So, this is the end of the predictions. I am glad. I am tired of talking about what might be, and I am ready to start talking about what is. The final test for me to get there: Saying nice things about the Duke Blue Devils.
In the Northeast, basketball is king as opposed to football here in the south. Because the winters are so long and bitter cold in central Maine, we would rather huddle in a gym than in the stands of an open air ice box. Maine also only has a single division one university, UMaine at Orono, so the fandom of the state is incredibly diverse. In my group of friends alone there are a lot of Duke, UNC, Syracuse, Kentucky and Texas fans. Everyone also loves Gonzaga. I am a Georgia Tech fan. So we are all over the map, but a lot of people love Duke, so I was exposed to the arrogance of Duke fans my whole life before I arrived in the triangle, and it soured me early. However, at the end of the day, I just want to experience their success. No one hates the bad teams. No one ever talks shit about the University of Maine Black Bears. It would be like laughing at a starving person for being too skinny.
That success should be substantial this year given the stupid amount of talent on this roster, but it is not all sunshine and unicorns. There will be trials and tribulations with such a young team that has a captain who sometimes lets his emotions get the best of him.
So to wrap up my ACC preseason predictions…
My pick for the 2017 National Championship…
The Duke Blue Devils…
Ugh, that hurt to say.
Alright here we go.
Experience. You can’t fake it. It’s on the job training, and there is a learning curve. Even the most gifted recruits sometimes stumble in the ACC. Derrick Favors was the number one recruit in the nation and struggled initially at Georgia Tech. Marques Bolden couldn’t break the rotation at Duke last year. Why? He is a 6’11 kid who doesn’t rebound, block shots or stretch the floor. He might be effective this year or as an upper classmen, but he basically needs to learn how to play all over again.
Duke has one senior, All-American Grayson Allen. Apart from that, only one returning player saw more than 150 minutes last season. That player? Marques Bolden.
Duke has been labeled a one and done school over the past couple years, but they don’t really do it the same way Kentucky does it (until this year of course). Duke’s leading scorer last year was a sophomore. Their leading rebounder was a senior, and their leading assist man was a junior. They had a great mix of experience and one and done talent.
- Luke Kennard led the Blue Devils to 28 wins while ranking second in the conference in ppg (19.5), third in three point fgm (88) and led the conference in minutes played while being named a second team All-American. The 6’5 sophomore recorded only two single digit scoring games over the course of the season. Personally, I would have voted for him over Justin Jackson for ACC POTY, but, they didn’t ask for my opinion so we will move along.
- All the impact freshman left. One was expected to leave (Tatum), one had to leave (Giles) and one was kind of on the fence until he saw who was coming into the program (Jackson). Tatum was fantastic last year, especially after moving to the four spot, putting up 17 points, 7 rebounds and a couple of helpers per game. He shot 34% from deep, and 85% from the line while displaying an all around game that got him him drafted by the Celtics much to the joy of Beantown. Giles had to go, he had to get that pay day while his knees were still functioning. A really sad story there, go look up Harry Giles from his first two years of High School. The kid was freakishly good. Jackson had to go before he was recruited over. Both Trent and Duval were going to play ahead of him, so Frank made a good decision to leave while his stock was respectable after averaging 11 points, 2.5 rips, 1.7 helpers per game as a freshman.
- Steady senior Matt Jones graduated and Chase Jeter transferred after sitting on the pine for a couple years. Jones defense will be missed along with seemingly constant big shot making ability.
The losses listed above would decimate most schools, and spawn a rebuild that could take years. Rick Pitino could have only hoped to buy a team that good!
Well, it’s really only good if you’re a Duke fan, let’s be honest.
- Every team needs good senior leadership, and the Blue Devils have their senior leader back this year.
- Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier and Antonio Vrankovic are all back, but until they prove they belong on the floor, I don’t see them stealing minutes from any of the freshman. I am really surprised DeLaurier stayed to be honest. He was a 4 star guy who many programs would love to have, now he’s behind Carter, Bagley and presumably Bolden.
This is, in my humble opinion, the greatest recruiting class ever assembled.
- MB3, we all know, is the best prep prospect to come along since Lebron. Period. I put up a piece on him after he signed, go read my thoughts on him there.
- Trevon Duval is the best prep point guard I have seen since Derrick Rose. Similar traits, a lightning quick with the ball, scoring lead guard who relies on his first step and superior athletic ability to get into the lane and lay his balls across your forehead as he puts you on a poster. By the way, like Rose, he can’t shoot a lick.
- Gary Trent is a scoring machine on the wing. I don’t really know what else to say about him. He scores the ball. Moving on.
- Wendall Carter was the best player in the basketball factory that is the state of Georgia.
- Jordan Tucker is a 6’7 wing player who can shoot it from deep and has some serious swagger to him. He is going to be a guy we talk about in 2 years I think.
- Alex O”Connell is a really athletic kid who has a really nice game. I worry a little bit about his size. He is definitely a kid that if he progresses and doesn’t get recruited over, will be really good for Duke as an upperclassman. If he can learn to play the 1 instead of a wing position I like his chances of seeing the floor a lot more.
- Jordan Goldwire comes in the least prominent recruit of the bunch, but he does provide Duke with depth at the point guard position on a team that doesn’t have much behind Duval. You may see Grayson move over for short stints, but Goldwire is a defensive stud who may be able to carve out a role.
The level of talent here is ridiculous. I make fun of Grayson here and there, but he really is a good player.
It is undeniable, especially now with Rawle Alkins injured, that Duke is the most talented team in the country. There are 31 stars among their 7 freshman. Michigan State is really the only other school I can see that match-up with the Blue Devils after Arizona. What worries me is Duval and his style of play. He is not a distributor of the ball. He is a score first, second, and third point guard who is going to have to feed some of these other alphas to keep everyone happy. You may see Grayson play some more point this year and move Tre off the ball if Coach K feels there isn’t enough flow to the offense. The one thing that is going to be incredibly fun to watch for Duke fans is seeing this team run. Duval is a one man fast break all by himself, add to that, athletes like Trent and Allen, not to mention Bagley who runs like Chris Bosh, and look out son. They are going to really embarrass some people. In the half court they can also do any number of things, double post, high low, 4 out and they have the athleticism to run a fuck ton of gadget plays where some guys, namely Bagley and Duval, just “go get it.”
If this team loses in the tournament it will be because of injury, or they lose to either Arizona or Michigan State. I just don’t see anyone else hanging with them.
Projected starting 5: Duval, Trent, Allen, Carter, Bagley.
P.S.- Really saddened by the events in Las Vegas on Sunday night. A senseless act of violence that resulted in a tragic loss of life. It would be nice if these events could bind us together instead of divide us, but the political machine sees these events as an opportunity instead of a tragedy. It’s too bad, hopefully we can right that wrong, and find a way to come together as a nation.