The last few seasons may have been among Mike Krzyzewski's best coaching jobs since his early years at Duke. He did have some excellent players in Sheldon Williams and JJ Redick, both four year players, but the rest of his team was largely a patchwork of fairly mediocre players. He had no bench for much of the last two seasons yet still managed to win 30 games last year and yet another ACC championship. The 2006-7 Duke team will pose even greater challenges to the official coach of the ESPN family of networks.
Maryland fans learned a painful lesson about the value of a sane and effective point guard, or lack there of, the last three seasons. Duke point Greg Paulus looks much more ordinary without All-Americans like Redick and Williams on the court with him. He has played better as of late and perhaps his injury problems accounted for some of his poor play, but he was so badly outplayed at times it has to give even the Cameron Crazies some trepidation. Most of Paulus' drive-and-kick game is gone except against defenders who are even slower than him, which are few these days, but he is a decent shooter from 3-point range. Duke is so short on ball handlers that Krzyzewski has resorted to Josh McRoberts bringing the ball up court in close games. McRoberts is a phenomenal ball handler for a 6-10 forward but it is more out of necessity than preference that Krzyzewski has him handling the ball. McRoberts has yet to establish himself as the interior presence that the Blue Devils need. If he continues to float outside the lane Duke will be entirely too one dimensional once ACC play starts. Demarcus Nelson is healthy, at least until his foot problems act up again, and gives Duke the only slasher from the perimeter. Shooting guard Jon Scheyer and Paulus need to improve their shooting inside the 3 point line for Duke to have a balanced offensive attack.
Freshmen guard Gerald Henderson and forward Lance Thomas will be the critical elements if Duke is to really challenge for anything this season. Forget their lofty ranking, Duke isn't a top tier team at this point in the season. If those two freshmen can become reliable contributors off the bench then Duke may just be able to challenge North Carolina for ACC supremacy. Both have the talent to be major forces off the bench which has been lacking for Duke in the last few seasons.
As with the last few seasons athletic and aggressive teams will give Duke trouble, however there are few coaches in the ACC who have the ability and talent to counter Krzyzewski's strategies to minimize those deficiencies. Despite their deficiencies the Dukies just continue to win and have already notched some impressive out of conference wins. No team in the ACC is as sound in fundamentals as this Blue Devils squad and they will not give away games to inferior opponents often. That will be good enough for a second place ACC finish this season.
Key Wins: Gonzaga, Georgetown, Air Force
Bad Losses: None
Prediction: 11-5 2nd place