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ACC Basketball Previews: Duke

The Blue Devils finished a disappointing (for them) third in the ACC, after being picked 1st by most people entering the season. Then, they lost both Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood early to the NBA. Still, they were picked 1st again entering this season, largely due to the #1 recruiting class Coach K brought in.

If Jahlil Okafor is as good as advertised, Duke is going to one of the top teams in the nation.
If Jahlil Okafor is as good as advertised, Duke is going to one of the top teams in the nation.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Last season: 26-9 (13-5), 3rd in ACC, KenPom #13, RPI #14

Projected Starters:
Tyrus Jones, PG - 6'1" 190, Freshman
Rasheed Sulaimon, G - 6'5" 195, Junior
Justice Winslow, F - 6'6" 225, Freshman
Amile Jefferson, F - 6'9" 215, Junior
Jahlil Okafor, C - 6'11" 270, Freshman

Other contributors:
Grayson Allen, G - 6'4" 195, Freshman
Quinn Cook, PG - 6'2" 185, Senior
Marshall Plumlee, C - 7'0" 255, Junior
Matt Jones, G - 6'5" 210, Sophomore
Semi Ojeleye, F - 6'8" 230, Sophomore

As always, Duke is expected to be among the nation's best teams this year. Despite losing two first round picks, Duke might be better than last year. This is due to the consensus #1 recruiting class in the country, highlighted by Okafor, the #1 player in the country. Okafor actually came in a package deal with the #1 PG in the country, Tyrus Jones. Winslow and Allen were also top-25 recruits.

While the freshman class is, understandably, getting all the preseason hype, Duke's upperclassmen are really going to determine how far this team will go. Quinn Cook, for example, is moving to the bench to make room for Jones. Cook has started for the past two years (and for part of his freshman year). So far, he's taken the demotion in stride. He was named a team captain, in part because of his willingness to move to a reserve role.

On the court, the most important player may be Sulaimon. He averaged just under 10 points per game, but also only about 7 shots per game. He is Duke's best perimeter threat on offense, so both of those numbers are going to have to go up quite a bit. Similarly, Jefferson is the best interior scoring threat, although he's much more comfortable facing up than with his back to the basket. Spends much of his time on the baseline, where he is dangerous. Okafor has a solid mid-range jumper, but is still developing a back-to-the-basket game.

Behind Sulaimon is Allen, who is a dead-eye shooter with good athleticism. It remains to be seen if Allen can consistently get to the rim at this level of play, or if he'll just be a shooter for now. Cook is also a good shooter and perimeter threat, and his leadership probably means that Duke will be in a 3 guard alignment down the stretch in close games.

Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye were highly coveted recruits a year ago who didn't get much playing time as freshmen. They still may not get much, at least once ACC play starts, unless they can earn it.

After first second round exits in 2 of the past 3 years, Duke fans are expecting another national championship run, and if the Okafor/Jones combination is as good as advertized, they may get it.