As he stands on the cusp of history, Mike Krzyzewski’s 32nd season for the Duke Blue Devils means dealing with a program reboot. With 900 Division I college basketball coaching wins, Krzyzewski needs two wins to catch his mentor, Bob Knight, for the all-time record and three wins to call the mark his own. He’ll likely get there in November, but he’ll do so with a team that will look nothing like the squad that went 32–5 and won the ACC Tournament before bowing out in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
The Blue Devils lost a pair of senior stalwarts in guard Nolan Smith, the ACC Player of the Year, and Kyle Singler, plus freshman guard Kyrie Irving, who showed enough during his injury-shortened, 11-game season to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.
So last year’s perimeter-oriented team has transformed into this year’s version featuring a deep, but not yet proven, frontcourt along with a talented but mostly inexperienced backcourt. Duke’s top returning scorer is junior guard Seth Curry (9.0 ppg). The Blue Devils’ lone senior is forward Miles Plumlee (4.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg).
Yet the 64-year-old Krzyzewski is at peace with the challenge ahead as he looks down the road beyond win No. 903. “Now it’s this group’s turn,” Krzyzewski says, “not just for this year, but to set the wheels in motion to see how the next few years can be.”
While Duke lacks a dominating post player, the Blue Devils possess depth and experience that should provide defensive toughness and rebounding. Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee were regular starters last season, while Miles Plumlee started occasionally and was a solid player off the bench. Krzyzewski likes his frontcourt depth so much that there’s a chance Duke could be an “inside-outside” team this season rather than looking for points on the perimeter first.
The 6'10" Miles Plumlee became a serviceable cog in the rotation last year while averaging 17 minutes per game. He’s not likely to develop into a double-figure scorer but should provide solid rebounding and defense with additional minutes. Junior Mason Plumlee possesses the highest ceiling. He started 32 games, averaging 7.2 points and 8.4 rebounds last season while blocking a team-high 62 shots. More consistent play could make him the kind of double-double regular Duke needs. This season, a third Plumlee brother, 6'11" freshman Marshall, will fight for playing time in the paint.
Kelly made a big jump in his sophomore season, contributing points from the perimeter and inside while teaming with the Plumlees to guard the basket well. His 3-point shot (31.9 percent) wasn’t consistent, but his strength and passing ability make him valuable.
Sophomore Josh Hairston, an athletic 6'7" forward, saw few significant minutes last season as he adjusted to the physical nature of Division I basketball. His improvement in conditioning will determine how much he’ll contribute. Freshman Alex Murphy is built in the Singler mode and could force his way into the rotation.
Key Blue Devil Stat: 4
There are four former Blue Devil team captains on Duke's coaching staff, with former Oklahoma and VCU head coach Jeff Capel joining Chris Collins, Steve Wojciechowski and Nate James on the bench.
Curry and Andre Dawkins bring the most experience but are both score-first players. Both have the ability to knock down 3-pointers with regularity, yet the Blue Devils are in need of playmakers this season.
Sophomore point guard Tyler Thornton showed strong defensive skills last season in spot duty. He’ll need to produce on the offensive end to increase his playing time.
Freshmen Austin Rivers and Quinn Cook will provide athleticism and talent. A true scorer, Rivers will play from Day 1, while Cook has a chance to seize the point guard minutes. Their development, when and if it comes, is crucial to Duke’s success.
“It’s kind of a rite of passage, from being a good player to being an outstanding player,” Krzyzewski says. “Some guys make it freshman year. Some guys do it along the way. I’m looking forward to seeing who does that.”
Curry and Dawkins have played enough in Krzyzewski’s system to know what needs to be done. The Blue Devils need them to provide regular double-figure scoring nights to be a top-10 team.
With so many proven players gone, Krzyzewski faces a season in which roles will develop as the months progress. He’s not worried, though. “We have talent,” Krzyzewski says, “and that’s a good place to start.”
North Carolina is the overwhelming favorite in the ACC, but Duke is the clear No. 2 pick. If Mason Plumlee emerges as a consistent force and the freshman guards are as good as advertised, a trip to the Final Four is well within reach.
ACC Prediction: 2nd
NCAA Tournament Prediction: Elite Eight