Duke Basketball: Will Blue Devils Help ACC Be Nation's Best Conference?

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistJune 18, 2014

The additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and now Louisville were supposed to make the ACC a basketball superpower, but that’s not exactly what we saw last year.

There was not a single ACC team that made it to the Elite Eight, and Duke, which is always at the forefront of any ACC hoops news, fell flat on its face against Mercer in the round of 64.

It really made Mike Krzyzewski’s pre-tournament comments to reporters look somewhat regrettable:

I'll get in trouble probably for saying it. Like the Atlantic 10, they're a really good conference. I hear people saying there are six teams in there. Come on. I mean, they're good, but put them in our conference and go through the meat grinder that our conference has to go through. But really ... our league should get more respect. The fact that Pitt comes in here and people are saying they have to do something, come on. Come on, man. I don't get it. The Clemson team we played [Friday] night is a heck of a basketball team.

Clearly, the ACC has some ground to make up if it wants to be considered the best conference in the land. A good place to start is with Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils.

Duke may have featured Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood last season, but it will be a better all-around club in 2014-15.

Jahlil Okafor will be an absolute monster to deal with for the rest of the league in his freshman season. He will contend for ACC Player of the Year honors because of his ability to carve out space on the blocks, grab every rebound he can get his hands on and swat away opposing challenges.

He is incredibly strong, brings polished post moves to the table and may just be the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft.

Fellow freshman Tyus Jones will run the show from the perimeter and is the perfect point guard for a team that is loaded with talent across the board. He is capable of scoring on his own, but will be more than willing to serve as a floor general who dishes out assists left and right.

Another freshman, Justise Winslow, is arguably the most important incoming player in terms of correcting what went wrong last year.

He is an absolute defensive force who can guard anything from a point guard to a power forward thanks to his incredible wingspan, lateral quickness and vertical leap. He will also help rebound and can score from the outside or off the dribble.

Returnees Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon vastly improved by ACC play last year once they settled into their roles.

Sulaimon will be playing off the ball more often this year with Jones, but he is a knockdown three-point shooter who will thrive off open looks from Jones’ dishes and double-teams on Okafor.

Jefferson will also have more room to operate on the block across from Okafor. If nothing else, Okafor and Jefferson make up an incredible rebounding tandem that should help improve that weakness from last year.

Guys like Quinn Cook, Marshall Plumlee, Matt Jones, Semi Ojeleye and Grayson Allen give Mike Krzyzewski a deeper bench this year across every position, mixing big-game experience with raw talent.

When Duke needs a spark on the offensive, end it can go to Allen. When it needs help on the boards, it can go to Plumlee. When it needs a steadying hand, it can turn to Cook.

The Blue Devils will be one of the best teams in the country this season, but the ACC needs more than just that.

North Carolina lost James Michael McAdoo, but Marcus Paige gives it arguably the best point guard in the country. Throw in a deeper roster that features Theo Pinson, Joel Berry, Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto, and the Tobacco Road rivalry will be must-see basketball.

Elsewhere, Louisville didn’t come to the ACC just to play third banana to the power couple of UNC and Duke.

Yes, the Cardinals lost Russ Smith and Luke Hancock, but Montrezl Harrell shocked the world by announcing his return. We are talking about an NBA talent who will serve as a double-double threat every night and grace highlight reels with his incredible dunks and blocks.

Chris Jones, Wayne Blackshear and Terry Rozier give Rick Pitino some depth to work with as well.

Virginia will also contend for another ACC crown, even without Joe Harris. Malcolm Brogdon, Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill form an impressive trio, and Mike Tobey and London Perrantes could turn into special contributors also.

Throw in the Cavaliers' suffocating defense and steady control of the game, and they will certainly return to the Big Dance in 2014-15.

Syracuse lost a ton of talent, but Jim Boeheim will have the Orange competing behind his lockdown 2-3 zone. Pittsburgh and North Carolina State could give the league some depth.

It’s hard to find a better league than the ACC at the top with the powerful foursome of Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Syracuse. That group represents decades of college basketball tradition, legendary coaches, intimidating venues and elite players that will represent the conference proudly this season.

The ACC doesn’t quite have the depth that some of the other conferences do at this point, but if we see multiple ACC teams in the Final Four, that really won’t matter in terms of public perception.


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