To get you familiar with Duke, here is a look at our preseason preview of the Blue Devils that we posted months ago. -ZB
Even though Gonzaga basically opens their season schedule with Tom Izzo and a perennial powerhouse in Michigan State, it probably isn't the game that most Zag fans have circled on their schedule. There are teams, programs, and coaches that, no matter where they are at currently, are looked upon as belonging at another level. We see this especially in college sports. In football, you have timeless programs like Alabama, Penn State, Texas, USC, and the Florida schools. These programs have all had struggles in recent history but there reputations are so good that everyone knows it is only a matter of time before they are back. It's the same in college basketball with programs like Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, and maybe even Michigan State. These programs are so revered that you really have to take notice when your school plays them, no matter if they are 20-2 or 2-20, the name on the front of the jersey is still the same.
Duke teams of old have been oriented towards excelling in the backcourt and putting out a frontcourt that was serviceable enough to get rebounds and play solid defense. Guys like JJ Redick, Gerald Henderson, DeMarcus Nelson, Daniel Ewing, Dahntay Jones, and Jay Williams have all been great guards in this program and they carried Coach K and this program for a while. This year's edition of the Duke Blue Devils has talent on the outside but they will be relying more on their forwards and centers more than they ever have in recent memory. Coach K brought in two solid big men prospects that have versatility but are most comfortable beneath the basket. Greg Paulus has moved on from basketball to football and that means that backcourt will take on a little different look. You'll recognize the names John Scheyer and Nolan Smith but this could be a breakout year for both as they are no longer forced to play out of position. While the changes in the backcourt and the additions in the frontcourt will be huge for the Blue Devils, this season will come down to the man that doesn't really fit any position, Kyle Singler. The All-American candidate is one of the most versatile players in the nation and finally, after two seasons at Duke, he is playing his natural position.
Last Season: It's difficult to categorize what kind of season it was for Duke a year ago. The Blue Devils were, as usual, one of the most hyped schools heading into the season. The came out of the gates with a top five ranking and hit the ground running. The played a pretty difficult early season schedule with two games against Michigan, and games against Purdue, Xavier, Davidson, and Georgetown. They split their match ups with Michigan, steamrolled Xavier and Purdue, and never were seriously threatened by Georgetown or Davidson. They headed into the ACC with only one loss on their books and would go on to lose five in conference play. The tough part is that they lost both regular season contests with the Tarheels of North Carolina. They got some revenge in the ACC Tournament as they won three tight contests with Boston College, Maryland, and Florida State to cut down the nets. They entered the NCAA Tournament with a great head of steam and were a two seed. After dominating #15 seed Binghamton and narrowly escaping and upset-minded Texas team, Duke had reached the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since '06. Duke had been led by the great play of Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, and Kyle Singler but in the Sweet Sixteen, they vanished. A very hot Villanova team absolutely annihilated the Devils 77-54 and ended their season in bitter disappointment.
New Faces: Duke brought in three new excellent freshman prospects to help reinvigorate a team that hadn't had a whole lot of fresh blood in a while. The most impressive new face for the Blue Devils thus far appears to be Mason Plumlee. A 6'10'' forward, Plumlee is an offensive minded big man who actually plays in the paint. He will be able to give Duke something it hasn't had in a long time, a legitamate low post scoring presence. If his brother, Miles can continue to mature, the Plumlee brothers will have outstanding futures in Durham. The next new face is Ryan Kelly. Kelly was the higher rated prospect out of high school but he came down with a sickness earlier this year that forced him to lose a lot of weight and he is still coming back into his own after that. It remains to be seen whether or not Ryan will be able to contribute this season for the Blue Devils. Early indications are that the skill is there, but his body is just not ready for an ACC schedule. When it's all said and done, his upside may be more exciting but Mason is more ready for instant contribution. The last new face that will factor in this season is Andre Dawkins. Dawkins is a guy that many have you have probably heard of because he was able to complete high school in three years and enrolled in Duke a year before he was expected. Dawkins is a bona fide, big time scorer. His ability to get to the basket and make plays is what made him a big time recruit. He's a year younger than most freshman so the learning curve will be a little more steep for him but thus far he has impressed Duke fans with his maturity. It's a toss up between Dawkins and Plumlee to see who has the greater impact but don't be surprised to see the young freshman Dawkins become a serious contributor right away.
Players to Watch: There always seems to be that one guy at Duke or Carolina that just fits the program well and seems to never graduate. For Duke, that player is Kyle Singler and this is 100% his team this season. Singler was one of the most highly recruited players in his class when he came to Durham and he has lived up to the bill. A season ago Singler was Duke's co-leading scorer with 16.5 points a game and for the most part, he has been a model of consistency. The past two seasons, he has been forced to play down near the basket as more of a power forward but this year, thanks to the arrival of Mason Plumlee and the expected big year for Miles Plumlee, Singler will be able to move back to the small forward spot. He'll play exclusively on the perimeter for Coach K and this should make his efficiency skyrocket. The next player, or players to watch will be the Duke backcourt. The Blue Devils don't really have a natural point guard but Jon Scheyer proved a season ago that he can make it work. Scheyer is an outstanding decision maker and Duke really played their best when he was at the point. The other side of the coin is Nolan Smith. Smith is now going to play exclusively as the off-guard which is his natural spot and reports are that the people of Durham expect big things from Mr. Smith. In years past he was more of a shooter and not a scorer but with the switch, Nolan should add a whole new dimension to his game.
Concerns: Whenever you play Duke, there are going to be a wealth of concerns. Few programs have had the staying power of this program and the general consensus is that as long as Coach K is there, Duke will always be great. They are also a veteran dominated team. Scheyer is a senior, Smith and Singler are juniors, and the Plumlee brothers are young but will have time to develop. They will also benefit from veteran big men Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek still being around to give them great depth. The major concern for Gonzaga is combating this veteran core and trying to slow down Kyle Singler. I think may would pencil him in on their first team All-American ballots right now because his production the last two years has been sensational and when you think that he did all that while playing out of position, it is truly astounding. There will also be a lot of pressure on Gonzaga's guards to outplay Duke's backcourt. This is another game where both team's lowpost players are a total question mark so it is important for Bouldin and Gray to get off to a big start. Demetri Goodson's defense on Scheyer will also be huge.
What we are watching for: There are going to be a lot of exciting and terrifying match ups during this game for Gonzaga. I'll be very interested to see how Coach K decides to guard Demetri Goodson. The major caveat with having Scheyer run the point for Duke is that he is not a quick defender so this is a match up that Meech can really exploit if he chooses to. Another interesting coaching decision will be how Coach Few plays Kyle Singler and how that affects the rest of the lineup. More than likely this match up will probably go to freshman Elias Harris. His athleticism and versatility should be a very good match for Singler. If this happens, Andy Poling and Rob Sacre better be ready to play quality minutes because the Plumlee brothers will start in the post and they both go 6'10''. With Elias now playing the small forward, Gonzaga's frontcourt could be severely depleted. This isn't a problem that only Gonzaga will have to deal with. Singler is going to give teams fits all season long.