Top 25 Countdown: No. 4 Duke Blue Devils

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Jahlil Okafor (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 4 Duke.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Last Season: 26-9, 13-5 ACC (3rd), lost to Mercer in the Round of 64

Key Losses: Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Andre Dawkins, Tyler Thornton

Newcomers: Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Grayson Allen

Projected Lineup

G: Tyus Jones, Fr.
G: Quinn Cook, Sr.
G: Rasheed Sulaimon, Jr.
F: Amile Jefferson, Jr.
C: Jahlil Okafor, Fr.
Bench: Justise Winslow, Fr.; Grayson Allen, Fr.; Matt Jones, So.; Marshall Plumlee, Jr.; Semi Ojeleye, So.

They’ll be good because … : The Blue Devils have has much talent on their roster as anyone in the country, and that includes Kentucky. The Wildcats have nine McDonalds All-Americans on their roster, which just so happens to be the same number that Coach K has collected in Durham. Jabari Parker is no longer with Duke, but the team is headlined, once again, by freshman from Chicago that is expected to compete for All-American awards this year. Jahlil Okafor is the best low-post player to come through the high school ranks in a long time, and he’ll be the anchor for this group offensively. Don’t be surprised to see him average somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 points and 10 boards.

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And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Duke’s back court is absolutely loaded this year. Quinn Cook is a two-year starter at the point for the Blue Devils, and he may not even be the best point guard on the roster. Tyus Jones, who came to Duke in a package deal with Okafor, is expected to have the ball in his hands the majority of the time this season. Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones are back as well, and they’ll be pushed for playing time by Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen, two more burger boys. Don’t be surprised to see Duke play with four guards at times this season, using Winslow at the four, in order to get their five best players on the floor at the same time.

But they might disappoint because … : There are two real question marks with this Duke team, the biggest of which has to do with how some veterans are going to accept a younger generation. Quinn Cook is a senior and has been the starting point guard for the Blue Devils for the past two seasons, but he may end up ceding that role to Tyus Jones this year. That doesn’t mean that Cook won’t see significant minutes — he actually would be a pretty good fit playing off-guard — but it will be a very different role. And he won’t be alone, either, as freshmen Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen are going to be pushing the like of Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones — and Cook — for minutes. How will the vets handle it if their minutes are taken away? Will Sulaimon be able to bounce back from a rough sophomore season?

The other issue is front court depth. Jahlil Okafor is going to be a star. You won’t find anyone willing to argue that fact. But beyond that, there are question marks. Amile Jefferson had a better-than-expected sophomore season, particularly with his work on the glass, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s an undersized four that is limited offensively. He won’t be spreading the floor and creating space for Okafor on the block. Marshall Plumlee, another seven-footer, won’t be doing that, either. And Ojeleye? He wasn’t much more than a dunker as a freshman. That’s it when it comes to front court players. It will be interesting to see just how much of a supporting cast Okafor has there.

Outlook: It’s going to be interesting to see how Coach K uses this roster this season. I’d expect them to look similar to the Ohio State team from 2010-2011, back when Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft were freshman. Thad Matta surrounded Sullinger, another phenomenal low-post scorer, with four guards that could all hit open threes and dared teams to try and double-team the big fella. I could see Duke doing something similar with Jahlil Okafor, using Justise Winslow or even a guy like Rasheed Sulaimon or Grayson Allen at the four.

The difference between that Ohio State team and this Duke team is that those Buckeyes could grind defensively with the best of them. Duke is going to get out and pressure the ball in their man-to-man this season, the way that they always have done under Coach K. They’re not going to let you run your sets. But I’m not sure how many really good on-ball defenders they have in their back court. The ACC is absolutely loaded at the top this season, with North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville all capable of winning a league title. For my money, Duke is the favorite. But it will, by no means, be a cakewalk. They might make a Final Four despite finishing fourth in their conference.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.