Duke Basketball: How Does This Duke Team Compare to Previous Champions?
The Duke Blue Devils once again find themselves in the Sweet 16 and have high expectations thrown at them, including getting to a Final Four and possibly winning a national title.
This isn't new to Duke fans and coaches. They've been there before. It also isn't new to most of the veteran players who played in the Final Four last year and won the title.
But for the new guys, it is a completely different experience.
While Duke was preseason No. 1 and the odds-on favorite to win the title, those expectations dropped off a bit when star point guard Kyrie Irving went down with an apparent season-ending injury.
The Blue Devils struggled for a while without him until they regained their edge and went on to win the ACC tournament.
Now with Irving back, they are once against thrust into the national title discussion despite the adjustments that still need to be made.
Mike Krzyzewski isn't new to the expectations. He has seen and handled them enough to win four national championships and be the national runner-up four other times. But how does this current band of Blue Devils stack up to the past champions?
Duke circa 1991 was a veteran team that had been to the Final Four and national title game before.
Having lost in epic fashion to UNLV in the most lopsided national final in Division I college basketball history in 1990, Duke had to square off with the nation's best team again in the semifinals.
Like this year's Blue Devils, the 1991 team was comprised mostly of players from the previous year's team. That 1991 team beat undefeated UNLV and the Fab Five Michigan squad in the Final Four to win the national title.
The 2010 team, on the other hand, won against an unexpected foe in Butler, and Duke 1991 won against two of the then-premier programs in the country.
This year's version has a similar road to the 1991 team if it gets to the Final Four. There are no Cinderellas along the way, so if they get there, they will have earned it.
Like 1991, Duke has a mix of veterans and youth. In 1991 Grant Hill was the difference as a freshman. Can Kyrie Irving do the same thing?
Can Kyle Singler be Christian Laettner and dominate? Can Nolan Smith continue to play at a high level and run the team like Bobby Hurley? And can Kyrie Irving be inserted back in the rotation and play at the same level?
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The current version of the Blue Devils are often gaged against their 1992 counterparts.
The 1992 team was comprised of the same star players who led them to the title in 1991. Similarly, the 2011 version brings back two of its three best players.
That is where the similarities end, at least for the most part. Duke's 1992 team was loaded top to bottom.
Hurley, Laettner, Grant Hill and Thomas Hill were all back from the previous season and knew what it took. All have played serious minutes or started the year before.
This year's team has two returning stars in Singler and Smith, but lost a key starter in Jon Scheyer. They also lost key role players in Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas.
This year's version has found a capable role player in Ryan Kelly, the Plumlee brothers and even added a star in Kyrie Irving. But Irving got hurt and didn't return until the start of the tournament, leaving lots of questions remaining about an already good team.
The 1992 squad was pretty much set from the beginning of the year. This year's team continues to grow and morph, which could be a good thing, but could end up being a bad thing if they don't gel.
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The 2001 version of the Blue Devils featured a hot-shot point guard from New Jersey, a versatile forward who could shoot or bang in the post and another solid point/shooting guard who could create a shot off the dribble and defend.
Wait, that sounds a lot like the 2011 team.
This year's team is bigger and deeper than in 2001, but perhaps not as talented all around, though that is another discussion.
Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, Shane Battier and Chris Duhon made for a potent lineup. Add in sixth man Nate James and the play of guys like Matt Christiensen and Casey Sanders, and the Blue Devils were just deep enough to make a title run.
This year's version saw its version of Jason Williams lost for most of the season, and even though he is back, he likely to start. His injury and subsequent return were similar to the late-season loss and return of Boozer.
Duke fans and coaches are hoping for lightning to strike twice, and for Irving to be the spark, the 2011 team needs to duplicate the feat of the 1992 repeat champions.
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While the names and faces are very similar, this year's Blue Devils are very different than last season.
For starters, the pace of the team is much faster than in 2010. Duke is deliberate on offense but looks to push the issue more, especially with how well Nolan Smith has played and how good Kyrie Irving was early.
Had Irving not gotten hurt, this team would be even faster. Still, the Blue Devils have increased their possessions per game over last year, a clear indication that the team runs at a faster pace.
This year's team has always been labeled as more talented than the 2010 team, and that might be true. How well they continue to develop is important, and re-integrating Irving is going to be a challenge, though a good problem to have.
Last year's team had a great chemistry and closeness that would be hard to beat. Still, this year's team still has a chance to join these other teams among the greats in school history.
Only time will tell, and the road is long and paved with pot holes. Anyone could end their trip early and send them home. The veterans know this, but can they respond like last year?