There is one team that seems head-and-shoulders better than the rest at the start of every college basketball season.
Inevitably, and no matter how unlikely, talk of an undefeated season surfaces from fanbases and analysts.
The last team to accomplish the feat of an undefeated season was the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. There is certainly more parity in the game than there was 30-years-ago. But several teams have gotten fairly close to achieving that historic accomplishment in the modern era of the game.
The 1991 UNLV team was undefeated (and unchallenged) until losing to Duke in the national semifinals.
The 2008 Memphis Tigers won 26 games before losing to Tennessee—they only lost two games all season.
Even though they eventually lost four games on their way to a national championship, there was a lot of talk about the possibility of an undefeated season for the 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels.
If there is any team in the country that will get talked about early on as a potentially undefeated team this season, it will be the Duke Blue Devils.
Will the Blue Devils go through the entire 2010-11 season without a loss? Probably not. Personally, I don't see it happening.
Could they? It's not like it hasn't happened before.
While there might be 50 reasons why the Blue Devils can't go undefeated (tough early season games, a freshman point guard), here are 10 reasons why they could.
This season's Blue Devils squad is an incredibly experienced group.
Yes, they lost three starters in Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas.
At the same time, they return five players who averaged double figures in minutes on last season's championship squad: Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee and Andre Dawkins.
Singler and Smith highlight the returning players as two-thirds of last season's "Big Three" (Scheyer was the third member) that carried Duke's offensive load. The Plumlee brothers played a big role off the bench last season, and Dawkins got enough burn to mature heading into his sophomore year.
There aren't many teams that Duke will face that will be able to match the Blue Devils in terms of experience.
Last year, the Blue Devils were one ankle injury away from having no depth in the backcourt.
This season, there isn't a position on the floor with which Duke doesn't have depth.
Not many teams can bring players like Dawkins, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton off the bench. Curry and Dawkins would start for most teams in the NCAA. Heck, Curry would be the go-to scorer on most teams in the country.
With one of his deepest teams in recent memory, Coach K has the ability to work through foul trouble and minor injuries without having to make major changes to key players' positions, or the overall style of play.
That's a luxury the Blue Devils haven't had in a long time.
It's no secret that Coach K likes the three-point line.
"Live and die by the three" has almost become an automatic scouting-report line describing Duke in recent seasons.
This year, the Blue Devils will do a lot more living than dying from three-point land.
Curry, Dawkins, Singler, Smith and Kyrie Irving are all consistent outside shooters.
Curry's reputation is that of a prolific shooter, and when Dawkins is on (he can be streaky), he's extremely dangerous. Smith and Singler both shot close to 40 percent from behind the arc last year. And they'll get plenty of good looks again this season, as defenses focus on keeping Irving from penetrating.
There may not be a better three-point shooting team in the country than Duke.
The Duke teams of the past few years haven't been the quickest or most athletic teams in the Krzyzewski era.
This year's Blue Devils squad is different.
Smith and Irving will be two of the most athletic guards in the ACC. They are both quick, explosive and able to get into the lane and use their athleticism to finish around the basket against bigger defenders.
The Plumlee brothers are among the most athletic big men in the country. They can run the floor with ease and leap out of the building.
Last season's version of Duke proved that you don't have to be athletic to win. This season's Duke will prove that, while elite athleticism isn't a prerequisite of a great team, it certainly helps.
Big things are expected out of Singler this season. He should be in contention for ACC Player of the Year honors and first-team All-American consideration.
He definitely has the skills to live up to those expectations.
Singler gives the Blue Devils one of the most versatile players in the country. He has played three positions in three years at Duke, and he's done well at all of them.
This season, he'll split time at both forward positions. And he'll be a matchup problem for opposing teams no matter which position he's manning.
If he is at the small forward spot, his size and shooting ability makes him a tough assignment for smaller players. If he is playing inside, his quickness and midrange scoring touch gives bigger players fits.
Singler's versatility gives the Blue Devils the flexibility to either go with a bigger lineup, featuring both Plumlee brothers in the post, or a smaller team, featuring three guards with him in the paint.
No matter where he is on the court or what position he's playing, Singler is more than capable of dominating a game.
Smith's potential has never been questioned. But last season was the first in which he lived up to it from start to finish.
The rising senior had the definition of a breakout season last year, stepping up his game in a way that quickly turned Duke's expected one-two punch of Singler and Scheyer into a devastating three-man tandem.
Reports from NBA camps and offseason workouts were full of praise regarding Smith's development. That's part of the reason why he's been picked as a favorite to be a first team All-American.
If Smith plays at the level he did last year, Duke will be fantastic. If he has improved significantly, they could be ridiculous.
There's no question which Blue Devils player is the most talented on the roster. It's Irving and it's not even close.
The freshman point guard features a game that has drawn comparisons to John Wall and Chris Paul.
He can score in volumes, create shots for himself and for his teammates, and get up and down the court at a pace that few defenders can keep up with.
There has been talk among analysts that Irving could be the best point guard in the NCAA this season. If that's true, or close to it, Duke will be hard to stop.
Duke hasn't had the best point guard in college basketball since Jason Williams electrified fans a decade ago. And we all remember how well that turned out for the Blue Devils.
Very few teams have the kind of legitimate shot at repeating as national champions that the Blue Devils have this year.
While winning a title, let alone repeating, requires a number of factors lining up favorably for a team, no one could deny that the Duke players are chomping at the bit for the chance to win it all once again.
Coach K has never lacked the ability to motivate his teams. But he shouldn't have to motivate them too much this year. Repeating as national champions, and thereby cementing themselves as one of the most accomplished groups of college players in recent history, is motivation enough.
Make no mistake, the Blue Devils are as hungry as ever, and it will show when they take the court.
Having a team filled with NBA talent is always a big advantage in college basketball.
The Blue Devils will begin the season with four starters projected to be picked in the first round of the NBA draft—that's a lot of NBA talent on the court at once.
Irving could be a top-three pick in the draft if he lives up to the high expectations. Singler could sneak into the lottery if he has a dominant year. Smith should be a mid-to-late first rounder. And Mason Plumlee could get a high pick on potential alone, especially if he makes the jump in production that many expect.
Then you've got guys like Curry and Dawkins who certainly have the ability to develop into solid NBA prospects. Even Miles Plumlee has a chance to play his way into the league before he graduates.
NBA talent is a common denominator on NCAA championship squads. It's certainly something that Duke has enough of this season.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will go down as one of the greatest coaches in basketball history.
In the last few years alone, he's won Olympic gold, a FIBA World Championship and his fourth NCAA title.
He has a great shot to add to his trophy case this season.
Last year, Coach K reminded basketball fans why he is such a great coach. He has an uncanny ability to adapt his game plan to his personnel, maximizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses.
There is no other coach in college basketball who knows how to win more than Coach K. He's energized, excited and ready to lead his team with passion.
He's also the most talented person on Duke's team.