The 2018-19 Duke Blue Devils brought as much excitement to the college basketball hardwood as one could hope. The end result was a disappointing loss in the Elite 8 to Michigan State. Now, that season is over and a new season is at the doorstep, so what does that mean for the 2019-20 Duke Blue Devils?
Duke’s Tough Task
Duke has frequently had to replace massive losses of talent. However, the only other time they have dealt with as large a loss as this year was after their national championship in 2015. To make matters worse, Duke fans have a sour taste in their mouth after missing out on the championship last season.
Duke opens the season at the Champions Classic against the Kansas Jayhawks, a popular Final Four pick this season. Also, Duke drew Michigan State on the road for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Fortunately, the Blue Devils only have to play Louisville and Virginia once in their conference schedule. So, how does the team shape up?
Meet the Returners
Duke lost two of the best players in the nation in Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. In addition, they lost a clutch shooter in Cam Reddish and an underrated big that fit their system perfectly in Marques Bolden. The mass exodus was slowed when Tre Jones decided to return to school, giving Mike Krzyzewski one of the best point guards in the country.
Duke will rely heavily on Tre Jones on both ends of the court. He was able to lock up the opposing team’s best guard all year but struggled offensively most of the year. Jones suffered a shoulder injury against Syracuse in the middle of ACC play and his offense was never the same after. Especially in the postseason, teams would sag off Jones, much like Ben Simmons in the NBA, and dare him to be a jump shooter. Jones will need to show his offensive improvement this season to help Duke. He will most definitely be at the top of the assist to turnover margin, like last year.
The Glue Guys
Duke returns most of its depth from last year. First, Alex O’Connell returns for his junior year. O’Connell is a streaky shooter that bailed Duke out of some big games last year, namely at Syracuse. He should play more consistent minutes this year, as long as he does not become a defensive liability.
Jordan Goldwire returns as Tre Jones’ backup. Goldwire played major minutes in some big games last year because of his energy and defensive ability. Duke often went to a two-guard lineup of Jones and Goldwire and used a full-court press causing teams nightmares. Goldwire is also limited offensively, but he should be able to give Jones an occasional break and hold down the fort when needed.
Joey Baker should have been a member of the recruiting class this year, but enrolled early, expecting to redshirt. With all the injuries Duke suffered last year, Baker was called on for a few minutes to bring a shooting presence, but could not find his groove.
Meet the Newcomers
In true Duke fashion, they bring in the third-ranked recruiting class in the nation, according to 247 sports, trailing only Memphis and Kentucky. This class may not be as talented as the classes Coach Krzyzewski has recruited in the past, but they should not be overlooked.
Vernon Carey Jr, a do-it-all big from Florida, leads the class. Carey will be counted on as a scoring presence on the block, but his best attributes include his face-up game and his ability to make plays for others. Duke has sorely lacked a big that can be counted on offensively since Jahlil Okafor in 2015, so they should welcome Carey with open arms.
Carey will have the benefit of playing with Matthew Hurt, a lanky stretch four, that has plenty of scoring ability. Hurt, a Minnesota native, expressed a strong desire to play with Jones, making him Duke’s best recruiter ever. Look for Hurt to be very active in pick and pops, as well as facing up at the high post. In order for Duke to cut down the nets this year, Hurt will have to be very aggressive on the offensive end. There has been concern over his defensive ability, but reports out of Duke’s camp have quieted those fears.
Wendell Moore is a solid wing with a good mid-range game. He will do everything right and make the right plays when counted on. Moore is always near the ball and will have a big impact on this year’s team. He should bring a consistent presence to a deep wing position for the Blue Devils.
Finally, Cassius Stanley is the athletic freak trying to take over the highlight role previously held by Zion Williamson. Believe it or not, Stanley broke Williamson’s max vert record at Duke’s pro day. Stanley is limited on the offensive end and has demonstrated an inability to make shots consistently. He will be counted on to use his energy and athleticism to have an impact on both ends of the court.
One of Duke’s major problems last year was consistent shotmaking. They should have more shooting this year, mainly because of the addition of Matthew Hurt and more minutes available for Alex O’Connell. Additionally, Carey, Baker, and Moore all have shown an ability to score outside the paint. They should be in positions to score frequently with the playmaking of Jones.
Duke has far more depth than usual. They should be able to consistently play eight guys who all can have significant impacts. Coach Krzyzewski has been stingy with the minutes he gives to the bench in years past, so this depth may not matter. When it comes to crunch time, expect the freshmen to accompany Jones and for Duke to try to outscore everyone.
This year, the Blue Devils’ concerns come on the defensive end. With two freshmen bigs, known as offensive threats, and a lack of returning frontcourt depth, thanks to the early departure of Bolden, Duke will struggle to protect the rim.
Javin Delaurier will be counted on to be a huge presence on the defensive end, especially because Duke loses a lot of offense when he enters the game. Last year, Jones was dominant in pick and roll defense with Bolden but was less effective with Delaurier. That will need to change, as well as Delaurier’s inability to avoid foul trouble.
Ultimately, Duke will need huge efforts from their freshmen on the defensive end to win a national championship. Expect this Duke team to look more like the teams of 2016-17 and 2017-18 than 2018-19.
The ACC is wide open. Duke should be right in the conversation, as they were just voted the preseason favorites by the media. Expect to see Duke, Virginia, Louisville, and UNC battle it out for the ACC crown. This team should continue to improve as the season continues and Coach Krzyzewski can work his magic. Undoubtedly, he will have a much harder task than last year. If they find some defensive consistency, maybe in the form of a zone, Duke has a real chance to cut down the nets in April.
Tre Jones will take this team as far as they can go. He should form a great relationship with Hurt and Carey that is nearly impossible to stop. Most people do not believe Duke has a superstar like years past. Do not be surprised when there are three Blue Devil lottery picks.
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