Top 25 Countdown: No. 16 Duke Blue Devils

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 27-7, 13-3 ACC (2nd)

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Key Losses: Austin Rivers, Miles Plumlee, Andre Dawkins

Newcomers: Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson, Alex Murphy

Projected Lineup:

G: Quinn Cook, So.
G: Seth Curry, Sr.
F: Alex Murphy, Fr.
F: Ryan Kelly, Sr.
C: Mason Plumlee, Sr.
Bench: Rasheed Suilamon, Fr.; Amile Jefferson, Fr.; Marshall Plumlee, Fr.; Tyler Thornton, Jr.; Josh Hairston, Jr.

Outlook: This Duke team is really quite intriguing to me, and I think there is some merit to the line of thinking that the Blue Devils — and not UNC or NC State — are actually the favorite to win the ACC. I know what your reaction to that will be: ‘Duke always is hyped up in the preseason and never performs’. Fair, but keep in mind that we have them ranked 16th nationally. I’m not exactly predicting a Final Four here, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the fact that there was some potential on this roster.

The way I see it, there are three keys to Duke’s season:

  • Mason Plumlee: Like both of his brothers, Mason Plumlee has the kind of physical tools that can make him a star. He’s 6-foot-11 with long arms, broad shoulders and athleticism. On paper, he’s a lottery pick. The problem is that he’s never made that jump as a player from elite potential to elite production. He can score on the block and he can finish around, and above, the rim, but he’s never been considered a go-to scoring option or a guy that you can feed in the post and allow to operate. He blocks shots and he rebounds, but he’s never consistently dominated the paint. In other words, you build a game-plan for Mason Plumlee. You build a game-plan around Jeff Withey. There’s a difference. Plumlee needs to make a leap in that direction.
  • Alex Murphy: Murphy was originally in the Class of 2012, but when he committed to Duke in February of 2011, he made the decision to speed up his enrollment. Instead of spending last season as a fifth-year high school student, Murphy redshirted at Duke, spending a full season practicing, working out and getting better in the program. Before he reclassified, Murphy was a top 15 recruit nationally. Murphy is very skilled and quite athletic in the open floor. At 6-foot-8, he can shoot from beyond the arc, makes plays with the pass and handle the ball. Is he ready to be an impact player for the Blue Devils, or does he still need another year or two to develop?
  • Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon: Duke had two major issues in their back court last season: they didn’t have anyone that could penetrate a defense and create other than Austin Rivers, and they didn’t have anyone outside of Tyler Thornton who wanted to play any defense. Cook should end up being the answer at the point. He’s a very talented play maker and a willing passer that finally had a healthy summer to work out and improve. I’m expecting a big season out of him.Sulaimon, a top 15 recruit, enters the program with quite a bit of hype as a perimeter scorer, and that will certainly help offset the loss of Rivers, who, despite the bad press, did do some good things for Duke last year. But at an athletic 6-foot-4, where Sulaimon’s most important contribution may end up being is on the defensive side of the ball. Duke needs a perimeter stopper, a guy they can put on a go-to scorer and trust that he’ll make getting open looks difficult.

    The other issue to think about here is Seth Curry. I can see a situation arising where Duke’s best lineup is without him on the floor. The same thing happened to Greg Paulus his senior season, when Nolan Smith proved to be a better player, and Paulus took the demotion in stride. Will Curry be willing to do the same?

Duke has other pieces as well. I’m not the biggest fan of Ryan Kelly, but he is a stretch-four that is very capable at spreading the floor. He averaged 11.8 points and shot 40.8% from three last season. When Kelly’s outclassed athletically, Coach K will be able to bring in guys like Marshall Plumlee, Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston. Duke does have pieces this season, but there are a lot of things that have to fall into place for those pieces to truly end up fitting together.

Predictions?: The ACC may end up being the most entertaining conference race to watch unfold. The way I see it right now, NC State is the favorite, followed by Duke and then UNC. But all three of those programs have question marks and youth at key positions. I think the baseline expectation for Duke fans should be 14 or 15 league wins and a trip to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, but if everything breaks the right way, the Blue Devils could end up being a top two seed in the Big Dance.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Reports: Duke’s Frank Jackson to declare for draft

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Frank Jackson will declare for the draft but will not be signing with an agent, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Previous reports had indicated that Jackson “planned” to return to school, and that still may end up proving true. But the combination of Trevon Duval potentially enrolling at Duke combined with the fact that there is zero downside to going through the draft process, it makes sense for Jackson to declare.

Jackson averaged 10.9 points and shot 39.5 percent from three. He’s projected as a mid-first round pick in 2018 by Draft Express, but at 6-foot-3, he’s too small to play the two in the NBA and has yet to prove he can be a point guard.

Jackson is the fourth Duke player to declare, following Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Luke Kennard. All three signed with an agent. Grayson Allen and Marques Bolden are both returning to school.

VIDEO: Top 2018 recruits Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford go head-to-head at adidas

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This weekend is the first live evaluation period of the spring recruiting calendar as college coaches from all over the country are scouting (and babysitting) the top recruits in the Class of 2018 and 2019.

Friday night the adidas Gauntlet in Dallas opened with a marquee matchup of two star players as five-star forward Zion Williamson and five-star guard Romeo Langford went head-to-head in what should be one of the best games of the spring.

Most scouting services have Williamson and Langford as the No. 2 and No. 3 overall prospects in the Class of 2018 as the duo didn’t disappoint in front of the huge crowd in Fort Worth.

Williamson helped his team to a win with 26 points and seven rebounds while Langford had 28 points, four rebounds and four assists. You’ll be hearing plenty about both of these guys over the next few months as both are still wide open in the recruting process.

(H/t: Ball is Life)

Report: Coppin State hires Juan Dixon as new head coach

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Coppin State has hired former Maryland star guard Juan Dixon to be its next head coach, according to a report from Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun.

The 38-year-old Dixon is best known for leading Maryland to the 2002 national championship as he was the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four that year. Now Dixon will have a chance to lead a Division I program for the first time.

Dixon spent seven years in the NBA and also played professionally in Europe before joining the Maryland coaching staff in 2013 as a special assistant to head coach Mark Turgeon. Not retained by Maryland after the 2015-16 season, Dixon took the head coaching job for the women’s team at the University of the District of Columbia last season as the Division II program finished only  3-25.

Coppin State finished last season with an 8-24 record after losing its first 12 games of the season. While Dixon will generate some positive local buzz given his background, he’s going to have an uphill battle trying to rebuild that program.

Nebraska scores important Class of 2017 commitment from four-star guard Thomas Allen

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Nebraska landed an important commitment from the Class of 2017 on Friday as four-star guard Thomas Allen is heading to Lincoln next season.

The 6-foot-1 guard is considered the No. 99 overall prospect by Rivals in the national Class of 2017 rankings as Allen was previously committed to N.C. State before head coach Mark Gottfried was fired.

A scorer with a good amount of skill, Allen has a chance to come in and make an immediate impact at Nebraska as he can play a bit on or off the ball. Allen should help offset the loss of senior Tai Webster in the Husker backcourt.

Allen joins wing Nana Akenten in Nebraska’s Class of 2017 recruiting efforts.

North Carolina lands four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks

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North Carolina pulled in a late Class of 2017 commitment to begin the weekend as the Tar Heels secured a pledge from four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Brooks was previously committed to Mississippi State, but he was granted his release this spring to explore other opportunities.

The Tar Heels pounced as they’re getting a low-post threat who could develop into a potential double-double threat. A solid rebounder who isn’t afraid to play with physicality, Brooks has a chance to earn some immediate rotation minutes with seniors like Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks exhausting their eligibility.

Brooks is regarded as the No. 120 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, according to Rivals, as he is a four-star prospect. The native of Auburn, Alabama joins a North Carolina recruiting class that includes point guard Jalek Felton, shooting guard Andrew Platek and big men Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley.