Conference Rank: #2 ACC
2007-08: 28-6, 13-3, 2nd
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
A lack of depth has kept Duke out of the nation’s elite over the last two campaigns. Last year’s roster was an improvement over the 2006-2007 season, but depth was still a concern. The Blue Devils have had some horrible finishes to both of those seasons, including a couple of early NCAA Tournament exits. The depth will be better this year and that is enough to move the talented Blue Devils up into a legitimate Final Four contender instead of a group that will suffer another early departure in March.
When Duke was dominating early in the 2007-2008 season, it was on the shoulders of DeMarcus Nelson. The guard led the team in scoring and steals, but he also averaged 2.9 assists and 5.8 rebounds. Nelson did it all and it will be very difficult for the Blue Devils to replace him with a single individual. Taylor King has also left the program after averaging 5.5 points per game.
The addition of Elliot Williams will certainly help ease the loss of Nelson. Williams is an explosive athlete and a joy to watch above the rim. He is 6-4, but he plays a whole lot bigger than that. His wingspan is impressive and that, along with his mindset and foot speed, makes him a solid defender. Williams handles the ball like a point guard, and could certainly spend some time there, but he should spend more time on the wing unless Duke needs him to run the show at some point in his career. The only question surrounding Williams is his outside shooting. He is not a horrible shooter by any means, but it is his weak spot. Williams is the star of the class, but Olek Czyz and Miles Plumlee finally give the Blue Devils some options in the paint. Czyz is a bit of a wildcard. At 6-7 and 240 pounds, he has enough size to play power forward, but he is more of a guard who has a lot of size. If he can pull it together quickly, Czyz could be a surprise player on this year’s roster. Plumlee will likely see playing time, whether he is ready or not. At 6-10 and 230 pounds, Plumlee has more size than anybody on the Duke roster not named Zoubek, and if he can effectively play 15 to 20 minutes per game at the five spot, the Blue Devils frontcourt issues will be over.
Who to Watch:
Williams will find his minutes, but Coach Mike Krzyzewski already has a ton of talented guards. Greg Paulus and Nolan Smith will share minutes running the show. Paulus averaged 11.4 points and 3.2 assists per contest a year ago. He is not the most flashy scorer or ball handler around, but Paulus is a solid all-around player who will do what his team needs him to do. Smith could be the breakout player on the team (and perhaps the conference) this year. He only averaged 5.9 points per game as a sophomore, but that was in just 14.7 minutes per contest. If he can earn more playing time, he will be a consistent double-digit scorer. On the wings Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer are the scoring options. Henderson is a superb athlete who is just waiting to have a huge season. Scheyer came off the bench in all but one game last year, but he was third on the team in minutes. With Williams on the roster, the 6-5 shooter might find himself as the team’s sixth man once again.
Sophomore Kyle Singler could just as well be listed as a guard, but the 6-8 Medford, Oregon native spent some time at the five spot last year. With the newcomers, Singler should spend most of his time at the power forward position where he can be more spread out opposing defenses with his outside shooting ability. If Lance Thomas or Brian Zoubek can be effective, which they generally were not last year, than they will see plenty of playing time. If not, the frontcourt’s success or failure will fall on the freshman shoulders of Plumlee.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Nolan Smith, Sophomore, Guard, 5.9 points per game
Jon Scheyer, Junior, Guard, 11.7 points per game
Gerald Henderson, Junior, Guard, 12.7 points per game
Kyle Singler, Sophomore, Forward, 13.3 points per game
Miles Plumlee, Freshman, DNP