There isn’t a lot of optimism surrounding the Duke Basketball program these days, not with the offseason that has already included a miss on a top recruit, a transfer and the possible loss of a rising senior.
Believe it or not it could be worse. Duke hasn’t committed any NCAA violations, hasn’t lost a chance to participate in post season play and didn’t lose its entire starting lineup to the NBA; so it has that going for them.
The bad offseason started with the failure to land Shabazz Muhammad who picked Adidas, I mean UCLA over Duke and Kentucky. Duke coaches and fans alike were excited about the possibilities of Muhammad being that stellar athletic wing, but it just didn’t happen.
Shortly after that, the Blue Devils lost rising sophomore Michael Gbinije to transfer as he looked to seek a fresh start elsewhere. And just this past week Duke found out that rising senior Andre Dawkins could possibly redshirt next season.
Dawkins as I wrote over at Duke Sports Blog following the announcement, is still coming to terms with the death of his sister Lacey and not having taken any time to properly grieve he may need to use next season to help him through that process.
Dawkins clearly hasn’t been the model of consistency over his career but it makes since if his head hasn’t been there. He has never been the player to respond to adversity well but we may be seeing why that is and a year away from the game may give him the time he needs to heal and eventually become the basketball player we all hope and believe he can be.
So clearly it has been a rough off season that wasn’t made any easier with the unimpressive first round loss to a No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
If you are local to the Raleigh/Durham area you know Tom Suiter, the former local sportscaster. He recently went on a local radio station and just bashed Duke stating that they were going to be awful next year given what has happened.
With all due respect to him and those who feel the Blue Devils are going to fall off the face of the planet, I’m willing to bet they are still a Top 25 team next season, even if they don’t add any other players.
They return two guys in Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton who should be able to play the point guard position adequately enough. Cook has the potential to be an explosive player for Duke and if his defense improves, don’t be shocked to see him crack the starting lineup.
Thornton brings leadership and toughness that Duke will need going next year. The Blue Devils will also have a senior Seth Curry who I suspect will raise his game and not defer as much as he did this past year. He could end up being the team’s top scorer.
Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee will round out the starters in the post. Plumlee’s return means Duke has an experienced post player who should only improve. He has developed some go-to post moves but needs another year to be consistent with them.
Kelly’s versatility should still make him a match up problem. He can pull bigger players away from the basket and his ability to do that opens up things for the guards to drive and kick out.
Duke still has Josh Hairston and Marshall Plumlee for some depth in the post. Alex Murphy will be a major x-factor and could end up being a starter. He is athletic and a good shooter and if he has the ability to defend at the 3-position he will get big minutes and be a huge factor.
That leaves incoming freshman Rasheed Sulaimon who by all accounts is going to be an immediate impact player. His offensive game is strong but it may be his ability to defend which helps provide a facet to next year’s Duke team that this past season’s team did not have.
There is a lot that has to be sorted out and there is still the chance that Duke either ads a player via transfer or recruitment that will at the very least be able to give some minutes or valuable practice competition. And if Dawkins does play next year he has the potential, when consistent, to be a solid player.
But even if he doesn’t Duke still has talent. It may not be Kentucky or UCLA with their recruiting classes, but they are still a team that will be good enough to challenge in the ACC and be a Top 25 team for most, if not all of the season.
It is natural to doubt when you’ve had a rough offseason, but Duke has been here before and not all that long ago, and they were able to bounce back.
The worst season in Mike Krzyzewski’s tenure was 1995 when he took a medical leave of absence. That was a team that was short on talent and missing its coach. The end results showed that.
Next year’s team has far more talent and the best coach in the business, and while I’m not a gambler, I’d put my money on them to win a few more games than some are thinking they will. Because as bad as this offseason has been, it could always be worse.
Just ask UConn.