Duke may have overachieved in the first half of last season, starting 21-1, and then they either underachieved or played exactly like they were supposed to in the second half, finishing the season 6-5 and exiting the NCAA Tournament in the second round with a loss to West Virginia.
Going into the start of last season, there were many questions about Duke’s roster. Could junior point guard Greg Paulus show leadership and composure? How would Duke fare with its lack of quality big men? Could the offense be effective with the new “spread and launch” approach?
Some of those same questions apply to the 2008-09 season.
Duke lost its leading scorer and rebounder from last season, DeMarcus Nelson, to the NBA, and 6’6” freshman Taylor King transferred to Villanova. But the Blue Devils brought in the 23rd-ranked recruiting class, headlined by McDonald's All-American guard Elliot Williams.
Record: 28-6 (13-3 ACC)
Postseason: NCAA Tournament—lost in second round to West Virginia, 73-67
Points per game: G DeMarcus Nelson – 14.5
Rebounds per game: G DeMarcus Nelson and F Kyle Singler – 5.8
Assists per game: G Greg Paulus – 3.2
Key Players Out
DeMarcus Nelson: 14.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.9 apg, and 1.5 steals pg
Taylor King: 5.5 ppg, 2 rpg, 38 percent 3pt
Key Returning Players
Kyle Singler: 13.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg
Gerald Henderson: 12.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.1 blocks pg
Jon Scheyer: 11.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.4 steals pg, 38 percent 3pt
Greg Paulus: 11.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.5 spg, 42 percent 3pt
Nolan Smith: 5.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 39 percent 3pt
Key Players In
Olek Czyz: F 6'7" 240, Freshman; Reno, Nevada; Reno
Miles Plumlee: F 6"10" 220, Freshman; Warsaw, Indiana; Christ School (NC)
Elliot Williams: G 6'4" 180, Freshman; Memphis, Tennessee; St. George's
The Duke frontcourt could be separated into two groups: Kyle Singler and everyone else. The expectations and skill set for the two groups will be vastly different. Singler will carry the majority of shots and scoring for the frontcourt, while the other group will focus on defense and rebounding.
2007-08 ACC Rookie of the Year Singler leads a very thin and inexperienced front line for the Blue Devils. Singler showed leadership and the ability to play in the ACC last season, but he needs to become a better defender and shot blocker if he wants to lead Duke to the Final Four.
Miles Plumlee, whose brother Mason is a five-star recruit committed to Duke for the '09 season, will bring the shot blocking Singler is currently lacking and has the potential to develop into a solid player on both ends of the floor. He needs to add strength to his thin, lanky frame.
Freshmen Olek Czyz is a Poland native who went to high school in Nevada. He comes to campus already bred with the “Duke hustle,” athleticism, and toughness the frontcourt was missing last season.
6’8” junior Lance Thomas started 28 games last season and is the most experienced frontcourt player on the roster. He will compete for the starting spot. Thomas is athletic and plays tough defense—like Singler, he will guard players taller than him.
Look for Coach K to try to plug in 7’1” Brian Zoubek into the starting lineup when the matchup calls for it, but he needs to stay healthy and stay out of foul trouble. Zoubek will not do much offensively—his focus will be defense.
David McClure is the only other player that saw meaningful minutes last season. He might be pushed closer to the end of the bench by Plumlee and Czyz, but when he comes in, he bring the typical Duke tenacity.
Unlike the frontcourt, the backcourt has a wealth of talent that is able to do everything. Greg Paulus has been in the starting lineup since early his freshman year, and Coach K will put the ball in the senior’s hands again this season. Look for Paulus to increase his scoring through even better shot selection.
Nolan Smith had a better than expected freshmen year. Duke was able to take Paulus out of the game and still have a very good ball handler to direct the offense. That was something lacking two seasons ago.
Smith should see more time as Coach K looks to develop him to take over the point next season. He will have greater opportunity to be creative in the offense but needs to step up on defense to help support Paulus, who is a poor on the ball defender.
If there is a Duke player on the verge of breaking out this season, it is junior G/F Gerald Henderson. With Nelson gone, Henderson will be the only player left with the ability to create his own shot.
There is very little he can’t do offensively. He is able to get to the rim—and finish—and his mid-range jumper has become more consistent each season. When Duke is shooting poorly from behind the arc, the Blue Devils will need Henderson to create one on one.
The only possible option to create shots outside the spread and kick attack is five-star recruit Elliot Williams.
Williams is an explosive athlete. Like Henderson, Williams is able to get to the rim and finish in traffic. His height and ability to play either guard spot will lead to matchup problems and will allow the Blue Devils to play many different lineups. It is tough to say if Williams will start or not, but he will see plenty of minutes.
Sixth man and three-point specialist Jon Scheyer has the ability to spread the court. Last season he flashed moments that showed his game has developed past just being a standstill shooter. Either way, when he is on the court, the defense has to be aware.
Interior play is still a weakness for this team. Coach K will have to address this issue from the beginning of practice. This season there will be more options on offense. Duke will come at teams with a barrage of threes in the spread offense and off the pick and roll with any of the guards and Singler.
Duke's offense will create problems for the opposing team’s zone defense. If you drop the zone too far into the lane, it will allow for wide-open looks behind the arc. But if you keep the zone stretched to guard against the three, the lane will be open for Duke’s guards get to the rim.
The Blue Devils will never be a “sleeper,” but with all the focus on the UNC Tar Heels, Duke will not get the national attention of their rivals from Tobacco Road—and that is just fine with Duke.
With Duke returning many key players—83 percent of their scoring—and the addition of the depth and height of the freshman class, look to the Blue Devils to once again compete for the ACC title and make a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament.
G Paulus, G Williams, G/F Henderson, F Singler, F Thomas
NEXT OFF THE BENCH
G Scheyer, G Smith, C Zoubek, F/C Plumlee, F Czyz, F McClure
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