As the 2010 College Basketball season approaches, I find myself pondering what the Duke Blue Devils must do to repeat as champions.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski probably has a masterful plan in place already, but let’s break down Duke’s quest for another title using what I have devised as the "Four Cs": Control, Create, Chemistry, and Conquer.
Control the tempo on both sides of the ball.
This year, Duke will experience the luxury of having a true superstar in Kyrie Irving. His speed and athleticism at point guard will translate to a much faster offense for Coach K, who has mentioned that he is more than willing to change the playbook to accommodate Irving's speed.
With stud seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler manipulating the wings, this offense can become nearly unstoppable. All three of these kids have deadly jump shots, and while Singler can also take a defender off the dribble or on the block, Irving and Smith can finish with style at the rim.
In addition, with both Plumlees starting in the frontcourt, Duke is able to set up quicker without Brian Zoubek chugging downcourt.
On the other side of the ball, if the Devils continue to play the suffocating perimeter press-and-switch defense headed by Singler, there will not be a team who could possibly run an offense comfortably.
Smith and Singler are experts in this defensive scheme being that they are seniors, so their voice and dictation on defense will be crucial.
Create jump shots with penetration, not isolation.
As mentioned earlier, both Smith and Irving can drive to the hoop with success. In years past, Duke has established a reputation as a jump shooting, trigger-happy, perimeter offense. I think that 2010 will reveal an offense that we have not seen from this team before because of the back court’s offensive versatility.
Jon Scheyer was primarily a perimeter guard last season, but with two true point guards in the back court this season, we will see several drive-and-kickout plays.
Sniper Seth Curry figures to be a devastating scorer when given space, and with both he and Singler’s ability to create without the ball, look for several screen plays. Andre Dawkins figures to be a force on the baselines as well.
Coach K is probably in heaven as he considers the possibilities and various rotations he can put on the floor this season.
We will be privileged to see Irving, Smith, Curry, Singler, and one of the Plumlees on the floor together. This lineup might seem undersized, but it is Duke’s optimal offensive lineup, and also its fastest.
It will be up to the back court to create passing lanes, with a lot more movement leading to less isolation this year. Opponents cannot double-team Duke’s perimeter players either, as the speed and scoring will be plentiful from Irving.
Like every great sports team has, the Blue Devils must establish an unbreakable chemistry throughout the season.
The players already have a great start, with a coach who has banded his players together on both the collegiate and professional level with Team USA. In addition, this 2010 squad has two senior leaders who know what winning feels like, and have adapted Coach K’s mindset for success.
Chemistry will be essential because Duke’s lineup is subject to change several times this season, especially in the back court.
Each and every wing player must make it easy for Kyrie Irving to know their next moves, and allow him to break down the defense with precision. Irving’s style has been compared to that of NBA great Isiah Thomas, so I expect Mike Krzyzewski to unleash this kid’s potential with a thick playbook.
It is important that Coach K also abandons any chance that his team “plays down” to unranked conference teams as well, because this group has a realistic shot at running the table with some key wins against rival North Carolina and fellow superpower Michigan State.
There have not been many teams at Duke that look this nice on paper, but aside from raw skills, psychological similarity will mean everything for a team whose potential has no lid.
For the last of the “Four Cs”, conquer happens to be the easiest concept to break down. This simply means that Duke must win its big games, particularly against Michigan State and North Carolina.
The nation gets to see Duke at home against MSU, who is the second-ranked team in the nation.
We know what Tom Izzo’s teams can do, and with Kalin Lucas accompanied by high school All-American Keith Appling in the back court, look out! The Dukies must keep momentum, because the fact that they are playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium is their biggest advantage.
That game should be great, along with other top-25 ranked opponents such as Virginia Tech and Butler. Butler did lose Gordon Hayward, but this team’s Horizon League identity should not be taken lightly. These three games are significant, but nothing matters more than the Tobacco Road Rivalry.
North Carolina and coach Roy Williams are ranked ninth in the preseason rankings, as they showcase their number one recruit in Harrison Barnes.
I myself would compare this kid to Carmelo Anthony, as he is a complete scorer with defensive skills that have not completely matured yet. He could very well be the first pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, but how does Duke go about containing him?
Well, Duke must simply avoid letting both games turn into one-on-one contests.
If Duke can keep UNC’s defense on its heels by spreading the ball around the perimeter and using all of its weapons accordingly, they will have the advantage. North Carolina has only four forwards listed on its roster, so Duke should rely on the Plumlee brothers to hold down the paint.
As for a defensive strategy, I’d have Kyle Singler cover Barnes at all times, just to limit his options on the perimeter. Barnes might even be double teamed, as Larry Drew and Tyler Zeller might not be enough to wreak havoc.
Duke has the clear-cut advantage this season, as they must march down Tobacco Road with two wins in order to establish optimal confidence.
This season will be special for the Duke Blue Devils, and with Coach K being just 35 wins away from passing Bob Knight for number one on the all-time list, it could be all the more special. Duke’s starting five is made up of three possible NBA Draft Lottery picks in Irving, Smith and Singler.
The talent is evident, but can the Dukies win back to back titles? They have my vote.