Duke basketball fans have a lot to be excited about right now.
In addition to not having to deal with your hated rival winning the national championship, the Blue Devils are one of a few teams that find themselves near the top of most “Too Early Rankings for the 2016-17 Season” articles.
Those projections should come as no surprise to anyone.
With an incoming recruiting class that features two McDonald’s All Americans in Frank Jackson and Jayson Tatum, as well as Harry Giles, the potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Duke would likely be a Top 10 team in the polls just based on the expectations of that freshman trio.
The freshman class will also include Javin DeLaurier and Jack White, who both project to be more long-term prospects, and the class could get one final boost if Duke can secure a commitment from Marques Bolden, the top ranked center in the class of 2016.
However, unlike what happened with the freshman class from this past season, this group of incoming recruits will have the opportunity to join a roster that features some experienced pieces who know what it takes to produce at the highest level of college basketball.
While there’s always some uncertainty as you enter a college basketball offseason regarding potential draft declarations and transfers, Duke appears to be well positioned for next season.
Freshman forward Brandon Ingram has already declared for the NBA Draft, but that was expected from the time he joined the Duke program, if not before then. Ingram could be the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft and Coach K talked during the season about how he knew he’d be gone after this season.
The big draft decision that remains up in the air is the status of sophomore guard Grayson Allen. Most draft experts project him as a potential late first round pick, but he has to determine if he’d rather realize a dream of becoming an NBA player or returning to a Duke team that would have a great chance at helping him win his second national championship. Check out this article by Duke Report’s own Zion Olojede that looks at both sides of the argument as to whether Grayson should stay or go.
Should Allen return, it would give Mike Krzyzewski three potential All-American candidates in Allen, Tatum, and Giles.
We can also hope for an offseason of strength and development for this year’s freshman, particularly Luke Kennard, Derryck Thornton and Chase Jeter.
While Thornton could be in an interesting spot in having to compete against Frank Jackson, I expect Kennard to make a huge leap in his consistency as a scorer and it seemed like a light started to come on for Chase Jeter in the final weeks of this past season.
Next year’s team should also have the steadying presence of senior leaders that you typically need on a championship squad. The likelihood of having Amile Jefferson back as a redshirt senior will be a huge lift for a frontcourt that will be talented, but still inexperienced. And while there are certainly limitations to Matt Jones’ game, he’s a veteran who’s been part of a championship team and can succeed when he’s allowed to focus on his strengths.
To go along with all the great pieces that appear to be fitting into place on Duke’s roster, fans can also share a collective sigh of relief that Jeff Capel will be sitting beside Coach K on the sideline. The Duke assistant removed his name from consideration for the Georgia Tech job, furthering speculation that he will be next in line for the Duke job once Coach K decides to retire.
His ability to connect with players and recruits, along with helping Krzyzewski with the day-to-day operations and implementation of a gameplan, have become invaluable parts of Duke’s success over the past few years.
Following the 2015 national championship and mass exodus to the NBA, we always knew 2016 would be something of a transition, even for a program with a standard of excellence like Duke.
The coaches and players would never admit it publicly or make any excuses, but there were limitations with this year’s group, especially once Amile Jefferson was sidelined with an injury. We made it through 2016 with a team that provided some great memories and earned a trip to the Sweet 16.
We bridged the gap. Now, it’s time to go banner hunting again.
What are you most excited about for next season? Let me know on Twitter at @davidmaldridge.