ACC Basketball Preview: Duke

2015-16 Duke record: 25-11 (11-7 ACC)

Apologies to Tom Jones, but it’s not unusual to see Duke ranked No. 1 in the preseason. It’s even less strange when you consider that Grayson Allen may be the best all-around — and easily the most disliked — player in the nation. It comes with the territory and coach K knows all too well how to navigate such familiar terrain aided by veteran leadership.

“The opportunity to have a few guys who were on a National Championship team is a blessing,” Mike Krzyzewski said.

That’s patently obvious to even the most casual observer, but for coach K, it’s not simply a matter of having proven talent.

“More so than that, they also understand the process, the long process it takes to get there, and I think the ability to teach those things in a very secure way, they want to teach them to the younger guys, is something that is such an asset for a coach, when you have secure upperclass leadership, accomplished leadership.”

Many dismiss the ability of Duke’s program to stay on top because of the ‘ease’ with which they reload every season. The current crop of freshmen includes four of the top 16 recruits in the nation. That’s admittedly dominant. Still, I consider coach K’s ability to maneuver the new landscape of one-and-done talent while maintaining a dynasty to be nearly as impressive as building the program up in the first place.

Duke starts with captains Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones, and Grayson Allen. Jefferson returns for a fifth season after an injury cut his season short last year. He averaged 11.4 points and 10.3 rebounds during nine games last season, but in addition to his production, he’s a valuable leader and one of the most vocal players on the team.

“It’s going to be a key aspect to our group communicating, because we’re going to be able to do so many different things on the court,” Jefferson said. “I feel like we have ten guys that will really be in the game at any different time. So being able to be vocal and communicate is going to be a very important aspect for our group.”

Matt Jones isn’t the flashiest guy, but his 10.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists last season show the potential to be a well-rounded contributor even when he isn’t the focus. It’s easy to lose a guy like that on Duke’s team and opponents can suffer dearly for that mistake, especially from three-point range where Jones shot 41.5 percent last season, good for second on the team.

Grayson Allen led Duke in scoring (21.6 PPG), assists (3.5 APG), steals (1.3 SPG), and three-point shooting (41.7 percent). He did that while playing just under 37 minutes per game. Even on his ‘off’ nights, Allen manages to impact the game in many ways. He plays with an edge which is only appreciated by those who root for his team.

Luke Kennard is essentially a carbon copy of Allen physically, and his sophomore campaign will be a chance to expand on his game a bit more. His minutes should increase this season and so too should his production (11.8 points, 3.6 rebounds).

Among the new faces, point guard Frank Jackson will be expected to run the offense. As Tyus Jones proved just a couple of seasons back, a true freshman can lead Duke to a national title if they’re talented and patient. Not forcing things will be the biggest aspect of Jackson’s play to keep an eye on.

This is the tallest Duke team in recent memory, meaning the Blue Devils no longer have to rely on a platoon of Plumlee’s to patrol the post.

6’10” freshman Javin DeLaurier joins 7-footer Antonio Vrankovic and 6’10” Chase Jeter. Vrankovic played just 14 minutes as a freshman, but that total has already doubled through two games. Jeter averaged only 7.9 minutes per contest last season, but he will also be called upon to be a legitimate post presence this year.

The non-conference schedule is standard Duke fare dominated by middling home court dates, and some high-profile neutral court games against No. 7 Kansas and No. 14 Michigan State. The ACC schedule is fairly underwhelming with rival and sixth-ranked North Carolina the only ranked squad appearing twice.

Duke will however have road games at No. 8 Virginia, No. 13 Louisville, and No. 19 Syracuse.

Duke appears poised for another impressive season, and preseason expectations simply don’t phase this group.

“It’s an honor, and it’s so good for our conference that any one of us, and there are a number of teams picked in the top 20 — I think it’s just, hey, the ACC is going to be really good. We think this one team should be No. 1 right now, but there are a bunch of others that could be, and I’m just glad we’re in that mix,” Krzyzewski said.

Follow me on Twitter @BestCates and follow @InsideTheACC for more Atlantic Coast Conference coverage.


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