Blue Devils data

November 1, 2012 

Points returning: 47.3  - Duke averaged 77.5 last season, 16th best in the nation. It returns three of its top four scorers in Seth Curry (13.2), Ryan Kelly (11.8) and Mason Plumlee (11.1).

Go-to guy: Mason Plumlee. When Plumlee passed on the NBA draft, it was understood that he would return as the key piece for the 2012-13 season and unquestioned leader. Not long after his decision, he was named one of Duke’s two captains, which gave him time to assert his leadership.

“He’s definitely stepped up,” Alex Murphy said. “He’s gotten a lot better on the court and off the court. So far, Mason has done a great job with being a leader, which is one thing this team will definitely need. He’s embraced that role.”

Plumlee just missed averaging a double-double last season. If Duke is going to succeed, look for him to top that mark with ease.

Impact rookie: Rasheed Sulaimon. Thanks to the true redshirts, Duke has four “new” players, but one of the newest, Sulaimon, might have the biggest impact. An undisclosed leg injury to Curry will necessitate the freshman playing significant minutes from the start. He has run with the starting five so far this preseason, including the Blue-White scrimmage where he scored 14 points with two assists and three rebounds.

Best case: Like with any Duke team, the ceiling is playing on the first Monday in April for a national title. Mike Krzyzewski said as much at Countdown to Craziness, and it would be, well, crazy, to expect him and the Blue Devils to aim for anything less.

A fitting comparison would be to the 2010 team, also included three somewhat unheralded seniors in Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek. They, along with Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, peaked at the right time and played their best basketball in March and April.

Worst case: Duke lived out the worst-case scenario last year: a massive upset on the biggest stage. That opening-round loss to Lehigh wiped out what had been a successful season. Don’t count on a similar ending this year, though, if the senior leadership and defense improve as Duke expects.

X-factor: Marshall Plumlee’s health. He was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot just before the official start of practice. Krzyzewski said the youngest Plumlee was one of their best six players, a strong statement that took a few by surprise.

If Duke is going to go deep in the tournament, Plumlee will need to give them sixth-man type minutes and production. If Plumlee misses so much time recovering from his foot injury that he can’t catch up, the Blue Devils will be significantly affected.

Where to attack: Until proven otherwise, double-team Mason Plumlee and force him to find an open teammate. With Curry limited, Kelly becomes the best outside scoring option. Make him prove he’s consistent. On defense, test Duke’s new-found length on the perimeter and see if its really improved from its dismal status last year.

Magic number: 16 - That’s the single-game assist record at Duke, set by Bobby Hurley in 1993. Cook isn’t expected to be Hurley, but he is expected to be a true point guard, an element Duke lacked last year. Cook knows what the standard is for a Duke point guard. He’s pledged to try to meet it.

Laura Keeley

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