Duke Continues Their Title Defense

by Marcus Shockley

There are three major things that a team in any sport needs in order to repeat as champions. This holds true regardless of sport or level.

The first is that they need the entire team to return, or at least the vast majority of the team, from the championship run. A good example would be the Florida Gators of 2006-07.

Kyle Singler
Most college teams don’t get the luxury of a full squadron of returning players. In the absence of veteran, mature talent, new players must fill the gap by either being more athletically talented or by maturing into a stronger role. This rarely happens. Even teams that appear more talented on paper than the year before, but are missing vital veteran players, rarely return to the title.

Secondly, they must play as well or better than the year before, maturing even more, and without injury.

The third major factor, and the item that is completely out of the reigning champions’ control, the rest of the competition must not have improved enough to surpass them.

I’ve never been a person to automatically pencil in a repeat champion, and I offer an early season warning to college basketball fans who are already thinking Duke will waltz back into the title game. Yes, Duke does have a lot of talent. But to call this team an automatic repeat would mean to ignore the fact that Duke did not have the easiest path to last year’s title. They had to have a bit of help, survive, and beat a very scrappy Butler team at the last second. Duke won their title by playing well when it mattered and keeping their poise, but sports pundits always put to much stock in a single win and over inflate expectations all too often. The reality is that Duke’s team has a lot of competition to overcome in order to have a shot at repeating.

In regards to the three major factors needed to repeat, Duke doesn’t return the same team that won the title. They do have talent returning, notably Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and the Plumlees, and enough of a talent injection to possibly make up for the senior leadership they lost. It’s no doubt that athletically, Duke brought in more talented players than they lost.

Duke continued their push to return to the NCAA tournament and the NCAA Final Four by taking on Miami of Ohio on their home floor in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke exploded out of the gate, quickly pushing out to a 34-13 lead as Kyle Singler landed a fast break layup over a Miami defender. Singler returned despite having solid NBA prospects, and that means this year he’s got a couple of priorities. First, he has to show that he hasn’t peaked as a player, and that the highly touted high schooler is still an NBA prospect. Singler is not currently considered a lottery pick, but he is considered a solid first rounder and should be able to stick in the NBA. He’s known as a forward with NBA size and range, but it’s still not clear how consistently he can create his own shot or whether he can handle the ball as well as he’ll need to in order to play the wing in the pros. He’s certainly put in the work.

Secondly, Singler has to take even more of a leadership role on a Duke team that is very talented but still needs to establish cohesion for the long ACC season.

Miami of Ohio is hardly a team that can be used as much of a barometer for how Duke will play during the season. The only way teams like this serve as bellwethers to teams like Duke, UNC or Kansas is in a loss. Blowouts are expected. Duke wasn’t consistent from the free throw line in this game, something that will have to be improved before they play any serious competition, but their transition game looks the best it has since the days of Jay Williams and Shane Battier. Duke took advantage of poor shooting from Miami to create long run outs and fast break opportunities, and were able to play as front runners for a good portion of the game.

Duke had far too much size inside for Miami, and combined with Miami’s poor outside shooting, Duke was able to quickly pull out to a 75-33 lead with four minutes to go and pulled away to an easy win.

Has Duke improved over last season? Perhaps, but it’s too early to tell. Has the rest of the NCAA improved to make it difficult for them? Without a doubt.

Scouting Reports

Andre Dawkins, SG, Duke – Andre did not see the floor much last season, but is getting more minutes. The report on Dawkins is that so far, he’s been a shooter off of the bench, but not much else at this point. With more minutes, he may get a chance to expand on his game. He is an excellent free throw shooter.

Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke – Irving is an offensive star, a player who is extremely potent in the fast break and speed transition game. He can hit free throws effectively and has the ability to create his own shot off of the dribble. His defense can be lacking at times, drifting too far into the lane away from his man, both in man-to-man and in zone, but he’s definitely a future pro if he continues to play as he has and improve. He has a pro handle, can dribble exceptionally well in traffic and has excellent court vision. Duke’s biggest problem with Irving is how long he intends to stay in college.

Nolan Smith, SG, Duke – Smith continues to play the off guard spot better than he plays the point, but he plays the point better than most shooting guards. He’s developed to the point that he can almost certainly play the point in the pros, which he’ll have to do at his size. He needs to develop a floater in the lane before he hits the pros, his delivery is from his hip too often while driving the lane. Sometimes that works, but it gives athletic big men too much time to close.

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