Ahhh. Seems like only yesterday that we were watching the Duke Blue Devils in Dubai putting the wraps on their "Friendship Tour" of Asia, also known as (a) the "Let's put the official Duke stamp on the new Fuqua Campus in China" tour; and more importantly, the (b) "Let's use the NCAA rules regarding participation in such summer contests to go ahead and get a jump start on the upcoming season" tour.
Now, here we are only hours away from Countdown to Craziness and the beginning another edition of Duke Blue Devils basketball. Like most seasons for lucky and perhaps spoiled (to some degree) Duke hoops fans, this campaign begins with tremendous optimism.
The Blue Devils are coming off of a 2010-11 campaign that, by most standards, was ultra-successful, though a bit disappointing by Duke's standard.
Favored by many to repeat as national champs, Duke began last season on a bullet, led by a rare pair of returning All-American seniors, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, while infused with the enthusiasm, push and penetration of electrifying freshman point guard Kyrie Irving.
Though an early December toe injury benched Irving until the NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils still had a great regular season, won the ACC Tournament Championship and garnered a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney.
Duke's season, of course, had an ignominious ending when the Devils were smacked down in a Sweet Sixteen match-up with the Arizona Wildcats.
While Nolan Smith and Singler have graduated and departed, the Blue Devils return five key players from last year's team and two rising sophomores who saw sporadic minutes. Added to that mix of experience is the nation's No. 2 ranked recruiting class, highlighted by arguably the nation's No. 1 recruit, Austin Rivers, and bolstered at the last minute by the early matriculation of 2012 commit, Alex Murphy.
The dual prospect of figuring out how to fill the void of significant senior experience, stardom and scoring while weaving together a new team of talented but untested veterans with gifted, but absolutely raw and inexperienced (except for the four Asian exhibitions) freshmen would be daunting for the average coach.
But Mike Krzyzewski, of course, is no average coach and his staff no ordinary staff. This year, in addition to the already heady and experienced nucleus of Steve Wojciechowski, Chris Collins and Nate James, Duke adds prodigal son and former Duke point guard, Jeff Capel, to the mix. Capel's head coaching experience should make the nation's best coaching staff that much stronger.
With preseason preparation getting under way, a number of questions and issues will need to be addressed if this masterful staff is to mold the Blue Devils into a team that can contend with North Carolina—returning the bulk of a talented unit that finished strong last season—for the ACC title and be in the thick of the national championship hunt.
Let's take a look at the most important dilemmas that Krzyzewski and company must concentrate on resolving before the schedule becomes extremely challenging in mid-November.