Duke Basketball Is Only Getting Better: The 2011-2012 Starting Lineup

Tom MccarthyContributor IMarch 6, 2011

Duke Basketball Is Only Getting Better: The 2011-2012 Starting Lineup

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    The Duke Blue Devils are one of the top teams in the nation this year.

    Although they will lose some key players at the end of the year, is it realistic to think they could be better next year? Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler will graduate this year but with the maturity of some younger guys and some new recruits being brought in I believe they will be better in the 2011-2012 season.

    Here is a projected starting lineup put together with the help of two Duke experts: Jeff Besong and Eric Noyes.

Point Guard–Kyrie Irving

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    There is no doubt that Kyrie Irving will start at point guard in 2012 for Coach K—if he decides not to leave school early and enter the NBA draft.

    Personally, I do not believe Irving is going to leave Duke early and miss the opportunity to play with his good friend Austin Rivers, while contending for a NCAA national championship and potentially a player of the year award. In the eight games Irving started under coach K, he was extremely effective.

    He averaged 17.4 ppg, 5.1 apg, while being on the court for nearly 29 minutes a game. Coach K previously said Irving was the best point guard to put on a Duke uniform in over a decade. In order to get more in game experience before entering the NBA draft, Kyrie will return as point guard and leader for Duke in 2012.  

Shooting Guard–Austin Rivers

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    Confidence is Austin Rivers' calling card as he both wants and demands the ball in pressure situations. He is a cold-blooded assassin that has the full package of offensive weapons at his disposal.

    He has range out to 28-feet, uses the jab-step as well as any pros, an excellent mid-range game, can finish through contact when attacking the basket and has the best NBA-level floater over the bigs of any player in the high school or college ranks. Statistically, Rivers was an offensive beast averaging 29.4 ppg, 2.2 apg, and 6.0 rpg. Rivers will fit right into the offensive system by being able to utilize his outside/ pull-up game with Kyrie Irving’s playmaking ability.

    Son of Doc Rivers, Austin is the number one ranked recruit on ESPN’s top 100 and is Duke’s most anticipated recruit.

Small Forward—Andre Dawkins

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    It was extremely difficult to select a small forward that I truly believe will start for Duke in 2012. Krzyzewski may opt for a smaller starting lineup in 2012, starting Irving, Rivers, and Dawkins. 

    Because Dawkins is the biggest out of the three guards, he would play small forward. With three guards on the floor Duke would be very tough to guard offensively. Dawkins has a sweet stroke and can hit from virtually anywhere when in a rhythm. 

    However, Andre might have a difficult time defending against a larger body in the low post.  Michael Gbinije, a five star recruit who committed to Duke in March of 2010 may have something to say about Dawkins starting at the Small Forward position. Gbinije is 6’6" 200 lb. athlete who can guard on the perimeter and score in bunches.

Power Forward–Ryan Kelly

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    Ryan Kelly has solidified his spot on Duke this season through his consistent play on both offensive and defensive ends.

    The 6’11 sophomore out of Raleigh NC averages 6.6 ppg, and can get you between six and 10 rebounds a game. Don’t be misled by Kelly’s numbers; he has recently given Duke quite the spark since his increased minutes in early January.

    At the power forward position, Kelly is often overlooked as a perimeter threat; however, when given an open look from the behind the arc he will make you pay. Kelly gives the Blue Devils a lot of size and length in the front court by disrupting shot attempts and rebounding.

    One of the more fundamental players on Duke, Ryan Kelly’s numbers will only increase with the talent around him in the upcoming 2012 season.

Center—Mason Plumlee

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    Standing at 6’10" Mason Plumlee is Duke’s leading rebounder at just under 9 boards per game. Mason is extremely active when it comes to offensive rebounding. He often gives Duke second and third chances off missed offensive opportunities.

    Mason has yet to develop fully as an offensive threat for Duke this year. In his second year with the Blue Devils Ma. Plumlee averages 7.2 ppg—not to bad for a team who relies heavily on the three point shot for their offensive points. Plumlee shoots a miserable 41% from the free-throw line, which must be improved if he wants opponents to respect him as a legitimate offensive player.

    Although, with another year of experience under his belt, and another offseason to work on his game, Duke should have high hopes for Mason Plumlee in 2012

Sixth Man—Miles Plumlee

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    Miles Plumlee and his brother Mason are typically a one-two punch when it comes to banging bodies inside for Duke. The elder Plumlee will be going into his senior year at Duke hoping to win another national title before he departs from Durham. 

    Miles’ minutes have been decreased since the emergence of his younger brother Mason in early February. Although Miles only averages 4.5 ppg and 4.6 rpg, he brings a certain type of intensity to the floor. He is a strong defender in the low post and is extremely active in the high pick and roll offensive when placed in the game.

    Expect Miles Plumlee to be a vocal team leader in the upcoming 2012 season for the Blue Devils.

Seventh Man—Seth Curry

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    Son of Dell Curry and Brother of Davidson stand out Stephen Curry, Seth Curry has a jump shot similar to every other member in his family...smooth.

    As a freshman at Liberty, Seth led all freshmen in scoring with just over 20 points a game. It was only then Seth decided to transfer to Duke to play against better competition and to further improve his game. In his first year of eligibility at Duke Seth has made the most of it, playing 24.6 minutes per game and averaging nine points off the bench. Curry can provide a spark off the bench and can put points up in a hurry like we saw against arch rival North Carolina, where he dropped his career high at Duke of 22 points, 18 of which came in the second half.

    Curry’s quality minutes and numbers will only increase with another year of experience in Krzyzewski’s system.

Eighth Man—Michael Gbinije

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    Michael Gbinije is unique in the way that his game is very fundamentally sound at such a young age.

    At 6’6" 195 pounds Gbinije is an aberration in this day and age of selfish players because he rarely forces the action and always looks to make the right basketball play. Mike Krzyzewski loves players like Gbinije, who are exceptionally athletic and have a high basketball I.Q. Gbinije has a solid frame with nice length and great athleticism.

    Don’t be surprised if Krzyzewski decides to play Gbinije early in the season to prepare him for conference play later down the road. Gbinije can expect quality minutes early, since Duke lacks depth in the small forward position.

Ninth Man—Tyler Thornton

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    Tyler Thornton has seen a good share of minutes in 2011 since Kyrie Irving has been sidelined from that severe toe injury.

    While only a freshman, Coach K believes Thornton is a defensive specialist and can shut down any team’s best player on a nightly basis. Thornton is always active on defense, getting his hands on many passes and constantly coming up with loose balls. Besides bringing some defensive energy to the court, Thornton can also handle the ball without making many mistakes. Thornton has gained a vast amount of experience throughout this year, playing in every game up to date except two.

    Look for Tyler Thornton to give Irving and Rivers a much needed break come key games for the Blue Devils in 2012.

Tenth Man—Marshall Plumlee

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    The No. 4 ranked center in this year’s 2012 recruiting class, Marshall Plumlee, is a mobile post player that runs the floor extremely well. He also plays with great intensity on both ends of the floor.

    The youngest out of the soon to be three Duke Plumlee brothers, Marshall uses his good hands to score with jump hooks, turn shots and open 12-15 footers. He is a good area rebounder on both ends and defensively he does a nice job of blocking and changing shots. Marshall, the tallest out of the three brothers, is also supposedly the most athletic and plays with the most poise.

    Marshall should give Krzyzewski and his fellow brothers' quality minutes off the bench and will make Duke’s post defense/offense that much better.