In an era of “one and dones” in college hoops it has become increasingly difficult to try and predict a clear cut favorite to win the national championship. Teams can no longer rely on building a program with a key nucleus of returning players. It also doesn’t help that the number of transfers during the off-season are at an all time high. To try and repeat as national champs is a very large obstacle in which to achieve. Has this hurt college basketball? Some fans would say so. This fan, however, enjoys the amount of talent coming into the college ranks year in and year out. Even if only for a year, the Durants and Loves look great in an NCAA jersey. There are more teams than ever who have a chance to cut down the net in March thanks to the quick turnover of five star talent.
Coach K, and many other coaches, have adapted to this new way of life. The three best players on the best team in the country left just as quickly as they arrived, saying, “you’re welcome”, as they shut the door at Cameron indoor. How will Duke recover and defend their title?
Regardless of talented recruiting classes, a quality core of returning players who have a team first mentality is needed. Duke has four such guys in Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones and Marshall Plumlee. Allen, a freakishly athletic guard, played sparingly throughout the season but stepped up big time in the tournament. He will have a much larger role this season. Jefferson is a blue collar forward who will get you 6 and 8 consistently, and provide much of his contributions on the defensive end. Matt Jones, who became a starter towards the end of last year, is a combo guard/forward when consistent can do a little bit of everything on both ends. He also shot 38% from beyond the arc. Marshall Plumlee carries the famed name on the back of his jersey and while he’s not as polished as his brothers, he brings toughness, defense and rebounding that is more than necessary to be competitive.
Of course it helps having a “top 5” recruiting class as well. Four freshman will play immediately. Derryck Thornton will step in right from day one and be the starting point guard. He reclassified and came to Duke a year early to fill the void left by the departed Tyus Jones. Center Chase Jeter and wing Brandon Ingram also will likely start. Jeter is a back to the basket big guy and Ingram is a slashing, 6’8, lefty scorer. Luke Kennard is another top guard recruit who will come off the bench and play both guard positions, though he is more of an off guard.
The last player to fit into the rotation will be 6’9 sophomore transfer forward Sean Obi. He averaged a double double as a freshman at Rice and was one of the more desirable transfers a year ago.
There are a lot of question marks about this upcoming Duke team,but they are not lacking the talent and role players. All signs point to another deep tourney run in March. Could this be a year we see a back to back champ, or will it end with another Lehigh or VCU upset?