The 2011-2012 season ended with an astounding thud. Losing in a “sky is falling manner” was not the way Duke hopefuls predicted the year to end. As the curtain closed and the chapter ended, Duke Basketball instantly moved forward. As football gets into full swing, the excitement is starting to build. Demolishing FIU, they started off hot and while everyone’s abuzz about the pigskin, we take the time to introduce this year’s basketball team.
Duke Basketball should and will always start with the letter K. The winningest coach in D1 history is back and bringing his historic 927 wins with him. Leading Team USA back to the gold for the second strait Olympics, Coach K has proved time and time again that he is worth his weight in gold.
Joining him on the bench will be Wojo, Chris Collins, Nate James, and Jeff Capel. All former Duke players, they are the perfect corp to help K lead this team to victory.
Kicking of the look at next year’s team, we start with the guys who will be the center of the team. Everyone knows that Coach K tinkers with lineups and the first five will change almost weekly, but this is the five that I expect to kick things off.
The team is returning four starters from last year’s team. Austin Rivers is the only starter not coming back and some feel that is a good thing. No one will question his athleticism and poise, but many question his teamwork and how he fit into the Duke mold. Either way, he is no longer around and replacing his points and playing time will be important for this team.
Tyler Thornton: Tyler should be the starting PG, but will be on the bubble. Although he showed moments of brilliance last season, Quinn Cook is more than on his heels. Thornton started 19 games last season and should be given the reigns dependent on a strong off-season. If he can’t continue to get better then he will lose his job to Cook very quickly. The backcourt will not be the strength for this team. Although serviceable, Thornton and Cook are no Jay Williams or Kyrie Irving.
Mason Plumlee: Mason will be the focal point for this team. Having the tools to be an ACC First Team player, he is the most important person in a duke uniform. He has the potential to be the best Duke big man since Sheldon Williams and really needs to step up if this team wants to go deep in the NCAA Tourney. Duke could be best with him playing with his back to the basket drawing double teams. This will leave the shooters open and allow the team to score in bunches. That being said, he must stay out of foul trouble and continue to play D.
Seth Curry: I will say it, Curry is not his brother and never will be. He is at best a role player for this team. I know that will surprise a lot of people but if he was anything more, he would be a team captain. Not getting the “C” could hurt his pride, but with Austin out of the way, Curry should be allowed to step up and play. Always a beast against UNC, Curry could be a necessary spark next year, but asking for more than 20 PPG is asking for too much from Duke’s best pure shooter next year.
Ryan Kelly: The disastrous end of last season was quietly linked to Ryan’s injury. Duke was not the same without their best utility player. Having the size of a big man and range of a 2 guard, Kelly will play a huge role next season. Also having the tools be a an ACC First Team player, he could be the Robin to Mason’s Batman and help Duke have the best front court in all of D1. That may be a strong statement, but he could be next year’s Kyle Singler.
Rasheed Sulaimon: Anointing another Freshman as starter and instant offense could be bold, but this player will be everything you have read. He averaged 20 mins and 10 points per game for the U18 Team USA squad and will be able to play immediately for Duke. Fitting the Duke mold, he is a team player and will quickly add to the team chemistry helping them be much closer than last year’s team.
Everyone expects the NC State Wolf Pack to be the ACC’s best next year, but Duke will challenge. The Pack will be good but Duke can be great. They will be experienced, will have depth and athleticism while being able to put together one of the best starting groups in the league. Sulaimon is no Austin Rivers, but will be one of the best freshmen in the ACC.
The team that kicked Duke out of the tourney last year did something historic. They also poked a sleeping bear and will have one of the best Duke team in the past five years hungry and angry, motivated from day one.