Grayson Allen, G, So., 6-5, 205: Unlike Duke’s other two best bets for consistent scoring — Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard – Allen has the benefit of experience. Last season, he averaged 9.2 minutes and 4.4 points per game. A sophomore, he still has abundant athleticism and ability to jump out of the gym – but now he is stronger, ready to absorb contact on his way to the rim. Duke is aiming to play fast in transition, which should play to his strengths.
Notre Dame, Jan. 16: The Blue Devils will be on the road early in ACC play with trips to Boston College (Jan. 2), Wake Forest (Jan. 6) and Clemson (Jan. 13) to start. And they also play at home against Virginia Tech (Jan. 9).
All of those teams will likely finish in the bottom half of the league, so Notre Dame is the first true test of conference play. Duke has the benefit of facing the Irish at home, but it won’t be a beatdown like the game Feb. 7, when the No. 4 Blue Devils shot 81 percent in the first half and beat the No. 10 Irish by 30. There might be early-season growing pains for this young group, but everything ought to be rounding into shape around this time.
18.7 Points per game returning from last season’s scholarship players, as the top four scorers from the national championship squad are gone. It’s a whole new season.
Repeat national championship: It’s a wide-open year for college basketball, so why not Duke? The Blue Devils are talented, and Allen, Ingram and Kennard all average more than 15 points a game, taking turns as the hot hand.
Ingram gives opponents fits on both ends of the floor – pity the poor guards who get defended by his 6-foot-9 frame. Defensively, Duke is much improved, thanks to better length at nearly every position. Derryck Thornton is the lock-down, on-ball defender Mike Krzyzewski has missed in recent seasons. And come NCAA tournament time, the bracket breaks Duke’s way, just as it did in 2010 and 2015, and just like that, the Blue Devils are back-to-back champs for the second time in program history.
First-round NCAA exit: This wouldn’t be the first talented Duke team to not jell right. References to the 2013-14 team are made in print on a weekly basis, as this group bares a striking resemblance to that group in two ways: talent (Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood both were first-round picks, just as Ingram and Allen could be one day) and lack of an on-court alpha male.
There was never a player who would drive the bus in crunch time in 2013-14, and that was a problem all the way through the Mercer loss in the Round of 64. This season’s group suffers from the same issue, and ends up with a similar fate. Krzyzewski still is defending this team in 2017, saying it was a good team that played a bad last game.