The Duke Blue Devils enter the year ranked fourth in the AP poll, following a year in which a very talented team came up short in the tournament, losing to Arizona in the sweet 16.
Despite losing senior leaders Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, along with the top overall pick the NBA draft Kyrie Irving, Duke once again is in the national championship picture. The young Blue Devils return only one senior in Miles Plumlee, but add one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, including top overall recruit Austin Rivers.
Duke always has the talent to compete, and this year should be no different. Here are seven bold predictions for the Duke Blue Devils’ 2011-12 season.
College basketball has not seen a prospect with the amount of potential Austin Rivers has in years, and that’s not to say he isn't already one of the best players in the country, even without having played his first official game for the Blue Devils.
With unparalleled quickness and athleticism, along with extreme confidence and swagger, Rivers will be one of the most feared players in basketball. Although Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger are favorites for player of the year, no offense will be as dependent on playmaking from a single player as Duke will be with Austin Rivers.
With 900 wins, Coach Mike Krzyzewski is a mere two victories away from becoming college basketball’s all-time winningest coach. The Hall of Famer has amassed 11 final fours—the second most in history—12 ACC regular season titles, 13 ACC championships and a record of 79 NCAA tournament victories in his 30 season at Duke.
What makes his resume more impressive is the four offers he has received to coach NBA teams, all of which he declined to continue his legacy in Durham.
If he manages another deep run in March this season, Coach K will be regarded as the greatest college basketball coach of all-time.
As a redshirt sophomore, Seth Curry earned a starting role in the Devils’ lineup after Kyrie Irving suffered a toe injury that kept him out for a good part of the season.
In 37 games Curry averaged nine points per game on 42 percent shooting, along with two assists per game.
Although Curry was impressive at times, Andre Dawkins is prime to have a breakout year and potentially claim a role in the Devil’s starting lineup. Because Austin Rivers is more of a combo guard, Duke has several possible lineups that will include Curry, Dawkins and freshman point guard Quinn Cook.
There have been several instances where Dawkins has shown glimpses of stardom, including an outstanding performance against Baylor in the 2010 Elite 8. This year seems to be his final chance to reach the expectations set for him coming out of high school a year early, so look for Dawkins to step up and make a name for himself.
Duke has not had a stronger or deeper frontcourt since the days of Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer and Shelden Williams. Although they lack a single, powerful presence in the key, Duke does have a strong group of forwards in Mason, Miles and Marshall Plumlee.
Mason is a true big man who rebounds, blocks shots and runs the floor well, while Miles is a more physical big man who will control the paint.
Ryan Kelly will be the first big off the bench and will stretch out defenses, with his shooting ability. Coach K also brought in recruits 6’7" Michael Gbinije and 6’8" Alex Murphy, who will add some much needed support for Plumlee.
With this frontcourt and an abundance of athletic guards, Duke may have the deepest team in the country.
I’ve already said this, but Austin Rivers can score. When you add to that two pure shooters in Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry, along with the Plumlees you have three surprisingly quick and athletic big men. Then, add in Ryan Kelly, who made 18 consecutive field goals last year and you get the fastest and most athletic team the Blue Devils have had in years.
Duke’s biggest problem the past couple of years has been keeping up with fast and athletic teams, but this year it looks as if they will be the ones running over the competition.
I know this one is hard to believe considering the amount of talent and depth on North Carolina’s roster, but anytime Duke faces UNC you know either team has a chance to win.
A difficult non-conference schedule should toughen up the Blue Devils and speed up their learning process in time for ACC play. Duke rarely loses at home and has won three consecutive ACC tournaments, so if they can steal a win at Chapel Hill, they have a good chance of sweeping the Tar Heels.
As we all know, anything goes in college basketball come March.
Duke definitely has the talent to make a deep run in March, and if this year’s tournament is as wild as last year, all Duke has to do is get hot at the right time to make a deep run in the tournament.
With Coach K on the sideline and Austin Rivers setting the pace for the Blue Devils, Duke could play for their second national championship in three years.