Duke Blue Devils
Overall Rank: #11
Conference Rank: #2 ACC
2006-07: 22-11, 8-8, 6th (t)
2006-07 postseason: NCAA
Coach Mike Krzyzewski returns six players who started at least ten games last year for Duke. Going 8-8 is certainly a down year in Durham, but it will be better this year. There were no scholarship seniors on the team last year and there is just one this year. This year’s Duke team may be young, but last year’s was extremely young and inexperienced. With everybody but one impact player back, inexperience is no longer a problem and adding in a trio of highly touted freshmen to boost the lackluster offense will go a long way. The Blue Devils will be back to the Sweet Sixteen after VCU busted their streak of nine in a row last March.
Besides walk-on Joe Paglicua, who played in just three games, Josh McRoberts is the only loss suffered by the Blue Devils. But that is a big loss. McRoberts averaged 13.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks before bolting early for the NBA. His absence leaves a huge, huge gap up front and that will be the Achilles heel for Duke all year long.
One would think the recruiting class would address the frontcourt concern, but no. Still this is a great class of wings who will add even more athleticism to the team. The best of the bunch is small forward Kyle Singler. The best asset the team will get out of Singler this year is his size. At 6-8 Singler can grab some boards from the wing. He lacks the strength to do so, but he could end up starting at the power forward spot due to a massive talent logjam at the shooting guard and small forward spots. Singler is known for his smart play and terrific shooting ability and he will show off those talents no matter where he ends up playing this season. Streaky shooting small forward Taylor King brings another big guard to the lineup. He is not a great athlete, but at 6-6 can cause problems for smaller opponents trying to defend him. Nolan Smith will be the sharp shooting guard and shutdown defender of the future. For now he will play that role off the bench.
Who to Watch:
The backcourt starts with point guard Greg Paulus. He had a great shooting season as a sophomore, but the turnover numbers were way too high. Unlike incoming freshman Smith, Paulus will not beat many defenders off the dribble, but as long as he can keep the turnovers down as an upperclassman, Duke will be in good hands. Jon Scheyer ended up to be a lot like Paulus. He is a good shooter, although he did not have that great of a season from long range compared to Paulus, shooting just 36.5 percent. Scheyer can run the show, but his assist-to-turnover ratio was even worse than Paulus’. Both will do plenty of scoring and win plenty of games for the Blue Devils, but they will have to keep the turnovers down to win the big games consistently. The athleticism in the backcourt belongs to Gerald Henderson. The 6-4 swingman had a decent campaign averaging 6.8 points per game as a freshman, but that is just the beginning of his potential. The star of the team is DeMarcus Nelson who led the team with 14.1 points per game and added 5.4 rebounds. Ideally, the 6-4 Nelson would be starting at the three spot, but with Paulus and Scheyer returning as starters and Henderson expected to have a breakout season, Nelson could see a lot of time at the four spot. On the offensive end, that is not a big deal, but it will be a problem in certain situations for the 200 pound Nelson to defend much bigger opponents. However, Coach Krzyzewski will get the proper players on the floor in any given situation and the size concerns of the Blue Devils will not be exploited too much.
It is not just the power forward spot that needs to be filled, but the team needs a center as well. The 6-8 Lance Thomas started 18 games next to McRoberts last season and is the early favorite to take over the full-time starting gig. He is a good rebounder and defender, but Duke needs him to develop into a consistent low post scorer. At 7-1 and 260 pounds, Brian Zoubek would fit in nicely if he can emerge as a solid scorer after averaging just 7.3 minutes per contest last year. David McClure is not a big time scorer, but the 6-6 forward is a tough, hard-nosed player who will do the dirty work. Of course he is not big enough to play the five spot, but he will earn plenty of quality minutes at both forward positions.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Greg Paulus, Junior, Guard, 11.8 points per game
Jon Scheyer, Sophomore, Guard, 12.2 points per game
DeMarcus Nelson, Senior, Guard, 14.1 points per game
Kyle Singler, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Lance Thomas, Sophomore, Forward, 4.0 points per game