When asked about the fluid nature of college basketball, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski says it’s something he’s made peace with.
“Change is exciting,” he says.
By now, Krzyzewski’s become an expert on both change and excitement. Recently, Duke has built around elite recruits who’ve breezed through Durham, leaving rosters often deep in talent but light on continuity. The result has been an alternating run of successes and challenges.
Last season’s team was a microcosm of Duke’s wild new normal. Battling injuries, distractions and a deep league, the Blue Devils — the preseason No. 1 team that ended up having four of the first 32 players taken in the 2017 NBA Draft — sandwiched an uneven regular season and a second-round NCAA Tournament loss around a brilliant ACC Tournament title run.
Duke again has a roster of star freshmen and a small-but-crucial dose of experience. With seven of last season’s top eight scorers gone, change is still a constant. And if recent history is a guide, excitement — for better or worse — will be, too.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Mike Krzyzewski
2016-17 RECORD (ACC): 28–9 (11–7)
2016-17 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to South Carolina 88–81 in the second round
G Frank Jackson (10.9 ppg)
F Amile Jefferson (10.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg)
G Matt Jones (7.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg)
G Luke Kennard (19.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg,)
G Jayson Tatum (16.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg)
The Blue Devils' already-strong frontcourt received a huge boost when Marvin Bagley, originally the top recruit in the Class of 2018, reclassified and enrolled at Duke. Bagley is a freakish athlete who can score on the low block, get out and run in transition and even hit from the 3-point line on occasion.
As a top-15 recruit, 6'11" center Marques Bolden was expected to be a major part of last season’s front line. But a preseason foot injury slowed his progress and left him unable to carve out a consistent spot in the rotation. That shouldn’t be an issue this season as Bolden will join forward Bagley and Wendell Carter, a top-five recruit in the 2017 class, as focal points down low.
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While his 6'10", 259-pound body suggests that Carter is best suited to be a rugged inside force, he’s billed as having stretch-4 capabilities. There’s no mystery how the Blue Devils plan to use Bolden, who should be a straightforward post. Krzyzewski says he’d like to play the two together, which would be a departure from smaller, quicker recent Duke lineups.
Javin DeLaurier, a 6'10" sophomore, and Antonio Vrankovic, a 7'0" junior, played sparingly last season. There should be more minutes available now, but it’s anyone’s guess whether DeLaurier or Vrankovic will grab them.
Much to the relief of his detractors — and possibly himself — the winding college career of senior guard Grayson Allen will come to a close this season. From the time he rocketed to fame with his 2015 NCAA title game heroics, through the three tripping incidents that painted him as college basketball’s villain, Allen’s tenure has been filled with massive expectations and unrelenting scrutiny.
However, this season there’s one less thing he has to worry about. Trevon Duval, one of the top point guards in the 2017 class, will assume the ball-handling duties that were an unnatural fit for Allen in past seasons.
With Duval running the offense, Allen and Gary Trent Jr., considered the top shooting guard in the 2017 class, can focus on simply doing damage from the wings.
Depth on the perimeter could be an issue, as sophomore Jack White, who appeared in only 10 games last season, and freshmen Jordan Tucker and Alex O’Connell are the likely candidates to crack the rotation.
This season’s Duke team doesn’t have as much firepower as some recent squads, but the weapons it has should fit together nicely. There are no obvious deficiencies or redundant pieces. But once again, the question facing Duke isn’t whether it has enough talent, but whether that talent will have enough time together to figure out how good it can be.