ACC Preview: Duke’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 10th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Can Mike Krzyzewski lead another freshmen-heavy team to the Final Four?

Talk about a tough act to follow. After a season that saw Mike Krzyzewski win his 1,000th career game and capture his fifth NCAA title at Duke, it’s hard to imagine a coach ever having a better year. More than that, after spending years and years as the most hated program in the sport, it seems that Duke has achieved a measure of “coolness” lately, especially in the recruiting world. Perhaps it’s a result of Coach K’s decade-long tenure as coach of the USA senior national team and the success of coaching NBA stars to gold medals. Maybe it’s the perception (and reality) that Krzyzewski has embraced the one-and-done era of college basketball. Either way, it’s interesting to see the Duke coach get praise for adapting to the new way of winning in college hoops, yet the inventor of the model, Kentucky’s John Calipari, has been regarded in a much more negative light (as a system manipulator) over the last six years. Each coach has now won a national championship with a starting lineup of mostly freshmen. There were productive veterans around to guide the young stars in both programs’ title runs, and the three main freshmen on both squads were unusually mature — mentally and physically. That’s why it would be unfair to expect Duke’s latest highly acclaimed group of newcomers to match the success of their predecessors. It’s just not ‘normal’ to do what Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow accomplished in their first year, just as it wasn’t for the 2012 Wildcats’ super-frosh — Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague.

Mike Krzyzewski hopes this year's vaunted freshmen class at Duke can approach last season's frosh accomplishments. (Jim Dedmon-USA Today Sports)

Mike Krzyzewski hopes this year’s vaunted freshmen class at Duke can approach the exploits of last season’s group of Blue Devil newcomers. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for last year’s Blue Devils, especially on the defensive end. The low point of the year came when Duke suffered back-to-back double digit losses to unranked teams, N.C. State and Miami. They were so bad defensively at that point that Krzyzewski, in a desperate and out-of-character decision, implemented a zone defense that Duke would go on to use more often than ever before in the Coach K era. Eventually, the freshmen learned to execute the man-to-man principles that the great Blue Devils of the past were known for, and the result was one of the best defensive performances we’ve seen in recent NCAA tournaments — Duke’s six opponents only managed to score .93 points per possession, and four of those teams boasted top-21 offenses according to Ken Pomeroy. The experience of last year’s team reminds us of a couple of things when considering the future defensive prowess of this year’s squad. For one, don’t expect the Blue Devils’ freshmen to immediately grasp Duke’s man-to-man principles, which may result in another year of a decent diet of zone mixed in;. Secondly, the possible early struggles of the freshmen on the defensive end don’t mean that dramatic improvement over the course of the year can’t happen again.

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Morning Five: 04.23.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 23rd, 2014


  1. Kentucky freshman Julius Randle confirmed what many expected yesterday as he announced that he would be entering the NBA Draft. Most considered Randle an almost certain one-and-done even before he committed to Kentucky so this is hardly a surprise despite how long it took him to declare. Randle did nothing this season to make us question his decision to leave after one season although we still have questions about whether he can be dominant at the next level since he will not be able to overpower NBA players to anywhere close to the same degree that he did in college. Regardless of that he will probably be a top-five pick in June.
  2. Clemson junior forward K.J. McDaniels also announced that he will be entering the NBA Draft. While not quite the prospect that Randle is, McDaniels is still projected to be a mid-first round pick so it makes sense particularly with the steady progression in his game as his scoring has increased from 3.9 to 10.9 to 17.1 points per game. McDaniels stock has also risen throughout the year as he led the Tigers in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals last season while picking up ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors. His athleticism and steady progression should make him an interesting pick-up for some team in the latter half of the first round.
  3. If Duke’s incoming freshman class was not impressive enough they added another significant piece when Sean Obi announced that he would be transferring from Rice to Duke. As a freshman at Rice last season, Obi averaged 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds, but decided to transfer after Ben Braun was fired. Obi also considered Michigan and Vanderbilt. Although Obi will sit out next season (yes, we know it’s a shocking concept) that might would out for the best for Duke and Obi as Jahlil Okafor is expected to log the majority of the minutes and touches inside for the Blue Devils next season, but is expected to be a one-and-done so Obi will be available just in time for Duke when Okafor leaves.
  4. Isaiah Austin might be one of the poster boys for why players should leave early when they can be a first round pick. Yesterday, Austin declared that he would be forgoing his final year of eligibility to enter the NBA Draft. At this point, Austin is probably a late second round pick if he is even selected at all. Austin averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, which are both respectable numbers, but are down from his freshman year averages of 13.0 and 8.3 respectively. Before his drop in production and his weaknesses being exposed he was a possible first round pick after his freshman year. He probably would have been out of the NBA in a few years, but at least he would have had a few years of NBA money.
  5. We have no idea why Georgia State has become such a popular transfer destination, but they picked up another (relatively) big name yesterday when Jeremy Hollowell announced that he would be transferring there. Hollowell follows Ryan Harrow and Kevin Ware as well-known transfers to the school in the past year meaning that Ron Hunter will have landed transfers from Kentucky, Louisville, and Indiana. Hollowell only averaged 5.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore at Indiana, but was a top-50 recruit coming in so he certainly has the potential to be much more. Hollowell will sit out a season per the transfer rules, but will have two more years of eligibility left starting with the 2015-16 season.
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