No. 6: Duke Blue Devils

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Midnight Madness is Friday. So we’re kicking off our college basketball coverage with our men’s preseason Top 25. Look for five teams posted a day, all this week.

2010-11 record: 32-5 (13-3), 2nd in ACC
Lost in Sweet 16

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski 827-225, 32nd year (900-284 overall)

Last NCAA miss: 1995

2011-12 roster [click here]
2011-12 schedule [click here]
2010-11 team stats [click here]

The good: Duke lost its three best players in Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Kyrie Irving, but that’s hardly cause for concern when you re-load with more talent. Such is life in Durham.

Austin Rivers, Quinn Cook and Michael Gbinjie will contribute right away, while Marshall Plumlee and Alex Murphy provide depth. (Actually, Rivers will do far more than contribute, but I’ll get to that.) That gives Coach K the option to use a deep bench, at least until he settles on his usual 6- or 7-man rotation.

Not that he needs to. The returning talent is enough to make North Carolina sweat a little bit for ACC bragging rights. Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly are solid options down low, while Josh Hairston should push for more playing time. Andre Dawkins is lights out beyond the arc and Tyler Thornton proved he’s a reliable option at point guard.

But Krzyzewski seems focused on Seth Curry as the on-court leader, if not the go-to guy. The 6-2 junior will do a little of everything for the Devils – run the offense, score when needed, help on defense – which is probably to help Curry as much as anything. Why let the freshman carry the load?

The bad: Duke’s talent is good, but not to the level of previous teams. (It’s still better than most programs.) Krzyzewski’s already likened them to the 2006-07 squad that adjusted to life after J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams graduated.

That team won 22 games, tied for third in the ACC and lost to VCU in the first round of the Big Dance. (Devils fans will point to Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts as the primary culprits.) Duke had talent, but it was young and never really jelled that season. Consider that a worst-case scenario for this year.

The unknown: How good is Rivers? The nation’s top shooting guard prospect – maybe even the top overall recruit – will probably be Duke’s leading scorer.

He might also lead them in shot attempts and turnovers.

Coach K’s already said Rivers must be a “complete player,” which means better defense, a commit to team offense and not forcing shots. There’s little question Rivers is capable of taking over games, even as a freshman.

But ensuring his teammates rise to his game would be even better.

Counting down the preseason Top 25

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