Duke Reloads From Elite Eight Run

Mason Plumlee is one of three Duke seniors departing the Blue Devils this offseason.
Mason Plumlee is one of three Duke seniors departing the Blue Devils this offseason.

Duke loses three seniors from this year’s Elite Eight team that finished second in the ACC regular season standings.  However, the quality of the returning players and a couple of new faces have produced high expectations entering next season for the Blue Devils.

The Blue Devils were led on the floor by a trio of seniors, guard Seth Curry and forwards Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee.  Plumlee was the leading vote-getter on the All-ACC First Team, as determined by the media, but lost out on Player of the Year to Virginia Tech’s Erick Green.  Plumlee was second in the conference in both points (17.2) and rebounds (10.2) per contest during the regular season, earning the Pete Newell Big Man of the Year Award and Consensus Second Team All-American honors.

Curry finished just behind Plumlee in scoring during the regular season (17.0), but edged past him during the postseason with a couple of huge games, including 29 points in Duke’s Sweet Sixteen matchup with Michigan State on 6-for-9 shooting from three-point range. Curry was a 43.8 percent shooter from distance in 2012-13, a mark good for 14th in the nation and second in the ACC behind NC State’s Scott Wood.

Then there was Ryan Kelly.  The 6’11” forward was also a strong three-point shooter, making 42.2 percent of his attempts beyond the arc.  However, he did not qualify for any stat leader lists after missing 13 games for the Blue Devils after suffering a right foot injury against Clemson. He returned with a bang, scoring 36 points in a win against Miami, but was hardly the same player afterwards and opted for surgery after the season had ended.

While it’s not the amount of turnover seen by NC State or Miami will experience next season, these are several key departures for Duke.  However, unlike the Wolfpack and Hurricanes, they appear better prepared to deal with next season’s new-look roster.

Duke’s returnees are led by rising junior Quinn Cook. Cook was a Third Team All-ACC player, averaging 11.7 points and 5.3 assists per game for Duke.  Cook’s 2.41 assist-turnover ratio was second in the conference behind North Carolina’s Dexter Strickland.

Rising senior Tyler Thornton and rising sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon will join Cook in Duke’s backcourt.  Sulaimon averaged 11.6 points per game for the Devils, making him one of the top freshmen in the league.  Thornton wasn’t a regular scorer in 2012-13, but he was second on the team in assists with 2.2 per game.

The frontcourt will be younger, which will require players to step up and fill the holes left by Plumlee and Kelly. Amile Jefferson is one player who could produce in extended minutes. As a freshman, Jefferson started seven games in Kelly’s absence, scoring double-digit points three times.  Alex Murphy is another rising sophomore who could benefit from the absence of the seniors.

With that said, there is plenty of talent joining Duke’s roster this season as well.  For one, forward Rodney Hood will take the court for the Blue Devils after sitting out this season following his transfer from Mississippi State. Hood averaged 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game as a freshman.

Joining Hood will be a recruiting class that features three Top-100 prospects.  Forward Jabari Parker and guard Matt Jones highlight the class, as both players participated in the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic.  Parker was co-MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic, scoring 16 points and grabbing seven rebounds.  Meanwhile, Jones is a sharpshooter who could be the next in a lineage of great shooters at Duke.  The Blue Devils also add Semi Ojeleye, an athletic 6’6” winger considered the seventh-best small forward in the class by Rivals.

Not to be forgotten, the Blue Devils will also return Andre Dawkins for his senior season.  Dawkins redshirted for 2012-13, giving him time away from the game following the death of his older sister in 2009.  Dawkins averaged 8.1 and 8.4 points per game as a sophomore and junior, respectively, making 40.1 percent of his three-point shots thus far in his career.

In other words, there’s lots to love about next year’s Duke basketball team. Yes, there’s no way to know for certain if Dawkins can perform at the same level after a year off, whether or not Jefferson or Murphy are ready for increased minutes, or the freshmen can make the jump to college play without some first-year hiccups.  With so many options at Mike Krzyzewski’s disposal, though, it’s hard to imagine the Hall of Fame coach not being able to field an ACC and national contender with this level of talent.


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