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Today we continue our countdown of the nation's top 32 teams. Why 32? Frankly, if these teams don't win one game in the NCAA tournament (i.e., get to the round of 32), the season likely will be termed a disappointment.
November 1, 2011
STRENGTHS: Even after losing No. 1 overall draft pick Kyrie Irving and All-America G Nolan Smith, Duke boasts one of the nation's top backcourts. Seth Curry (Stephen's younger brother) and Andre Dawkins seem poised for breakthrough seasons. Curry averaged 9.0 points last season while shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point range and recording more than twice as many assists as turnovers. Dawkins averaged 8.1 points and made 64 3-pointers. Duke also adds the nation's No. 1 prospect from the 2011 recruiting class in Austin Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. River, who is 6 feet 4, won the Naismith and Morgan Wootten national high school player of the year awards as a senior at Winter Park (Fla.) High. He also was named the Parade and USA Today national player of the year. While the frontcourt lacks scoring punch, senior Miles Plumlee and junior Mason Plumlee offer plenty of experience and rebounding ability. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is a master at blending freshmen and upperclassmen into a cohesive unit. He should have this team poised to earn a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in March.
WEAKNESSES: Although Duke has tons of talent, there isn't really a proven star on this roster. The Blue Devils don't return anyone who averaged more than 9.0 points, and Miles Plumlee is the only senior on the roster. We saw how well Irving played as a true freshman last season and expectations are Rivers also will make an instant impact. But it's no sure thing. The same goes for Curry and Dawkins. While at least one of them ought to show major improvement this season, they still must get it done. The lack of proven performers is one thing separating Duke from preseason ACC favorite North Carolina. Duke also lacks North Carolina's frontcourt firepower. The Plumlees combined to average more rebounds (13.3) than points (12.0) last season. Mason Plumlee scored 16 points and Miles Plumlee added 14 points last week in an exhibition victory over Bellarmine. If they could consistently score in double figures, it would provide some welcome balance for Duke's offense.
[More on Duke: Go to DevilsIllustrated.com]
OUTLOOK: The lack of experienced scorers offers at least some reason for worry, but it shouldn't be that much cause for concern. This team simply has too much talent to fall out of the top 10. Duke doesn't seem quite as strong as North Carolina and Kentucky - everyone's pick as the nation's two best teams - but it's not that far below them either. North Carolina and Duke are a league apart from everyone else in the ACC this season. If Rivers provides the same type of impact Irving made before getting hurt last season, Duke could give North Carolina some serious competition for the ACC title.
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