Saturday, July 24, 2010

Duke Basketball Outlook: Five Keys to a Fifth Championship in Durham

Posted by CoHoops Tyler Lambert

The college football season is just a short time away, and many fans are anxious to see how their individual teams have developed over the offseason.

New recruits, well-known coaches, and even proven veterans are all prepared to show the country how much progress they've made when the season begins in September.

Although college basketball won't officially begin until November, two months into the football season, Duke fans have a lot to be excited about before the season even tips off.

For starters, highly-touted recruit Kyrie Irving will become the new floor general for the Blue Devils next season, after last year's point guard and second team All-American pick Jon Scheyer graduated from the university.

Duke fans will also get to the see Liberty transfer Seth Curry in action for the first time. Seth, the brother of Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, led all freshmen in scoring two years ago at 20.2 points per game, but had to sit-out last season per transfer rules.

The return of both Kyle Singler (17.7 points per game) and Nolan Smith (17.2 points per game) will also give the Cameron Crazies something to cheer about as the beginning of the season draws near.

Singler, the 2010 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, led Duke to victory in the National Championship game against Butler and decided to stay in school for his senior season, instead of jumping to the NBA.

Singler's decision to stay helped make Smith's that much easier. Nolan decided that playing at Duke for his senior year and trying to help the Blue Devil's repeat was more important to him at the time than trying to make it in the NBA as a junior.

Mason and Miles Plumlee, Andre Dawkins, Ryan Kelly, as well as freshman Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston round out the remaining players on a loaded Blue Devil team, which will look to once again lift the national championship trophy in March.

The 2010-2011 Duke team seems destined to repeat, with the likes of Smith and Singler returning and newcomers Irving and Curry looking to contribute from day one. But what are the five keys to a fifth title for Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils?

1. Kyrie Irving Must Be Dynamic and Effective in Filling the Void Left by Scheyer

Kyrie Irving, a 6'2" point guard from Elizabeth, N.J., was one of the top rated players in the recruiting class of 2010. Last season, Irving played for St. Patrick and averaged 25.2 points per game on a team loaded with future Division I players.

Most of the hype surrounding Irving early on in his career has been positive and encouraging for Blue Devil fans, with some scouts even comparing his explosiveness and athleticism to that of former Duke great Jason Williams.

Many people believe that Irving could be one of the best basketball players to ever come out of the state of New Jersey, some even hailing that he could become one of the best to ever wear a Duke uniform.

One thing about Irving at the minute is clear, however, and that's that he must be dynamic, yet effective, in filling the void left by Jon Scheyer at the point guard position.

Sure, you may say that Irving's speed and athleticism will easily make him more dynamic than Scheyer, and that may be the case; however, being as effective as Scheyer by hitting shots and not committing turnovers may be tougher for Irving to harness.

Regardless, Irving will look to lead the Blue Devils as a great scorer and even better passer. If Duke has any hopes of repeating, the team will need to get production from their guards, and, most importantly, out of Irving.

2. With Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas Gone, the Plumlees Must Be Assertive in the Paint

Brian Zoubek was once known to the college basketball world as an injury-prone player who was unable to find his place on the court. He could rebound the ball because of his overwhelming size advantage over the competition, that's for sure, but other than that, there just wasn't another aspect of the big man's game to fear.

That all changed last season when Zoubek was completely healthy.

After practicing and working on his offense over the summer, Zoubek became one of the top big men in the ACC last season. He began the year slowly, which is normal for centers in college, but as the season progressed, he continued to improve.

Lance Thomas, on the other hand, was never known for being a big presence in the paint at Duke. He could consistently rebound like Zoubek, but his expertise was defending the opposing team's most versatile player and drawing charges down low.

Now that both players have graduated, two big men will have to fill their places on this year's team. It's a no-brainer to think that Mason and Miles Plumlee are the best two options, but they must become assertive leaders in the paint.

Last season, both of the Plumlees came off the bench to give Thomas and Zoubek some rest during games. This coming year, however, one of the brothers will likely start (Mason) and the other will be his second-hand big man of the bench (Miles).

The Blue Devils know that their guard play will be better than last year, but how well can their centers and power forwards adjust to larger roles on the team? It all starts with the Plumlee brothers becoming assertive in the paint, and becoming leaders on a team that is more guard-oriented than last season.

3. Seth Curry Will Need to Be a Scoring Threat on the Perimeter Alongside Smith and Irving.

Seth Curry's older brother, Stephen, captured the hearts of many two years ago, when he led his Davidson team to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. Stephen consistently put up big numbers the entire tournament and nearly led his team to the Final Four.

Seth, like Stephen, put up huge numbers as a freshman in college playing for Liberty University, averaging just over 20 points a contest. After just one season with the team, though, Seth decided to take his talents elsewhere and transferred to Duke.

Although he had to sit out last season, per NCAA transfer rules, Seth was allowed to practice with the team and get accustomed with his new teammates.

Now that Seth will finally be allowed to play a game in a Duke jersey this upcoming season, the Blue Devils will look for him to be an explosive scorer for their team just as he was at Liberty.

Every fan knows what they are going to get out of Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving on the perimeter, but what kind of player will Seth become on a team loaded with four legit scoring threats?

Duke will be stacked with talent during the upcoming year, but Seth Curry must make a name for himself by becoming a consistent scorer and giving Smith and Irving help on the perimeter. If he does, then the Blue Devils will have a great chance to repeat.

4. Andre Dawkins, Tyler Thornton, Ryan Kelly and Josh Hairston Need to Contribute Off the Bench.

Having Scheyer, Singler, and Smith anchor last year's championship team gave many players little time off the bench. Sure, eight players averaged double-digit minutes per game, but it was mainly the Big Three plus two other players on the court at all times.

This upcoming year, the Blue Devils have the possibility of having a legitimate Big Four in Singler, Smith, Irving, and Curry.

Although it's hard to imagine that each of the four will consistently score in double figures on a nightly basis, they will each likely end up with a double figure scoring average when the season comes to an end.

With that being said, bench players could see even less time on the court this year.

If Coach K feels the need to call for one of his reserves and asks them to check into the game, however, they must be prepared to immediately contribute once they walk on the court.

Dawkins, Thornton, Kelly, Hairston, and one of the Plumlee brothers will likely be the supporting cast for this year's team. How they play once they enter each game for one of the starters will be crucial to the Blue Devils season.

5. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler Must Become Leaders on a Young, Yet Experienced, Team.

Last, but certainly not least, is the importance of the leadership roles that Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler will each have to take. Scheyer, Zoubek, and Thomas are now gone for the Blue Devils, so it will be up to Duke's top two scorers to lead the younger players.

Being named captains by Coach K earlier this year, Smith and Singler will each have to be prepared to lead their team in pressure situations.

They will have to demand the ball when the shot clock is running down, and they will be forced to make quick decisions when closing out games.

This season's team may be considered a group of veterans, but there are several new faces that were added to the Duke Program.

Irving, Hairston, and Thornton were each members of the Class of 2010 recruiting class, and each will need help during the season to progress as players. That's where Singler and Smith will need to come along and offer assistance to the young players.

The 2010-2011 team may have more talented players than in years past, but there is no doubt in anyone's mind that this team will be led by Smith and Singler. How they respond to their new leadership roles, however, may be the most crucial aspect in the Blue Devils' hopes of repeating.

Only time will tell, but if each of the keys are followed out throughout the course of the season, there's no doubt in my mind that the Duke Blue Devils will once again reign in March and claim the program's fifth NCAA title under Coach Mike Krzyzewski.


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