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All the Evil, Now With Less Poetry: A Duke Basketball Preview

Can I write an analysis of Duke without resorting to swearing, slandering, and impugning the parentage of at least 50% of their players? Let's find out:

Last Year: Our dear friends in Durham went 32-4, 14-2 in the ACC, taking home the ACC championship and losing in the Sweet 16 to eventual Final Four team LSU. Then their coach went on to a distinct lack of success on the international stage over the summer.

Duke was the most efficent scoring offensive team in the league - and I mean that in every sense of the word "offensive" - scoring 1.12 points per possession. They managed this on incredibly accurate shooting (second only to N.C. State) that relied heavily on the three pointer (third in the league in percentage of shots that were behind the arc). This masked some of the worst rebounding in the league, as the Blue Devils were dead last in defensive rebounding and 10th in offensive boards.

Defensively, Duke was impressive as always, second only to UNC in opponents points per possession and opponents effective field goal percentage. And at the free throw line, well, we're not supposed to discuss that. But if we were, I'd throw out that Duke lead the league in both free throw proficiency (that's free throws made per field goal attempts) and in fewest opponent free throw attempts. Absolutely no conclusions should be drawn from this fact.

Comings and Goings: The professional ranks now include one more literary figure, as poet J.J. Redick (26.8 ppg, 2.8 apg) was the 11th overall pick of the Orlando Magic. Also now making money for his skills is Sheldon Williams (18.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg) the less publicized but more important part of last year's team. Williams was the 5th overall pick for the Atlanta Hawks. Also gone is less heralded starter Sean Dockery (7.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and sixth-man Lee Melchionni (5.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg). And wrapping up the departure list is Eric Boateng (0.7 ppg, 0.6 rpg) a rarely used center who transferred to Arizona State, apparently impressed with the work Herb Sendek had done in Raleigh. I don't understand it either.

Now it's been a couple of years since Krzyzewski has used more than a seven-man rotation, and last year wasn't any different. So who does that leave? The Blue Devil expectations fall squarely on sophomores Josh McRoberts (8.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Greg Paulus (6.7 ppg, 5.2 apg). Both were All-ACC Freshman team members last year, and the two are the first sophomore captains in Duke history, which says a bit about the state of experience in Durham. Paulus was one of the better point guards in the league as a freshman - it was a down year in the ACC, but that's still pretty impressive - and although spent the preseason hurt and reading stories about his football playing brother's opinion on the UNC coaching search, has returned to action as capable as ever. McRoberts is the real key, and will have to step his game up on the baseline from a year ago to both keep Duke in the rankings and keep up the inevitable comparisons to Tyler Hansbrough.

The third captain, returning starter, and sole upperclassmen on this team is DeMarcus Nelson (7.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg), who spent last fall out with a fractured ankle before taking on an increasingly important role as the season progressed. He'll have a big part to play at small forward, as well as continuing to be the defensive leader of this team. The only other returning player of note is David McClure, a forward who redshirted last season with a knee injury.

And then there's the new folk. Immediately jumping into a staring role is Lance Thomas, a highly sought after recruit who apparently damned Rutgers to mediocrity by selecting the New Jersey of the South. He's performed well, but not exceptional in his first two games at forward. In the backcourt is Jon Scheyer, a name Illinois fans are still a little bitter about for foresaking the Illini. He'll be stepping into the J.J. Redick role, with all the mockery that entails. he too has been playing up to expected levels so far this year.

By the way, I bring up the recruiting of the previous two players mostly to mock the live-and-die attitude some folks take to an eighteen year-old's college selection (and because there's not really much to write about folks who have played two games in college). They both may be great players, they both may be average. Dynasties will not rise or fall on their shoulders, and people really need to lighten up.

The surprising force so far is Brian Zoubek, a center hyped more for his SAT's than his play. He managed 18 points in just 14 minutes in his first game, but was scoreless in 8 minutes in his second. If he evolves into a forceful center that can take pressure off of McRoberts, this team will be extremely difficult to beat. Gerald Hendereson, another freshman shooting guard, will be important in a sixth-man role. And coming from the same high school as Wayne Ellington, expect that to be a largely hyped for the next couple of Carolina-Duke broadcasts.

The Outlook: In the battle of "This team has one upperclassman" versus "This is a Duke team" the latter has obviously captured the minds of the sports press. And maybe the name on the jersey and the coach on the bench will be enough for this team. Perhaps coaching the national team has opened Krzyzewski's eye to putting more than seven players in rotation. It's doubtful, though. the team will still be good - it has too much talent not to be - but it won't challenge for the ACC title. Expect one or two shocking non-conference losses and a below average for Duke conference season.

  • Preseason Poll Finish: 2nd in the ACC, 11th and 12th in the national polls. They'll end up lower.
  • Carolina March Forecast: 10-6 in the ACC, a second round NCAA loss.