Mike Krzyzewski is back on top of the college basketball world, having done it his way, building a program step-by-step with character guys who generally stick around for the majority of their eligibility. So, what to do for an encore? Introducing freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, one of the nation’s top recruits and a guy who could head the NBA after one year. While Irving will be ready to step right in for departed point guard Jon Scheyer, there is still one big unanswered question for the Blue Devils as of April 15: will wing Kyle Singler return for his senior season? If so, expect Duke to be a strong favorite to win the ACC again. But, even if Singler is to head to the next level, this Duke team will still have firepower. Nolan Smith will return for his senior season and start alongside Irving in the backcourt. Seth Curry (Steph’s little brother) joins the team as a sophomore transfer from Liberty (where he led all freshman in the country in scoring two seasons back with 20.2 a game) and could give the Devils either depth in the backcourt or a third-guard, if coach K decides to go that way. Add in Andre Dawkins returning for his second season and incoming freshman point Tyler Thornton and the Devils will not be hurting in the backcourt.
However, regardless of Singler’s decision, the Blue Devils will need some of their talented frontcourt players to take the next step and improve their consistency. Brothers Miles and Mason Plumlee (a junior and a sophomore, respectively) have shown flashes of the type of talent that made them highly sought-after recruits, but need to be able to bring that type of game for more than just a few bursts here and there, and with Greg Zoubek’s Duke career over, they’ll be counted on to provide most of the minutes in the middle. Former McDonald’s All-American Ryan Kelly will also be called on to provide some help up front, but despite his six-foot-ten frame, he is more of a perimeter player and will need to add more strength and toughness to compete in the paint in the ACC. Freshman forward Josh Hairston will likely also need to contribute for the Devils up front, but he is also more of a skilled forward than a grinder.
What put Duke over the top in 2010 was its ability to create points by hitting the offensive glass, and in order for the Devils to replicate that kind of success in March, they’ll need to get some serious improvement from their front court players. But given the talent and upside of those players, that is far from out of the question.