Welcome Back, Basketball: Duke Blue Devils

Welcome to Palestra Back’s Season Preview! As this season tips off, we’ll be highlighting some of the most fascinating teams in college basketball. These aren’t the best teams or the highest ranked teams, just the handful that we think you’ll want to have an extra eye on over the next few months. 

Why Do We Care?

I mean, it’s Duke. Coach K has one of his most interesting rosters in recent memory, and likely only has three or four more seasons left in his career. This team is super talented, with perhaps the best senior, best pro prospect, and best freshman class in the nation. And just in case you forgot, this is Duke. Still plenty of reasons to hate watch their games and gnash your teeth in anger.

Who is Gone?

Jason Tatum, Harry Giles, and Luke Kennard were all lottery selections and Frank Jackson was taken later in the first round. Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones graduated, FINALLY. Felt like they’ve been in Durham for a decade.

Chase Jeter transferred to Arizona after two sub-par years as a Blue Devil. In total, only one of the seven players to play at lest 20 percent of Duke’s minutes last season returns this season….

Who is Back?

Well, just a little guy named Grayson Allen. Remember him?

He’s scored nearly 1,500 points in his Duke career and surprised many when he chose to pass on the NBA once more in favor of his senior year. Last season, he saw his shooting percentages take a sharp dive, from 41.7 percent outside the arc and 50.2 percent on 2-pointers, to 36.5 percent and 44.4 percent, respectively. His free throw rate and offensive rating dropped, while his turnover rate spiked last season.

This all occurred in a season in which Allen was accused of tripping opponents again, had a minor meltdown on the bench, was suspended, and stripped of his team captaincy.

It’s hard to say what Allen’s senior season might hold. He’s surrounded by new faces, but remains the big man on campus. He could return to the form of his sophomore season, score 20 plus points per game, win National Player of the Year, and work his way back near the NBA Draft Lottery. He could also get swallowed up by the drama and pressure again, fail to regain his shot, fail to stand out on a team full of freshmen, and leave Duke with one of the strangest careers we’ve ever seen.

Who is New?

The Blue Devils bring in a stacked freshman class, including FOUR players ranked at #1 at their respective position by ESPN Recruiting.

Duval, Carter, and Trent are all exciting, but Bagley is the real star among the group. He’s the current front-runner to be the top pick in next June’s NBA Draft, thanks to an electric combination of size and athleticism. His late decision to not only attend Duke, but to re-classify to be part of this fall’s freshman class sent shockwaves through the college basketball world.

This class is among the best assembled in the one-and-done era. Their ability to mesh with one another and with Grayson Allen may be the most important question early in the season across the entire basketball landscape.

Rankings Rundown

AP Poll: #1

Coaches Poll: #1

KenPom: #6

The combination of Allen’s return and the firepower of the freshman class has voters impressed. KenPom on the other hand weights returning players a bit more than newcomers (which is more of an issue of data availability than the best method possible, Pomeroy admits), so Duke suffers a tad.

Big Games on the Schedule

We’ll see Duke take on Michigan State and travel to Indiana before even turning the calendar to December. The Blue Devils start their season on November 10 at Cameron Indoor, playing Elon. Duke should win by a boatload and overload the internet with highlight dunks, but don’t forget: Elon guard Steven Santa Ana is the player Allen was suspended for tripping. REVENGE GAME!

****

Header image via Duke Basketball on Twitter.

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, SALTMoney.org, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to palestraback@gmail.com

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