After starting out 22-1, the 2007-2008 season ended much like the last couple have for the Duke Blue Devils, an early exit from the NCAA Tournament. I know, most programs would be ecstatic to make it to the second round of March Madness, but Duke is not just any program.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is coming off a summer where he won the gold medal in Bejing, is looking to get the Blue Devils back in the quarterfinals of the tournament for the first time since 2004. Maybe the experience of getting the U.S. men’s basketball team back to where it once was will help Coach K this season with the Devils. Here’s a look at what Duke fans can expect for the upcoming season.
The Dukies return everyone but DeMarcus Nelson (graduated) and Taylor King (transferred). That’s the good news. The bad news is that DeMarcus Nelson was accountable for 25% of the starting five’s scoring at 14.5 PPG. Not to mention, he was a leader on the floor.
Junior Gerald Henderson will need to step up and fill the scoring and leadership voids left with the departure of Nelson. Henderson is a legitimate superstar, and he will fight to lead the Devils back where they belong, in the Final Four.
In the backcourt, senior Greg Paulus and sophomore Nolan Smith will provide a one-two punch at the point guard position that most teams only dream of. Coach K will look to Smith to lead the Devils this season, while Paulus will have to learn how to come off the bench after being the starter since coming to Duke as a freshman.
This transition will be the key to the team’s success this year, as pressuring the ball on defense is going to be a main focus for the Blue Devils, with Nolan leading the way. If Paulus is able to come off the bench, as Jon Scheyer did last year, and provide a scoring spark, it will be a great year for Duke. Speaking of Scheyer, he moves into the starting line-up, and brings along his sharp shooting from the outside.
As in years past, Duke's perimeter shooting game is going to be vital. Guys like Scheyer, Paulus, and Singler will need to be deadly from the arc if this Duke team plans to make it further than the second round of the “Big Dance” this year.
Rounding out the backcourt is Martynas Pocius, Jordan Davis, and Elliot Williams, the Devils No. 1 ranked recruit this year. Williams will be a future star in the ACC, but will need to sit behind Paulus and Smith this year while learning the Duke offense. He will have opportunities to see the court, but only in a limited role.
Kyle Singler, only a sophomore, headlines a front court that is probably the biggest weakness of this team. He is probably the best all around player the Devils have, but unfortunately, he doesn’t have the inside game that is needed to guard the likes of Tyler Hansborough of North Carolina, and James Johnson, Chas McFarland and Al-Farouq Aminu of Wake Forest, two teams with which Duke will be competing for the ACC title.
That’s where Miles Plumlee, a 6’10” freshman that’s long and athletic, comes into play. If he can acquaint himself quickly to the college basketball level, this Duke team could go from merely being a top ten team to being a serious contender.
The rest of the front court, which includes David McClure, Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek (finally healthy), and Steve Johnson, will provide experience and will be able to give the starters some rest when needed. Olek Czyz, the other incoming freshman for the Devils, probably won’t be much of a factor this year, but could see some minutes in mop up time.
This Blue Devil team has a lot of experience and talent, but if they are going to live up to their No. 8 AP ranking (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today Poll) and get into the Elite Eight come tournament time, they will have to find some consistency from the outside.
They don’t have a low post game, unless Zoubek or Plumlee step-up, and their pressure defense will only take them so far. Otherwise, I see this team having a good season, and possibly making it into the Sweet 16. The only problem is that a good season is not good enough for the Cameron Crazies, so I hope they prove me wrong.
That being said, the future is bright in Durham. With early signing day yesterday, came news of two big-time recruits, Mason Plumlee (Miles’ brother) and Ryan Kelly, ranked No. 9 and No. 12 respectively in ESPN’s top 100, who will join the Devils in 2010. I’m declaring it “The Year of the Dukies” for the 2009-2010 season. That’s when they will burst back onto the scene as college basketball’s premier team to beat.