Duke lost Brandon Ingram to the NBA draft and is coming off a shaky season by its standards. But after landing the nation's best recruiting class, per Scout.com, and returning a strong group of veterans, the Blue Devils are right back where they want to be: atop the college basketball landscape.
Duke opened the 2016-17 season as the No. 1 team in the preseason Associated Press poll, receiving 58 of a possible 65 first-place votes. Following the Blue Devils are Kentucky, Kansas, Villanova and Oregon to round out the Top Five.
Here is a look at how the entire poll played out:
|AP Preseason Poll|
|Ranking||School (1st-Place Votes)||Points|
"It is always an honor to be ranked No. 1," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, per ESPN.com. "We understand that no teams have played a regular-season game at this point, so many things can and often do change throughout the course of a college basketball season. Certainly, we're excited that people think highly of our team and the ACC as a whole."
Junior guard Grayson Allen enters the season as a clear favorite for National Player of the Year and is joined by a robust group of freshmen. Harry Giles and Jason Tatum were two of the 10 best players in the 2016 class according to every major recruiting service, and they ranked second and fourth, respectively, on Scout.com.
Giles would have been the consensus top player and favorite to go No. 1 in next June's NBA draft if not for his injury history. The explosive forward underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee earlier this month and is expected to miss the beginning of the season. Giles previously tore the ACL in both of his knees.
"You've had an injury in both knees, so it's not just the one that he did back in November. It's both knees, it's his hips," Duke associate coach Jeff Capel told Nicole Auerbach of USA Today. "It's all of these things to try to correct maybe some imbalances in his body to try to be preventative. We feel very confident that he'll be able to be back and be back to who he was and even better. We understand that it's going to take some time."
While the Blue Devils wait for Giles to return, they should have enough time to figure out a proper rotation of young players and veterans. Joining Allen are returning stars Luke Kennard, Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones. Sophomore forward Chase Jeter, who took a backseat last season despite being touted in high school, will also see more playing time.
They'll have to contend with a group of freshmen that includes point guard Frank Jackson and center Marques Boldin, who were each top-20 players in their own right. (Javin DeLaurier and Jack White will likely play minimally.)
This season may rival any in recent memory regarding Duke's reliance on freshmen. The 2016 class is considered one of the deepest and most talent-laden of this decade. While there is no consensus superstar a la Ben Simmons, a number of players have breakout potential.
Giles' injury paved the way for analysts to reach a near-consensus on Kansas forward Josh Jackson being the country's top freshman. Jackson will be confined to Bill Self's system, which rarely has room for individual superstardom, but he's a perfect fit. The 6'7" forward plays with a nonstop motor, boasts elite athleticism and already has an NBA body.
Kentucky, meanwhile, hauled in five players ranked No. 27 or better by Scout. The Wildcats freshmen are led by point guard De'Aaron Fox, who should have no trouble following in the long line of John Calipari-coached guards to wind up in the lottery. Fox has already drawn comparisons to former Calipari protege John Wall.
"You've got a lot of pressure coming in because of how many point guards have came and played for Coach Cal," Wall said, per Fletcher Page of the Courier-Journal. "Just go play your game, just lead as much as possible…and I think he's doing a great job playing basketball and trying to defend and push the pace as much as possible."
Fellow freshmen Edrice Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Malik Monk should also see extended playing time in Lexington.
Defending champion Villanova comes in at No. 4 despite losing point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and big man Daniel Ochefu from its roster. Leading scorer Josh Hart and forward Kris Jenkins return for their senior seasons, and the team will hope for a big leap from sophomore guard Jalen Brunson.
Overall, the ACC and Big Ten have the most teams in the Top 25 with five. The Big 12 has four teams.
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