Duke Basketball 2011: Why the Blue Devils Will Not Suffer the Decline Expected

Ben BleibergContributor IApril 24, 2011

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 20:  Nolan Smith #2 of the Duke Blue Devils talks with his teammates in the second half while taking on the Michigan Wolverines during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 20, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Duke Blue Devils were a championship favorite last year and suffered a disappointing and surprising defeat to the Arizona Wildcats in the Sweet Sixteen.  The Devils lost arguably their three most talented players to the NBA ( two to graduation: Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith and one declaring early for the draft: Kyrie Irving).  Many experts are predicting a major drop-off in Duke's ability next year because of the loss of so much talent and senior leadership.

While Duke's losses are great, do not expect the Blue Devils to fade from relevance.  Duke can rely on an excellent incoming recruiting class, greater contributions from existing players and Coach K's incredible ability to keep Duke high on the ACC standings.  

Duke's recruiting class has both talent and depth.  

Front line talents like Austin Rivers, Quinn Cook and Michael Gbenije will contribute immediately.  Expect Cook to get significant minutes at point guard and Rivers to be one of the top scoring players in the country.  The depth comes from developing players like Marshall Plumlee, who could turn into a great college big man and Alex Murphy, who is joining Duke a year earlier than expected and has drawn comparisons to former Duke players Mike Dunleavy and Kyle Singler.  Also, DeAndre Daniels, another top 10 recruit, has been rumored to be a Duke commit, giving the Blue Devils more depth and talent needed to offset some of the losses mentioned.

Aside from the great new talent coming to Durham, Duke has many players with incredible potential that may be tapped with an offseason of training and a larger role in the offense next year.  Seth Curry showed flashes of brilliance last year (especially in the Duke vs. UNC game in Cameron Indoor). It seems like he may be ready to become more of a go-to option on offense.  Mason Plumlee has had NBA scouts drooling over his athleticism for some time now, and with more polish added to his post-game, could show the nation why he is often viewed as a future first-round pick.  

Other players like Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly showed they can be very valuable contributors; look for Dawkins scoring to explode if given more minutes.

Many people see this Duke team as clearly worse than UNC's "super team" of returning lottery picks, but I promise that Duke will not surrender its grip on the ACC without a fight, and next year's Blue Devils will have the tools to compete with anyone in the country and could be a surprise Final Four Team.