainly hope their new freshmen and returning contributors are up for the challenge.
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