The stunning ending to last season, when unheralded Lehigh knocked Duke out of the NCAA tournament, jolted the Blue Devils to their core. For only the second time since 1996, the Blue Devils failed to win at least one game in the NCAAs. While a foot injury to forward Ryan Kelly slowed Duke in March, it was an overall lack of size on the perimeter that hampered the team. This season, coach Mike Krzyzewski believes that won't be a problem with the arrival of 6-foot-4 freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon to go along with a pair of 6-8 freshman small forwards, Alex Murphy (redshirt) and Amile Jefferson.
The Blue Devils hope to create a balanced attack after being too reliant on jump-shooting last season. Mason Plumlee passed on the chance to be a first-round NBA draft pick to return for his senior year and improve his game. Aiding Plumlee will be small forward Amile Jefferson, who should give the frontcourt much-needed athleticism, while roving big man Ryan Kelly has three-point skills (40.8 percent last season) and can help with rebounding and defense inside.
Seth Curry should be Duke's most consistent perimeter scorer. An accomplished three-point shooter, Curry has become better at driving and dishing as his career has progressed. His scoring will be needed even more with Andre Dawkins sitting out the 2012-13 season as a redshirt. Point guard will be an area of intense focus. Junior Tyler Thornton and sophomore Quinn Cook both started last season but neither was consistently effective. Thornton is adept on the defensive end, but shot only 37.9 percent last season and lacks scoring punch to keep opponents honest. Cook struggled early last season with a lingering knee issue that carried over from high school. He's healthy now and possesses the playmaking skills to emerge as a top-flight ACC point guard.
Once again, Duke has a McDonald's All-American guard arriving in Rasheed Sulaimon. The Houston-native will provide needed scoring punch on the perimeter while also bringing the strong on-ball defensive skills Duke lacked last season. The Blue Devils will also benefit from Amile Jefferson's athleticism on the wing and should expect contributions from Marshall Plumlee and Alex Murphy, who both redshirted last season.
Duke has all the pieces to challenge for the ACC championship. In Curry,
Kelly and Mason Plumlee, the Blue Devils have experienced senior starters who will provide scoring from the perimeter to the post. Duke can also rely on Kelly and Plumlee for a defensive and rebounding boost. But to contend for a national title, Duke must find a consistent point guard.