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Tom Izzo

2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 1 Michigan State Spartans

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 27-9, 13-5 Big Ten (t-2nd); Lost to Duke in the Sweet 16

Head Coach: Tom Izzo (19th season at Michigan State: 437-176 overall, 209-95 Big Ten)

Key Losses: Derrick Nix, Brandon Kearney

Newcomers: Gavin Schilling, Alvin Ellis

Projected Lineup

G: Keith Appling, Sr.
G: Gary Harris, So.
F: Denzel Valentine, So.
F: Branden Dawson, Jr.
C: Adreian Payne, Sr.
Bench: Travis Trice, Jr.; Gavin Schilling, Fr.; Alex Gauna, Jr.; Russell Byrd, Jr.; Kenny Kaminiski, Fr.; Matt Costello, So.

They’ll be good because …: Beyond the fact they have Tom Izzo as their head coach, this group is finally going to be healthy this season. Most importantly, Gary Harris is going to look like Gary Harris. Last season, Izzo’s star recruit missed the first two games of the year before deciding to grit his way through a painful injury to his left shoulder that made it tough for him to drive to his right and forced him to settle for being a jump-shooter. He’s good in that role; he’s an all-american at full strength, and he’ll be at full strength when the season kicks off in exactly one week.

Harris isn’t the only guy that used his time off to heal up. Branden Dawson rushed his way back from a torn ACL that he suffered at the end of his freshman season. He was, technically, healthy, but a summer spent rehabbing meant that he didn’t get a chance to develop his game. This offseason he did. The same can be said for Travis Trice, who has dealt with a myriad of issues — a brain infection, a couple of concussions, a broken nose — in the last 15 months. With those three at full strength, the Spartans get that much scarier.

source:
AP photo

But they might disappoint because …: The Spartans have some question marks with two of their most important players this season. Let’s start with Keith Appling, a former McDonald’s all-american that has spent most of the past two seasons trying to make the transition into being a full-time point guard. He’s had some success, averaging 13.3 points and 3.3 assists last year, but the consistency just hasn’t been there. He’s not a natural playmaker; his first inclination is, and always has been, to score, and his struggles led to some of Michigan State’s worst performances a season ago. Will he finally embrace the role that Izzo is asking him to play this season?

The other issue is Adreian Payne. Payne shot up NBA Draft boards this past season thanks to some terrific performances in a couple of Michigan State’s biggest games, and with his ridiculous athleticism and ability to step out and hit threes, the potential is there to warrant a first round pick come June. But Payne has made a career out of being inconsistent. He’s coming off of a junior season where he averaged all of 10.5 points and 7.6 boards, and it was the first time in his tenure in East Lansing where he came anywhere near living up to his ability. This is the guy that the Spartans are relying on to be an all-american? Maybe it finally clicked for Payne this summer. Maybe he’ll come out and average 15 points, 10 boards, 3 blocks and shoot 44% from three. But he wasn’t a freshman last year. He was a junior. Old habits die hard, you know?

Outlook: Tom Izzo does what he can to downplay the expectations that have been placed on his team this season, but there’s no denying the fact that the Spartans are going to enter the year as the favorite to win the Big Ten and one of a handful of teams expected to be competing for a national title come March. They have a potential first-team all-american on the roster in Harris. They have another potential first round pick in Payne. Dawson and Denzel Valentine make up a versatile set of forwards, and Appling has plenty of raw ability. Throw in a healthy Trice and a handful of back up big men that, at the very least, will provide Izzo with 10-15 fouls in the paint, and Michigan State is loaded on paper.

But in order for the Spartans to live up to those expectations, they are relying on a number of guys to make an improvement. Appling needs to be a better point guard. Harris and Dawson need to improve now that they’re healthy. Payne needs to be more consistent. That’s a lot of moving parts, meaning that 80% of Izzo’s starting lineup head into the season as an ‘if’.

Having said all of that, keep in mind that Michigan State returns all but one contributor from a team that finished tied for second in the loaded Big Ten and spent most of the year ranked in the top ten. ‘If’ all of those ‘ifs’ work out, ‘if’ Michigan State really is that much better than they were a season ago, that’s a scary thought.

Who should be the Preseason No. 1 team in the country?

AP photo
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source:
AP photo

A month ago, as we tried to hash out our Preseason Top 25 rankings, Raphielle Johnson, Scott Phillips and myself had an fairly intense email discussion regarding where we wanted to place Kentucky in comparison to Michigan State and Louisville.

I wanted the Wildcats to be No. 1. Raph and Scott did not, and as you can tell by the post that went up this morning, I got outvoted. This is the discussion that followed.

Please join in the debate with us in the comments section. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Why?

Rob: I really don’t get it. Tom Izzo makes that much of a difference for a team that’s going to rely on a point guard that’s not really a point guard and a center with no proven back up or and three year of inconsistency to his name?

Raphielle: For all their talent, I don’t trust the Harrisons yet. That’s why I didn’t take UK. And if anything, I have faith in Appling improving, Harris staying healthy and Payne making the move he should make in his senior year.

Rob: That’s fair, I guess. I have concerns about the Harrisons as well, and I’m worried that Kentucky might just have TOO much talent. But they also have the nation’s best coach when it comes to smoothing egos.

And, for what it’s worth, it’s not like Michigan State is without question marks. Appling’s heading into second or third season as Michigan State’s PG (depending on how you view Draymond Green’s role in 2012), why does he make the jump now? For all the love thrust on Adreian Payne, he only averaged 10.5 points and 7.6 boards last season, rarely showing up when it wasn’t a national TV game.

I’ll go with it if that’s what we end up voting, but I’m not giving up this argument easily.

Raphielle: Why do I think Appling and Payne take the next step? Urgency. They’re both seniors. No more time to mess around and say “I’ll get it right next year.” I think the end result is a level of urgency that pushes them, and by extension Michigan State, over the hump.

And while I trust Calipari, quite a few people said until February last year that he’d figure it out. Far more talented team than that group (and deeper), but by no means is it a lock. I expect them at Jerry World, but I buy MSU and Louisville* more right now.

source:
AP photo

Rob: Last year’s issue had more to do with Ryan Harrow, Alex Poythress and just an overall lack of talent that fit well together. Then Noel went down. This year? Much, much closer to 2010 and 2012 than anything else. I have Michigan State No. 3, so I obviously love that group, but I just cannot understand putting anyone above UK or UL right now.*

*(This conversation happened before Chane Behanan’s suspension.)

Scott: I don’t like Kentucky to win it all because their three best players are ball-dominant, isolation guys. The Harrisons don’t make plays by using some intricate two-man game in the backcourt; to this point in their career, they’ve passed to each other as a bailout when one can’t score by himself. Julius Randle loves isolations. He has a tendency to overdribble and uses power moves to score, which is a concern given the freedom Coach Cal is reportedly giving him on the perimeter. Now all three of them are pros and can score on most anyone, but this is a deep and talented year with a number of teams that can stop an offense that doesn’t move the ball particularly well.

I don’t think that Kentucky will ever be cohesive enough to maximize their potential.

Rob: I mean, I agree with most of that, Scott. I do. But keep this in mind: John Calipari made DeMarcus Cousins sane for an entire year. Cousins is STILL sane whenever he goes back to Lexington. Cal convinces people to buy-in. That’s what he does.

Now, I’ve said all summer long that the biggest difference between this team and the 2011-2012 team is that the two best players that year, Davis and MKG, were essentially role players, and that it’s impossible understate just how much that means. I’ve also said that my biggest concerns about Kentucky are, more or less, exactly what you just said. But I think it’s ludicrous to ignore the fact that Kentucky could end up bringing three eventual first picks off of their bench.

Think about that!

Kentucky is so loaded this year that neither of you have even mentioned James Young yet, the guy that scouts have been drooling over this fall!

We have a team with far and away the most talent in the country and a coach with a proven track record of taking talented teams and getting them to mesh. The idea that that team isn’t preseason No. 1, to me, is kind of insane.

Now if Louisville wasn’t losing Siva and Dieng or if Michigan State didn’t have question marks at the point and in their front court, this would be a different story. But without a clearcut favorite, I just think it’s crazy not to rank Kentucky No. 1.

Scott: With Kentucky this year it isn’t just “making Boogie sane”. It’s about getting a half-dozen wannabe all-americans and future lottery picks to somehow all collectively buy in, share the dream — and the ball — and beat some very good, very deep and very experienced teams.

No doubt Kentucky has the most talent, but what happens when they face adversity and start pointing fingers, especially in light of the insane expectations and ludicrous talk of a perfect season? I just don’t buy that they mesh.

Rob: I agree. I don’t think it’s crazy to think that UK will lose to both Louisville and MSU before the New Year.

These guys may want to be all-americans, but I’m pretty sure they all really, really like money. In fact, I remember the Harrisons’ father saying something along the lines of “why is it worth it for me to take money to send my kids to a school when they’re seven months from guaranteed millions?” It’s a pretty easy pitch for Calipari to say Davis/MKG/etc. shut up, played their roles, won a title and went No. 1 and No. 2 in the draft and that the kids in 2013 didn’t, and look what happened.

This is what Calipari does. Until proven otherwise, it’s insane that a team that he coaches with multiple first rounders coming off the bench isn’t preseason No. 1. It just is.

Now if I get outvoted, that’s fine. We can go a different way. But we’re overthinking this. Talent is talent, and at the end of the day, more talent is going to beat less talent most of the time. Preseason rankings should reflect that.

Scott: If college basketball played 7-game series like the NBA then I would buy your talent argument, but I’m going with the proven and experienced team that’s been there. Anthony Davis and MKG were selfless winners that did up everything on both ends of the floor and that isn’t this group.

Rob: Wait, so you’re saying that Kentucky is the best team, but you think they’ll lose in the tournament? For me, preseason rankings aren’t about who we think is going to win the NCAA tournament, it’s about who we think the best team is. And, for those ranking Michigan State No. 1, what have they proven and what is their experience? No one on this roster has been past the Sweet 16…

Raphielle: If you’re going to use the “what have they proven” point on Michigan State, what has Kentucky’s current group proven? Their best players are freshmen and the sophomores went to the NIT. If you use that argument, aren’t you essentially saying Cal can out coach Izzo?

Rob: I don’t do rankings based solely on talent alone. That’s why you don’t see Baylor in my top 25, and it’s why you see Michigan State and Louisville at No. 2 and No. 3 instead of teams like Arizona, Kansas and Duke, who I’d argue have more talent. I say all that because I don’t think there is an obvious No. 1 team in the country. Michigan State, Louisville, Duke (front court), Arizona (Aaron Gordon as a three, shooting), Kansas (point guard, Perry Ellis, youth?) all have issues.

Kentucky does as well.

But simply saying “I don’t think Coach Cal can get thru to these players” is a good enough reason to move a team with seven players in most first round mocks out of the No. 1 spot when every single team in this discussion has major question marks?

2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats

SEC Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals - Vanderbilt v Kentucky
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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 21-12, 12-6 SEC (t-2nd); Lost to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT

Head Coach: John Calipari (5th season at Kentucky: 123-26 overall, 52-14 SEC)

Key Losses: Archie Goodwin, Ryan Harrow, Kyle Wiltjer, Julius Mays

Newcomers: Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, James Young, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, E.J. Floreal

Projected Lineup

G: Andrew Harrison, Fr.
G: Aaron Harrison, Fr.
F: James Young, Fr.
F: Julius Randle, Fr.
C: Willie Cauley-Stein, So.
Bench: Dakari Johnson, Fr.; Marcus Lee, Fr.; Derek Willis, Fr.; Alex Poythress, So.; Jarrod Polson, Sr.

They’ll be good because …: Kentucky is just so ridiculously talented. I don’t care if every relevant player on the roster is a freshman or a sophomore because there are eight players on this team that could one day end up being a lottery pick. Seriously. Think about that for a second. Have we ever seen a recruiting class as strong as the one that Coach Cal landed this season? Have we ever seen a team amass quite the amount of talent that Kentucky has amassed this year?

It starts with Julius Randle, a powerful, athletic lefty that will overwhelm just about every opposing big man he faces this season. He’s also capable of crossing people over 20 feet from the basket and dunking on them. The Harrison twins form a big back court as talented as anyone. James Young has already got NBA scouts drooling over his scoring ability. And between the other four big men on the roster, there is more size and athleticism than most programs see in a decade. Even the unheralded Derek Willis has spent the preseason getting praised for his skill level.

NBA teams might as well get a six month lease on an apartment in Lexington for the season. When there is that much NBA talent on a roster, it’s hard not to win a lot of games.

source:
Kentucky Athletics

But they might disappoint because …: There are two major concerns for this Kentucky team. The first is their perimeter depth. Outside of the Harrisons and Young, there really aren’t any guards on the roster. I love Jarrod Polson, but if Kentucky is going to go undefeated this season, he won’t be playing many minutes. Alex Poythress has a ton of talent and potential, but he’s likely the first perimeter player off the bench, and he’s not a perimeter player. That could become a problem if there are injuries or foul trouble.

The bigger issue, however, is how this team ends up coming together. All that youthful talent is impressive, but it overlooks just how valuable contributions from veterans like Josh Harrellson, Patrick Patterson and Darius Miller have been over the years. There’s also the issue of overcrowding. There are only so many minutes, particularly in the front court, and so many shots to go around. Will a roster full of alpha males with one eye keeping tabs on their NBA Draft stock be willing to accept a secondary role?

Outlook: Kentucky won the 2012 National Title with a roster that was chock full of talented freshmen and sophomores. Their two best players, the top two picks in the NBA Draft, were both in their first season of college ball when they led the Wildcats to title No. 8. But what people forget about Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is that while they were “stars”, they did so by excelling as glorified role players. Anyone that has ever paid attention to a Coach Cal press conference has heard him talk about the fact that while that 2012 team produced the No. 1 and No. 2 pick in the draft, they were fourth and fifth on Kentucky in shots taken.

Why?

Well, Davis was a defensive presence in the paint first and foremost, scoring quite a few of his points off of dunks that came via an alley-oop or an offensive rebound. He didn’t need the ball in his hands and he didn’t need plays called for him. The same can be said for Kidd-Gilchrist, who was that team’s junkyard dog. He defended, he rebounded, he provided a physical presence. He was a glue guy that just so happened to be an insanely talented basketball player.

Does this group have enough guys willing to accept a role and play their part, even if it means they won’t have the ball in their hands in crunch time? Even if it means that they only get 12 minutes a game? The chemistry on this team is what will be the determining factor in how far this group ends up going.

2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 3 Louisville Cardinals

Kenny Klein/Louisville Athletics
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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 35-5, 14-4 Big East (t-1st); Won the National Title

Head Coach: Rick Pitino (13th season at Louisville: 310-111 overall, 137-67 CUSA/Big East)

Key Losses: Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva

Newcomers: Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, Akoy Agau, Anton Gill

Projected Lineup

G: Chris Jones, Jr.
G: Russ Smith, Sr.
F: Luke Hancock, Sr.
F: Stephen Van Treese, Sr.
C: Montrezl Harrell, So.
Bench: Terry Rozier, Fr.; Wayne Blackshear, Jr.; Akoy Agau, Fr.; Mangok Mathiang, So.; Kevin Ware, Jr. Chane Behanan, Jr.*

They’ll be good because …: Well, they’re really, really good. Russ Smith is back for a senior season in which he should once again shine. For all the criticism that Smith gets for being Russdiculous, the fact of the matter is that he posted an offensive rating 108.9 despite posting a usage rate of 32.0%. For those that aren’t well-versed in advanced analytics, that means that Smith was quite efficient on the offensive end of the floor despite being one of the most high-volume shooters in the country.

He’s not alone, either. Final Four MOP Luke Hancock is back for his senior season while Montrezl Harrell returns for what many expect to be a huge sophomore year. Chris Jones is a former top 50 recruit that spent the past two seasons winning titles and earning individual accolades as a JuCo point guard at Northwest Florida State. Terry Rozier did a prep year at Hargrave Military Academy last season and is expected to have an immediate impact off the bench. Wayne Blackshear should finally be healthy and in shape this season. Even Kevin Ware is expected to be back in the lineup by the time Louisville starts playing games that matter.

source:
AP photo

But they might disappoint because …: Losing Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng is going to hurt more than people realize. Siva was this team’s leader a season ago. He was the coach on the floor, the guy with the ball in his hands in crunch. He was also a terrific on-ball defender and, along with Smith, made this team so tough to score against. Most importantly, Siva was a calming influence alongside Russdiciulous, which is a factor that cannot be underrated. Jones may be talented, but he’d be hard-pressed to provide the same presence and leadership on the floor that Siva provided.

Harrell should be able to replace the scoring and the rebounding that Dieng provided last season. Where Dieng’s graduation will hurt is as a shot-blocker. Part of the reason that Louisville could put so much pressure on the ball is that they knew they had an eraser at the rim if they hadn’t to get beat on the perimeter. Harrell’s a junkyard dog and a potential first-team all-AAC player, but he’s not the same kind of defensive presence. Dieng also proved to be a good passer, which helped Louisville, who lack some perimeter shooting, against zone defenses they went up against.

There’s no replacement for talent, which Louisville has plenty of, but Siva and Dieng were indispensable pieces that made Louisville’s lineup fit together.

Outlook: Obviously, the x-factor for this Louisville team will be the presence of Chane Behanan. If you’ve forgotten, Louisville’s starting power forward — who averaged 9.8 points and 6.5 boards a season ago — was suspended indefinitely from the team earlier this month for issues he has off the court. when Pitino initially announced the suspension, he made the situation seem dire; that Behanan may not actually be able to work his way back onto the team. More recent comments have made it seem like the big fella can be back in the lineup before the Cardinals play Kentucky (on 12/28), perhaps before the end of November.

Louisville is a national title contender with or without Behanan. But without him, the Cardinal’s just don’t have all that much front court depth. Harrell will be a beast this season, I think every prognosticator will agree. But after that? Stephen Van Treese? Akoy Agau? Mangok Mathiang? Kentucky’s sixth-best big man, Derek Willis, is better than those three.

Maybe I’m cynical, but I expect Behanan to be back in the lineup sooner rather than later, which means that the Cardinals will be a serious contender come March.

2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 4 Arizona Wildcats

Sean Miller
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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 27-8, 12-6 Pac-12 (t-2nd); Lost to Ohio State in the Sweet 16

Head Coach: Sean Miller (5th season at Arizona: 96-43 overall, 48-24 Pac-12)

Key Losses: Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, Grant Jerrett, Angelo Chol

Newcomers: Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell, Zach Peters, Elliott Pitts

Projected Lineup

G: T.J. McConnell, Jr.
G: Nick Johnson, Jr.
F: Aaron Gordon, Fr.
F: Brandon Ashley, So.
C: Kaleb Tarczewski, So.
Bench: Jordin Mayes, Sr.; Gabe York, So.; Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Fr.; Zach Peters, Fr.

They’ll be good because …: Once again, Sean Miller brought in a loaded recruiting class, this one with enough firepower to offset the fact that Arizona not only lost three of their top four scorers from a season ago, but that two former blue-chip recruits left the program with eligibility remaining. The biggest name of the bunch is obviously Aaron Gordon, a top five recruit that is spending his one-and-done season in Tucson.

He’s far from the only addition, however. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell will take over the point guard role where he will be a better fit than Mark Lyons was. Losing Solomon Hill’s leadership will hurt, but freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will be capable of replacing his versatile role in the lineup. Add in the return of the underrated Nick Johnson as well as sophomore big men Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, who should improve as sophomores, and Miller will have plenty of talent to work with this year.

source:
Nick Johnson (AP) and Aaron Gordon (Arizona Athletics)

But they might disappoint because …: The reason that Gordon is at Arizona is because they will allow him to play on the perimeter. Gordon, who has drawn comparisons to Blake Griffin for his ability to posterize anyone and everyone between him and a rim, believes that his future lies as a small forward in the NBA, and that may be true. He’s a gifted athlete that is capable of knocking down a three. If he keeps working, there’s no reason that can’t happen … down the road.

Those last three words are key, because as of right now, Gordon simply won’t be as effective on the perimeter as he will playing inside. Remember how good Derrick Williams was for Arizona during the 2010-2011 season? Well Gordon is basically a more athletic and more skilled Derrick Williams. Now let’s factor in that Arizona’s roster makeup is perfect for him to play the four. He’ll share front court minutes with Ashley and Tarczewski while allowing natural wing Hollis-Jefferson to see more minutes. Instead of struggling to prove himself against college threes, Gordon would be dominating college fours that try to stay with him on the perimeter while also defending the rim on the defensive end of the floor.

Outlook: Even with the additions that Oregon made this offseason, Arizona is the most talented team in the Pac-12. They have a potential all-american in Gordon, two promising big men in Ashley and Tarczewski, and a back court of McConnell and Johnson that is much better than it looks on paper. Winning the conference should be the bare minimum for this group; they enter the season as a Final Four favorite and a legitimate contender to win the national title.

While I hate to beat the point to death, the bottom line is that Arizona’s best chance of reaching those lofty expectations will be if Gordon plays the majority of his minutes in the front court for a couple of reasons. For starters, Arizona has a pair of terrific defenders in the back court with McConnell and Johnson. Add in Hollis-Jefferson, and Miller’s club will be able to apply nightmarish pressure defensively. Now imagine if, by chance, any of those three got beat to the rim. Can you imagine trying to finish over someone as athletic as Gordon?

That’s not the only issue. Arizona is already going to have issues shooting the ball from the perimeter. Gordon is capable of hitting a three, but he’s anything-but a great perimeter shooter. Playing the four, he’ll have a lot more time and space to get off those threes, because opposing big men aren’t going to want to close out long and risk getting burned for a dunk. Arizona can still win the Pac-12 if Miller plays Gordon on a wing, but the Wildcats won’t be nearly as dangerous.

2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 5 Duke Blue Devils

Mike Krzyzewski
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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 30-6, 14-4 ACC (2nd); Lost to Louisville in the Elite 8

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (34th season at Duke: 884-238 overall, 350-153 ACC)

Key Losses: Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly

Newcomers: Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Matt Jones, Semi Ojeleye

Projected Lineup

G: Quinn Cook, Jr.
G: Rasheed Sulaimon, So.
F: Rodney Hood, So.
F: Jabari Parker, Fr.
C: Amile Jefferson, So.
Bench: Marshall Plumlee, So.; Josh Hairston, Sr.; Matt Jones, Fr.; Semi Ojeleye, Fr.; Andre Dawkins, Sr.; Alex Murphy, So.; Tyler Thornton, So.

They’ll be good because …: The Blue Devils just have so many talented perimeter weapons on their roster this year, including three guys that could eventually be lottery picks in the NBA Draft. We’ll start with the obvious: a consensus top three recruit in Jabari Parker, a 6-foot-8 do-it-all wing that will team up with Rodney Hood, a Mississippi State transfer and another 6-foot-8 do-it-all wing, to give Coach K arguably the best pair of forwards in the country. Throw in sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon, the underrated Quinn Cook at the point and Matt Jones, Andre Dawkins and Tyler Thornton off the bench, and it is going to be tough to earn minutes in the Blue Devil’s back court.

What makes this team the most dangerous is that Parker and Hood are big enough that they can essentially play with five perimeter players this season, creating all kinds of different mismatches. Can you imagine opposing centers trying to stay with Parker or Hood 20 feet from the basket? It’s a terrifying thought, really. With the amount of perimeter shooting and offensive firepower that the Blue Devils have, don’t be surprised to see them spread the floor, get up and down the court, and score a lot of point this season.

source:
Jabari Parker (AP) and Rodney Hood (GoDuke.com)

But they might disappoint because …: Duke really doesn’t have any size at all this season. Amile Jefferson got the start in the middle in the Blue Devil’s first exhibition game of the season over the weekend, and he is naturally a wing that’s slender and stands all of 6-foot-7. Marshall Plumlee is a seven-footer with a ton of athleticism, but does he have the strength to hold his own in the paint in the toughest league in the country? Josh Hairston has been a solid role player for three years for Duke, but he’s really not much more than that. Semi Ojeleye can soar, but he’s still undersized as a front court player.

The reason that Duke is dangerous this season is that they can create mismatches on the offensive end of the floor, but what happens when they play talented teams that have forwards that can defend on the perimeter? What happens when they have to try and stop a Julius Randle or a Mitch McGary in the paint? Will Duke be able to keep teams off of the offensive glass? Will those mismatches be worth the risk of getting Parker or Hood in foul trouble?

Outlook: Duke is in a weird spot this season, as they might end up being better than they were a season ago despite losing their top three scorers from that team. The influx of talent they get this season with Parker and Hood will help keep them afloat, but the fact that Coach K didn’t bring in a big body from the recruiting trail is a bit concerning.

That said, Duke will be quite a bit of fun to watch this season if everything goes according to plan. Their smaller lineups will be a nightmare for teams with a more traditional roster makeup to try and matchup with, and the fact that they’ll be playing an open, uptempo style that should include plenty of three balls won’t hurt, either. Throw in the new physicality rules, and Duke is going to be a team that will score a lot of points this year. They should enter the season as the ACC favorites.