Duke Basketball: Predictions, Best and Worst Case Scenarios and Contingencies
While the rest of the college basketball world celebrates what appears to be one of the most exciting Final Fours in a while, Duke fans are still picking themselves off the ground.
Some have moved on from the heart wrenching loss to Arizona in the Sweet 16, others are still a bit shocked and yet others are lamenting in a state of depression the likes that haven't been since Duke lost its last NCAA tournament game two years ago.
Life moves on and so it does for Duke Basketball. The Blue Devils bid farewell to their team leaders and super-stars of this year and will welcome a whole new team come October.
Next year's team, regardless of the decisions still remaining, will be much different than the current incarnation.
How much different remains to be seen, but there will be new faces mixing with the old, and players who were secondary to this years stars will have to step up.
This is a glance at what next year's team might look like and what their potential might be. It is far from the preseason No. 1 team in America that began this season, but not a complete rebuilding as others might have you believe.
Nice Knowing You?
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Duke will lose two of its top three scorers in Kyle Singler and ACC Player of the Year Nolan Smith, but they may not be the only ones.
Kyrie Irving, Duke's freshman point guard sensation also has a decision to make. He is likely to choose the money afforded to a high NBA lottery pick, though no decision has been made yet.
It may be a difficult decision, and had he played a full season, he may have been more ready than he is now to bolt early. Still, he may be compelled to come back due to the way the season ended, but that is more than likely wishful thinking.
Another potential defection is Mason Plumlee. On the surface and to Duke fans this seems like a head scratcher but NBA scouts love Plumlee's potential. He is athletic and runs the floor very well.
Due to his inconsistent play in post and his penchant for committing silly fouls, it limited his playing time. He also never showed the ability to dominate a team with a solid big man.
He needs time to develop and he isn't likely to find that in the NBA, but ultimately will the appeal of the money be too much for him to pass up on?
Fresh Faces, New Potential Stars
Duke will be welcoming a solid recruiting class rated as high as No. 3 (ESPN) and featuring the nation's top recruit in Austin Rivers.
Rivers, depending on if Kyrie Irving and possibly Mason Plumlee depart early, could come in as a freshman and become the Blue Devils top offensive weapon.
He is joined by other top 50 recruits in point guard Quinn Cook, guard/forward Michael Gbinije and center Marshall Plumlee, the third Plumlee to enter Duke in the last four years.
While Plumlee, who will probably need at least a year to develop physically to play at a high level, will likely not play that much early, Rivers and Cook and potentially Gbinije might see substantial playing time.
Aside from Rivers who probably will start, Cook and Gbinije's playing time will hinge on how well they pick up Mike Krzyzewski's man-to-man defense. If they can do so without become a defensive liability then they will see solid minutes as freshman.
As for Rivers, he is the real deal and may end up being Duke's go-to-man in the absence of Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and potentially Kyrie Irving.
Oldies but Goodies
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Duke loses some talent but returns some as well.
It starts with Seth Curry who showed the potential to, and probably will have to, up his scoring efforts in 2011.
Curry is a marksman much like his older brother Stephon Curry and Duke will need every bit of his scoring prowess and defensive toughness next season.
Add in Ryan Kelly, who is two knee braces and a sweat band away from being that guy at the Y you don't want to have to check in a pick up game.
He is a smart player who had shown the ability to be a good shooter, a deceptive blocker and crafty in the post when in the right position.
Andre Dawkins also returns and the streaky shooter will look to post a complete season. He has shown glimpses in his first two years but has hit significant slumps in each.
If he can light it up from behind the line and develop some moves to create his own shot and improve his defense he can definitely help Duke.
If Mason Plumlee returns and develops more of an offensive game in the post it will be even better, but for now the Blue Devils will need increased input from Curry, Kelly and Dawkins.
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Should his younger brother leave early, Miles Plumlee will be Duke's best interior player.
As scary a thought as that might be for some Duke fans and appealing as it may be for opponents, Miles is a hard worker who could be up to the task.
He is athletic and that helps. If he can play a bit smarter, be an opportunistic scorer and avoid fouls, he can help Duke who is likely to run more smaller line ups in 2012.
Plumlee will be much better if Mason Plumlee stays, but if he doesn't, Duke will need Josh Hairston to step up.
Hairston showed glimpses of being a high energy guy with a nice touch from about 10 to 15 feet. He really needs to improve his strength, rebounding ability and defensive footwork.
If he can dedicate himself to being a solid offensive rebounder, he can be a nice option off the bench, especially if he plays smart on the defensive end.
As mentioned earlier, Duke also gets a third Plumlee in Marshall but he, at least for now, appears to need more time to get stronger and a year to adjust to the speed of college basketball before he will be a serious contributor.
Ryan Kelly can help in the post as well but he is likely to play more of a three type role, playing on the wing and at the high post.
Battle at the Point
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Next year looks to be setting up to provide an interesting battle at the point guard position.
Unlike this past season when Kyrie Irving walked onto campus and into the starting line up, 2012 will feature a competition for the spot if Irving, as projected, leaves early.
Rising sophomore Tyler Thornton wasn't considered a top-notch point guard when compared to Irving but proved to be serviceable in spots in his freshman campaign.
He is likely to be challenged by incoming freshman Quinn Cook. Cook is a talented point guard, though not on the same level as Irving.
Thornton will have the edge thanks to his attention to detail, his smart play and solid defensive efforts.
If he can grasp the offense that Mike Krzyzewski wants to run next season, he is likely to get the nod, though if Cook can show he can not be a defensive liability, he would get significant minutes as well.
Best Case Scenario
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Any best case scenario starts with Duke retaining the services of Kyrie Irving. He would likely start with a back court featuring he and Austin Rivers and potentially Seth Curry as well.
It is hard to imagine a more dynamic back court with more scoring potential than that.
Mason Plumlee would also return and have developed some serious post moves to go with his increased strength and of course his athleticism.
Add in improvements from guys like Andre Dawkins, Ryan Kelly, Miles Plumlee, Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton, with the incoming freshman class, and Duke would be poised to make another run at a Final Four.
That starting five would likely be Irving, Rivers, Curry, Miles and Mason Plumlee with Dawkins, Quinn Cook, Tyler Thornton, Josh Hairston, Michael Gbinije and Kelly all getting significant minutes off the bench.
It might not be the line up that Duke had early in the 2011 season that featured two seniors but it would be awfully good by the end of the year.
Worst Case Scenario
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While it is fun to think about best case scenarios, the worst case scenario is likely possible. And while Kyrie Irving is not likely to return, there is still some hope Mason Plumlee would.
If he doesn't, then that sets up the worst case scenario for Duke starting in the middle where a huge gap would be, though many feel that there is already a huge gap there.
Without Mason Plumlee, brother Miles would have to anchor the interior, and with Miles' penchant for fouling early and often, it could force Duke into dangerously small lineups especially against bigger, more athletic teams.
Ryan Kelly is capable, but not as athletic as either Plumlee. Josh Hairston, at only 6'7'', is probably too small to be a banger and hold the post on his own.
This would cause Duke to become a more guard-oriented lineup, and if fans and critics thought Duke shot too much this season, just wait.
That starting five would likely be Tyler Thornton, Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Miles Plumlee. Quinn Cook, Michael Gbinije, and Josh Hairston would be the primary subs.
Not a bad group, but its certainly not a top five type team or an early contender for a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Even more dangerous than speculating starting lineup and the comings and goings of potential NBA draft picks are the possible contingency plans.
Duke potentially has two, though only one has had any discussion and that has seemed to die down a little.
Both center around recruits. The first being Class of 2012 commitment Alex Murphy. Murphy who after verbally committing to Duke a few months ago was rumored to be thinking about whether he'd try to enroll early.
It wouldn't be unheard of: Andre Dawkins came in a year early last season when Duke was short on guards.
Murphy is a versatile forward who can play inside or outside and has drawn compairsions to Kyle Singler and former Duke standout Mike Dunleavy Jr.
If Duke were to lose Mason Plumlee it might be a welcome addition.
Another, more recent topic has been the recruitment or potential recruitment of Class of 2011 power forward DeAndre Daniels.
Daniels is said to be growing fonder of Duke, though the Blue Devils haven't made an offer. He is an athletic big who likes to take the ball out on the perimeter.
He doesn't offer Duke a back to the basket big man, but his skill set might fit into the run and gun style they are likely to employ without one. Still, this is all only talk, and until Duke makes an offer, it is just speculation.
Still, it gives Duke fans something to talk about in the long offseason.
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The 2011 season was full of great promise and expectations. While some of the expectations were met, the ultimate goal of another Final Four and a repeat championship fell short.
The 2012 season will be full of a great many questions. With having no knowledge or support, I'd say Mason Plumlee returns to further develop, but Kyrie Irving leaves.
That means Duke falls somewhere in between the best and worst case scenarios outlined earlier.
Ultimately, there is still plenty of talent for Duke to be a top 10 team in 2012, though top five may be a bit of a stretch especially early on. And it wouldn't be a surprise to see Duke struggle and fall below top 10 either.
The Blue Devils will likely struggle with bigger stronger teams with solid post scorers. On offense they will once again rely on the bevy of guards and hope Austin Rivers can be the kind of player who can get into the paint and create scoring opportunities.
Still, much like this season, Duke will struggle when they have off shooting nights and no answer in the post.
It wouldn't be unreasonable to predict Duke finishing second or third in the ACC depending on what happens down 15/501 in Chapel Hill.
A No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament is probable but not a guarantee, but beyond that it is anyone's guess, including the coach who will break the all-time Division I mark for wins early next season.