Duke's Business Is Winning & Right Now Business Is Good

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I’m baaaaack! Yes, it has been a nice summer break. Thanks for asking.

As everyone who is familiar with this little blog knows, I always take some time off. It’s simply time to relax, watch some football, make love to my wife and just get away from it all. This way when the 2010-2011 basketball season rolls around, I’m ready to dispense my thoughts. I’m ready, folks.

I’ll be honest, it feels a bit weird this year. Something is off. You know what it is? I’m blogging about the freaking team that’s defending a title! (I know, I know…Coach K says they’re not defending anything).

I’m not use to this. This blog is just a baby, three years old now and all this time, Duke has never played at the “elite” level Blue Devil teams are supposed to play at.

I’ve spent so much time on this blog writing about why Duke can’t make it past the Sweet 16? Why are the Tar Heels so much better? Why aren’t “big time” recruits coming to Durham? Is it because Coach K is busy with the Olympics?

Yet, with one six-game run that ended with a win over Butler, all those questions just go away. Now my team, your team, our team is the preseason No. 1 team.

I feel like Ronald Miller in Can’t Buy Me Love. I got the beautiful popular girl holding my hand through school for the first time and I don’t know how to act. Should I be cocky now? Can I openly mock Kentucky fans?

Why don’t we just keep it simple and do a nice 2010-2011 season preview.

2010-2011 ROSTER/ROTATION:

PG – KYRIE IRVING: He’s Chris Paul with a sweet ‘stash. He’s potentially the number one point guard in the country. He’s not necessarily quick, but he get run by anyone. He’s not the strongest, but he can get dirty in the paint. He’s not a lights-out shooter, but he’s clutch when he has to be. Most importantly, he makes everyone on the floor better.

SG – NOLAN SMITH: Last year Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer may have been the heart and soul of this team, but Smith was the rock. He was the one constant throughout the whole year. He was the only one capable of creating his own shot and his mid-range game made me blush. Now you can add in team-leader to his resume.

SF – KYLE SINGLER: It took half a season for Singler to simply “get” what “it” is in being a small forward. Once he “got it” there was no better player in the ACC. With 18-pounds of muscle added to his frame, look for Kyle to bounce inside from time-to-time.

F – MILES PLUMLEE: Miles has to replace the biggest shoes from last year, literally. Brian Zoubek owned the boards, giving Duke’s shooters many, many attempts. He needs to continue crashing glass, while finding good, smart shots in the offense. Can he develop a back to the basket game? That’s a big question heading into the season.

F – MASON PLUMEE: Last year, there were moments when Mason’s athleticism blew me away. There also were times when he simply look confused. He struggled with screens and switching on defense, while on the offensive end, he tended to pause and think. Obviously the time off because of the wrist injury effected his ability to get into the flow. With Kyrie running a more pro-style offense (i.e. quick), Mason’s raw talent should just take over.

BENCH:

G – SETH CURRY: Shooter. The word on the street last year was that during practice, Curry was the best player on the court. However, he’s not starting, so let’s see how that effects his skills. There is a difference between being a starter and coming off the bench.

G – ANDRE DAWKINS: I suspect Dawkins is ready to make a big leap forward heading into his sophomore year. The kid is not afraid to shoot and towards the end of last year, he even showed a desire to dribble inside. This season, with so many scoring options on the Blue Devils, Dawkins should own the three-pt line.

G – TYLER THORNTON: A pass-first point guard who can get down and dirty on the D. He’ll get some playing time early in the season, subbing in for Irving. However, come ACC time, I’d take the under on Thorton’s playing time. He’s a four-year guy, who won’t even get a legit shot to start until his junior year.

F – JOSH HAIRSTON: Think Lance Thomas. Now imagine Lance Thomas if he could score. That’s Josh Hairston. Hairston is high energy on both sides of the floor and he lives to rebound. On the offensive end, he knows how to work along the baseline and muscle a shot up or two. He’s the kind of guy you don’t even think about during the game and then you look up and see that he’s scored 10 points already. He’s the number one forward off the bench. His biggest question mark is his ability to play one-on-one defense against the more experienced forwards in the ACC.

F – RYAN KELLY: He came to college with a sweet three-point stroke, but he only shot 26% from three as a freshman. So he spent the summer gaining weight. In fact, Kelly has packed on over 25 pounds. It’s good to see a kid understand his role on this team. The coaches have been raving about this kid. He’s hitting deep shots and can even score with his back to the basket. If this develop can carry over to the regular season, he can get about 15 minutes per  game on the floor as a sophomore.

SCHEDULE:

NOVEMBER: Princeton, Miami (OH), Colgate, Marquette, CBA Classic (Marquette, Gonzaga/Kansas State, @Oregon

The first three are tune ups, but we should learn something. The fact is, Duke should cruise. All three games easily. Cameron and none should stay within 20 points of Duke. The CBA Classic is a great tournament to be in early. First, it’s not at home, it’s not local and it’s not in any location that you would call “North Durham” like New York/New Jersey. These games will have a tournament feel to them.

Now the Blue Devils should be able to take down Marquette (they should not overlook them). If Duke does win, they should meet up with Kansas State. This is one of two teams Duke could face now and again in the Final Four. Now personally I feel like the Wildcats are bit overrated. I think people are underestimating the loss of point guard Denis Clemente. Having said that, since this tournament is in Kansas City, it should feel like a true road game for the Devils.

WORTHLESS NOVEMBER PREDICTION: 6-0

DECEMBER: Michigan State, Butler, Bradley, Saint Louis, Elon, @UNC Greensboro

Of course, Kansas State (or Gonzaga) is just one game out of three that will define this Duke team early. If they do face Kansas State, it means Duke will more than likely face the No. 3 and No. 2 team in back-to-back games. Of course No. 2 being the Spartans of Michigan State.

This one will be in Durham, but the Spartans are an old, experienced team and will not be bothered by the Cameron Crazier. Of course the last time Duke was in a non-conference #1 vs. #2 match up, it was against Texas back in 2005. Remember that one? Duke wo by like forty or something?

At this point, I truly expect the Blue Devils to be 6-0 heading up to Jersey for a re-match with Butler. While I don’t think the Bulldogs are as talented as they were last year, I actually think this is a trap game. By this point, Duke would have played two huge games against two top teams. For Butler, this is the game they have circled on their Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders calendar. Would anyone fault the Devils if they let this one slip away?

WORTHLESS DECEMBER PREDICTION: 5-1, 11-1 overall

JANUARY: Miami (FL), UAB, Maryland, @Florida St, Virginia, @NC State, @Wake Forest, Boston College, @St. John’s

With the start of the new year, we head into ACC play. The first pair are at home against Miami and Maryland. In fact, all home games are against teams that will not be competing for the ACC crown, so go ahead and throw some icing on that cakewalk.

The danger games are always on the road where Duke will get challenged by an experienced Florida State team and a young, talented NC State team. We all know what the Wolfpack did last year, right? I can’t say which one, but Duke will probably drop one of these road games.

The month ends in New York against yearly punching bag, St, John’s. I really like what Steve Lavin is doing in my backyard, but the Red Storm are still a couple years away from challenge Duke. This game might be close, but Duke will take it.

WORTHLESS JANUARY PREDICTION: 8-1, 19-2 overall (6-1 in ACC play)

FEBRUARY: @Maryland, NC STATE, North Carolina, @Miami, @Virginia, Georgia Tech, Temple, @Virginia Tech, Clemson, @North Carolina

The month of February should be fun. The trip to College Park will always be tough, no matter who’s starting for the Terps. The Devils also have to travel to Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech and North Carolina. The game in Blacksburg is the one that intrigues me the most. ESPN game day will be there and it is the only game against the Hokies. Va Tech is one of the top-three teams in the ACC, so this could be deciding things.

On top of that, Duke will be visited by a Temple team that should not be overlooked. Of course, the big story will be North Carolina. The Tar Heels will be back this year, the question is, are they ALL the way back?

My gut says prior to that final ACC game in Chapel Hill, I suspect Duke will lose one more ACC game on the road (you pick it, Maryland, Miami, Virginia Tech). However, by the time the last Carolina game rolls around, Duke will have the ACC regular season title wrapped up. With nothing to play for, look for the Tar Heels to pull out the home win.

WORTHLESS FEBRUARY PREDICTION: 8-2, 27-4 overall (13-3 in ACC play)

DEEP DEVILISH THOUGHTS:

The 2010-2011 Duke Blue Devils are the clear favorites to win it all. You know what? the clear favorite last season (Kansas)  didn’t win it all. This is the best Duke team since 2002-2003. That team was also defending a title. They did not win a title. There are no guarantees in college basketball. Plenty can go wrong for this team.

The first thing everyone talks about is team chemistry. It’s not something that should be ignore. This team is replacing three senior starters. In the nine-man rotation, four have never played a regular season minute for the Blue Devils. On top of that, we have four guys (Singler, Smith, Irving and Mason Plumee) who are expected to the play in the NBA next year (and that’s not including Seth Curry and others who could show NBA potential). Not everyone can be the star on this team. Not everyone can average 18 per game. Egos need to be checked for the common good.

On the offensive end, I’m drooling like I haven’t done in years. This team will be running. In fact, you could argue that Kyle Singler may be the least-athletic of the bunch and he’s done alright. While cold nights can always happen, I’m not too worry about the offense.

On the other end of the floor, this team still has a lot to prove. Now seniors Singler and Smith were great on the defensive end. Smith often was asked to guard the opponents best guard, while Singler mastered the hands in the face. The rest of the team…let’s see. Inside is where I’m most concerned.

As much hype as the Plumlees get, the reason why they found themselves coming off the bench last year was because they were simply not as good on the defensive end. Both brothers were decent inside the paint in a one-on-one situation, but when it came to dealing with switches and high screens, the pair tended to get into trouble. More often than not, they would find themselves out of position.

If there is one concern heading into the 2010-2011 season, it is the interior defense.