With their recent National Championship, could this be the season that kick-starts the Blue Devils return to glory in college basketball? Duke has always been relevant within the game, but I'm talking about really returning to national prominence? With Coach K at the helm and several starters returning, next season, the Blue Devils should be amongst the favorites to contend for the 2011 title.
The Blue Devils will lose current seniors Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas to graduation, who account for over a third of Duke's scoring load and 40% of their rebounding. More importantly, Scheyer was the team's most consistent perimeter threat who ran the offense with excellent efficiency, averaging exactly a 3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, one of the best rates in the nation. Zoubek and Thomas did all of the dirty work down low on the glass and freeing up shooters with screens on the outside. In the NCAA tournament, the two combined to average over 9 offensive rebounds tonight. Yes, the production will certainly be difficult to replace, but impossible? No... The team's second and third scorers, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are expected back in town, while the Plumlee brothers have the ability to wreak havoc on the glass, while bringing more athleticism to the frontcourt, something Duke has not had in years.
Replacing Scheyer will be the more difficult task, but Coach K has the tools to do it. He will bring in a McDonald's All-American and national top five recruit, Kyrie Irving to run the point. Irving is the highest rated guard prospects to head to Duke since Jay Williams dressed in Blue and White. He has a remarkable ball-handling ability and has demonstrated precision passing through the smallest of openings. The 6'2" incoming freshman is also a terrific shooter. He has a deadly 3-point stroke and is capable of pulling up off the dribble on a dime. His athleticism and natural ability will have the Cameron Crazies screaming and cheering even louder during games. Coming off the bench will be Liberty transfer, Seth Curry, the brother of former Davidson star and current Golden State Warrior, Stephen Curry. As a freshman, Curry averaged 20 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in almost 37 minutes per game. He will certainly have a reduced role and diminished minutes, but Curry could be the best 6th man Duke has had in recent years. His shooting, quickness and play-making ability will be a dangerous addition to the backcourt. Also likely to see minutes in the backcourt are rising sophomore Andre Dawkins and another incoming freshman Tyler Thornton. Dawkins will compete for minutes with Seth Curry, but provides another outstanding shooting presence off the bench, while Thornton is a pass-first point guard, who can run the half-court offense or get out in transition.
With the loss of two frontcourt starters, Duke has Miles and Mason Plumlee to fill the void. The Plumlee brothers, Miles, a rising junior and Mason, a rising sophomore, averaged just as many minutes as starters the starters Zoubek and Thomas did this past season. They are both 6'10", physical, and athletic, sure to cause problems for opponents attempting to match up with the Blue Devils. Incoming freshman, Joshua Hairston, is sure to see a lot of minutes in a frontcourt that lost some of its depth. Hairston was a consensus top 25 recruit in the nation, standing at 6'9", 220 pounds. He is a very athletic, high energy 4-man, a perfect fit for Coach Krzyzewski's offense. He has improved his offensive game over the course of his senior year of high school, developing a mid-range jumper, and excelling in the pick-and-roll game. He attacks the glass and rebounds with authority. Duke also brings in Junior College freshman transfer, Carrick Felix, a high-flying wing, who will earn minutes right away with his excellent defense. He is in the mold of former-Duke players Dahntay Jones and Gerald Henderson. Due to a medical redshirt, Felix will have three years remaining of eligibility at Duke.
With so much returning and incoming talent, it's difficult to imagine Duke having a tremendous drop off from losing a trio of seniors in Scheyer, Zoubek and Thomas. With Coach K leading the way, expect the Blue Devils to have another prominent year in the national eye.