There is no way around it, the 2010-11 campaign was a flat out disappointment for the Blue Devils.
The preseason No. 1 team in the country, the Blue Devils showed by midseason that they just weren't the team everyone thought they would be. When Kyrie Irving went down, the whole season seem to fall under a dark cloud.
Going into the 2011-12 season there is a renewed sense of optimism in Durham. A great freshman class, led by Austin Rivers, is on campus, and a good veteran core return.
There is reason to believe that this squad could make another run at a national championship. If that is to happen, however, there are five key aspects that the Blue Devils must address.
No team that is run by Mike Krzyzewski will ever lack leadership overall. This team will be as guided as they come, yet every team needs a floor general, that one player on the floor that has things under control.
Obviously losing Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler is huge. They have been the face of the Duke program since the departure of JJ Redick. Without their veteran leadership, there will be a void that somebody needs to fill.
The most obvious choices to fill the leadership void are Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. They both have a lot of game experience and have been in the program for two years. Both can shoulder the offensive load when need-be and are heady players.
Both Plumlees could emerge as leaders as well. Both are high IQ players and seem very diminutive.
This years team has a lot of weapons. There will never been a shortage of guys that can and want to hoist it up.
Finding a happy balance between all of his shooters will be a daunting task for Mike Krzyzewski. There is loads of talent, but finding roles for each person and keeping them happy in them will be a chore this season.
The primary ego that Coach K. will need to keep under control is that of incoming freshman Austin Rivers. Rivers has all the talent in the world but seems to lack a little maturity. He seems like a good kid, but is supremely confident, something that may get him in trouble if he starts trying to take over.
While the Blue Devils have been completely dominated by perimeter play in the past couple seasons, they will have an option to use the post much more this year. The Plumlee brothers have developed consistently over the past couple years to the point where they could be valuable weapons if they get enough touches.
The way that the Plumlees complement each other is the key to their game. Mason provides the finesse and touch. He has great length and athleticism and can really finish. Miles is more of your dime-a-dozen banger. He rebounds of his area and sets good screens for cutters. Both protect the hoop well as they have a knack for shot blocking.
Ryan Kelly will also be invaluable this season. His ability to rebound his position and draw his man away from the hoop will be key.
Incoming freshman Michael Gbinije and sophomore Josh Hairston will add explosiveness and athleticism.
The departure of Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving has left a gaping hole at the point. Between the two players, they pretty much had the ball in their hands at all times, especially in clutch situations.
Austin Rivers and Quinn Cook will help alleviate some of the pressure in this area but the majority of the ball handling duty will fall to Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. They should be up to the challenge.
Rivers is much more of a 2-guard but is known to handle the ball in clutch situations, much like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. By midseason, he should be the go-to scorer. This may bring ball-handling duties with it.
If there is one thing that Coach K's teams are known for, it is their defensive communication. Communication is key to being able to contain great scorers and stymie dangerous team offenses.
Smith and Singler were the leaders of the team chatter last year. You could see their mouths always running, calling out screens and the like. That general need has to be filled this season. It remains to be seen who will fill that void.
Part of what has made Duke, Duke over the years is their ability to find the perfect fit for each of their players. There are many roles that need to be casted this season, but Mike Krzyzewski is one of the best coaches ever and will have the Blue Devils ready to go this season.
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