With Kyrie Irving leaving Duke to join the locked-out NBA, how does Duke Basketball match-up this year? Probably just as well if not better than any year before. Austin Rivers, possibly the most anticipated prospect and number 3 recruit on ESPNU's Top 100, has joined the Blue Devils, and will be a significant factor in Duke's success this season. The son of Doc Rivers, Austin averaged 29.4 PPG last year at Winter Park High School, and offensively was an absolute animal. He "plays without fear of failure," which is an essential trait for any Blue Devil.
This year, Coach K has three strong options at the guard positions. I wouldn't doubt seeing him run a 3-2 on offense with Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins coming back for their junior years. Last year, Curry came off the bench as a strong change-of-pace player, averaging 24.6 MPG and around 9 PPG. Dawkins, on the other hand, is the candidate most likely to play the SF position on defense. He could potentially split a significant amount of time with Curry at the PG/SG spot due to the his inadequate size to play the small forward position. With Dawkins measuring only 6'4", 200 lbs, don't be surprised if 5-star recruit Michael Gbinije takes over in crucial defensive positions.
The one position the Blue Devils lack the explosive strength in this year is at the point. With Rivers gone, they don't have a true point guard, but then again, they only had Rivers for 8 games last year so it shouldn't be too big of a problem. If, however, they do need that classic point guard position filled, freshman Quinn Cook is a viable fill-in. Quinn is one of those Rajon Rondo-esque players with his quickness, speed, and vision. He is a selfless player, always looking for the pass. I expect him to play a critical role as the "4th" guard on the team. He should mix in well, especially since the Blue Devils are stacked with big-time scorers this year (primarily, Rivers, Curry, and Dawkins).
Now onto the front court. What set of three brothers is better than the Plumlee brothers? Let me answer that for you: none. Let's start off with the eldest of the bunch. Miles Plumlee, Sr., is the (NFL) Tim Tebow of Duke Basketball this year. He might not be the most talented on the court, but there won't be a game where you don't see Miles playing his heart out. Miles brings another dimension to the game. It's not his skill set that changes the game, but his intensity. Last year, he only averaged 4.5 PPG and 4.6 RPG. Don't expect a dramatic increase in productivity this year, but look for Miles Plumlee to be the vocal and motivational leader of Duke this year. The junior, Mason, is the most likely to play the big man of this team during the 2011-2012 season. This past season, Mason averaged 8.4 RPG and 7.2 PPG. While his offensive abilities are not the best, the biggest advantage Mason gives the Blue Devils is his offensive rebounding skill. Although the last of the three Plumlee brothers, Marshall, isn't new to the Blue Devil Nation, he is new to wearing the Blue Devil uniform, but that shouldn't change our perspective on him. Marshall joined the Blue Devils as the 35th best recruit and 4th best center in this year's class. He might not have an immediate impact on the team, but he should for years to come. Another big man who could potentially see a starting position in his near future is junior Ryan Kelly who should also see an increase in his average PPG, which stood at 6.6 last year.
As for the rest of the team, Duke has some of
the best talent coming off the bench it has had in recent history. Tyler Thornton looks to be a defensive specialist for Coach K this year. Number 41 on ESPNU's Top 100, Alex Murphy, should get some playing time this year. Josh Hairston will get some time down low alongside the Plumlee brothers. And, finally, Todd Zafirovski will be the handcuff in case of injury or fatigue.
So, what do I think the Duke Blue Devils starting roster looks like? Let's have a look:
Bench (in order of projected minutes):
- Miles Plumlee
- Michael Gbinije
- Quinn Cook
- Tyler Thornton
- Marshall Plumlee
- Alex Murphy
- Josh Hairston
- Todd Zafirovski