Coach- Mike Krzyzewski (29th season)
PG- Nolan Smith (SO): Greg Paulus has occupied the point guard spot for the last two seasons for Coach K, but Smith’s improvement over the summer has propelled him into the starting lineup. Smith put himself through a rigorous off-season conditioning regiment to improve his explosiveness and it has apparently paid off. Smith doesn’t have as good of a shot from deep as Paulus but has a good mid-range game and is very dangerous when he drives to the basket. Smith’s athleticism will allow Duke to play at a faster pace and spread the floor a bit more. The part of Smith’s game that really puts him in front of Paulus is his defense.
SG- Jon Scheyer (JR): Scheyer impressed a lot of fans as a freshman starter for the Dukies two years ago, but became the first man off of the bench for Coach K last season. His scoring numbers took a slight hit due to the decrease in minutes, but Scheyer seemed more comfortable off the bench. It’s tough to tell if Scheyer’s numbers improved just because he got better between his sophomore and freshman season or if he was truly more comfortable coming off the bench. Scheyer has a number of tools and can hurt defenses in plenty of ways. He has a good shot from beyond the arc and is excellent at finding lanes in the paint to score.
G/F- Gerald Henderson (JR): Henderson has the potential to be a NBA Lottery pick in the near future. Henderson is far and away the most athletic player on the team, but needs to polish his game if he wants to play like a lottery pick. He has an improving mid-range game, but his outside shot is sporadic. This may have been due to a torn ligament in his shooting wrist he played with during the second half of last year. Henderson improved on his numbers from his freshman year and nothing is holding him back from improving on last season’s solid totals. I think Henderson is going to thrive in a more fast-paced spread offense with Smith at the point because of the increased amount of touches in the open court and more room to beat his defenders off the dribble.
PF- Kyle Singler (SO): Singler lived up to all the hype surrounding him as an incoming freshman for the Dukies. His versatility is second to none in all of college basketball. He has all the dribbling and court vision of a guard and the size of an average power forward. It’s really tough for opposing forwards to guard Singler on the perimeter because he’s so good off the dribble and guys Singler’s size aren’t used to defending out on the perimeter. Singler put on about 20 pounds over the course of the offseason which will help his scoring ability on the low block as well as his rebounding. Singler has to play big this season because Duke doesn’t have a center that has proven himself in the post.
PF/C- Miles Plumlee (FR): Plumlee is another young player who has impressed coaches over the offseason. The 6-10 freshman is more mobile and athletic, making him a better fit for Duke’s style of play than clumsy 7-footer Brian Zoubek. Plumlee is a pretty good scorer when facing the basket and has a variety of scoring moves on the block. Plumlee is a solid shot blocker, something Duke hasn’t had since Shelden Williams. Since the departure of the Landlord, Duke has been exposed in the paint which has made for a couple of early exits from the dance. It would be a huge bonus for the Dukies if Plumlee could solidify himself as a reliable scorer and rebounder down low.
Bench: Coach K pretty much has six starters with Greg Paulus as the first man off the bench. Don’t be surprised to see Paulus starting at the two guard and Scheyer being the sixth man, where he played so well last season. Like many Duke teams during Coach K’s reign, this year’s team has a plethora of guards that can come in and do different things. Freshman Elliot Williams has looked impressive in the preseason and will get his fair share of minutes. Lithuanian junior Martynas Pocius has shown flashes of his potential but has been bothered by injuries during his entire career; this may be the year him to showcase his skills. David McClure is Coach K’s glue guy off the bench. Coach K loves the scrappy game that McClure brings to the table. Brian Zoubek hasn’t earned significant playing time and I suspect the high level of Plumlee will keep him riding the pine a lot this season. Junior Lance Thomas was a highly touted freshman when he arrived on campus two seasons ago but hasn’t performed anywhere near the expectations of the Duke faithful.
Bottom Line: Preseason polls have the Dukies in the top 10 (ESPN/USA today has them at 5) so there are high expectations going into the season. DeMarcus Nelson was the lone senior from last year’s team so many of the same faces are back playing in Cameron Indoor in 2008-09. Singler, Henderson and Scheyer will be the nucleus for this team while Smith, Paulus, McClure and Plumlee combine to make up a really nice supporting cast. Duke will be a completely different team in 2008-09 with Smith at the point. They can push the tempo and won’t rely as heavily on the three this season, which is a plus now that the arc is moved back. Like I said before, if Plumlee plays well in the post it gives this squad an added dimension and legitimizes them as a Final Four team.
Key Non-Conference Games: 2K Sports Classic (likely to play UCLA in finals), 12/2 @ Purdue 1/7 vs. Davidson, 1/17 vs. Georgetown
Key Conference Games: 1/28 @ Wake Forest, 2/7 vs. Miami, 2/11 vs. North Carolina, 3/8 @ North Carolina
Most Valuable Player: Kyle Singler
Projected Postseason: NCAA (Elite Eight)