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College Basketball Preview 2014-2015: 3. Duke Blue Devils

Rasheed Sulaimon
3. Duke Blue Devils (26-9 in 2013-2014, lost in second round to Mercer)

Projected Lineup:
PG Quinn Cook -- Senior
G Rasheed Sulaimon -- Junior
F Semi Ojeleye -- Sophomore
F Amile Jefferson -- Junior
F/C Jahlil Okafor -- Freshman
Sixth Tyus Jones -- Freshman

It was a typical year in Durham, North Carolina, last year for Duke. Even without frontcourt stalwarts Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, the Blue Devils rolled through the extremely competitive ACC with a fresh, new shiny toy, true freshman Jabari Parker. While Parker and the rest of the Blue Devils were unable to do much in the tournament, being stunned in the first round by 14-seeded Mercer, it was still a pretty successful season for Coach K. While Parker decided to turn pro (and go No. 2 to Milwaukee) Krzyzewski's newest recruiting class has expectations very high in Durham, as usual. With a number of strong returnees meeting up with one of the nation's top classes, Duke has all the pieces to win the ACC and actually do something in March this time around.

BACKCOURT: While Coach K managed to reel in the nation's second overall point guard in the 2014 recruiting cycle, Tyus Jones, senior Quinn Cook will likely begin the year as the Blue Devils' starter. Cook was a solid contributor to the Duke effort last tear, averaging 9.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game last season for the Blue Devils. A great ball-handler already, Cook has improved his explosiveness and speed all over the court, meaning he will be much more dangerous in transition opportunities. Joining Cook as the starter in the backcourt will be another veteran in junior Rasheed Sulaimon, who has shown serious flashes of brilliance in his time in Durham. Known for his sharpshooting ability, Sulaimon can use his strong, 6'5", nearly 200 pound frame to get into the paint against smaller shooting guards. While inconsistency has plagued him over the course of his first two seasons with Duke, expect Sulaimon to grow into a more complete player this year and a much more potent offensive weapon for Krzyzewski. A pair of true freshman, Jones and bouncy Grayson Allen, will compete for minutes from the get-go. Jones, a product from Minnesota, has impressed with his excellent court vision, beautiful passes and knowledge of the game. While he may not start this season, he will surely find a way to make an impact. Allen is still pretty raw, but he will wow people right away with his crazy athleticism. His crazy bounce makes him a candidate to be highlight reel mainstay, but his shot has improved wildly over the course of his high school career and he isn't one dimensional. Also competing for action in the crowded Blue Devils' backcourt is going to be sophomore Matt Jones, who didn't see too much action his first season with Duke. A strong, aggressive player, Jones has the chance to really make an impact as a finisher in the paint and as an effective defender. Youth is still everywhere in this backcourt, which means veterans Cook and Suliamon will have to be smart, confident leaders. If they are, this backcourt could be among the best inside the ACC and the entire nation.
Amile Jefferson
FRONTCOURT: The Blue Devils will also certainly miss Parker, a versatile forward who could do it all for them. He was a forward who could shoot anywhere on the court, rebound, defend and bully in the low post. Without him, Duke will most likely need junior Amile Jefferson to improve in major ways. Jefferson has been extremely efficient his first two years in college, averaging 5.3 points and five rebounds per game, while also shooting over sixty percent from the field. He still needs to become stronger and he won't have the versatility of Parker, but he can really grow. Joining him in the frontcourt will be rising sophomore Semi Ojeyele, who showed flashes of being a star last season. Ojeyele is so tough to guard, bullying smaller defenders with his 6'8", NBA body while shedding slower defenders with his quickness and athleticism. He only appeared in 17 games last year, but in those 17, Duke won every single game. He will be a leading candidate, along with true freshman Justise Winslow, to take over where Mississippi State transfer and first-round draft pick Rodney Hood left off. Winslow was an impressive pickup from Houston who has the chance to grow into quite a dangerous offensive player. A tremendous athlete with great size and strength, Winslow can score in a variety of different ways. His shot still has to improve for him to grow into that dangerous offensive player, but the raw tools are certainly there. Help will also arrive in the form of the nation's No. 1 recruit, Jahlil Okafor from Whitney Young High in Chicago. Okafor is a popular National Player of the Year pick, because he has all the talent to grow into a dominant player in college basketball, like his cousin, Emeka, who turned into a dominant player at UConn about a decade ago. Okafor is a powerful 6'11" center who is so good at carving out space in the paint and finishing around the rim. His strength and huge frame will allow him to grow into a double-double machine from the beginning for Duke. Krzyzewski and Duke fans are wondering if this is the year junior big man Marshall Plumlee finally takes the leap to compare to the production of his two brothers, Mason and Miles, two NBA draft picks. A seven-footer with the potential to really grow into a pretty dominant forward, Plumlee's career has been interrupted by nagging foot injuries. If he can stay healthy this year he could grow into a relative productive two-way player, though it is likely he will never grow into a player to compare to his older brothers. The future is bright with Rice transfer Sean Obi (who has been ruled ineligible for 2014-2015) becoming the fifth Duke transfer for the program under Coach K. The sophomore averaged 11.4 points per game for Rice as a freshman and he could really grow into a great player practicing with Duke, like Rodney Hood certainly did.

Jahlil Okafor, No. 1 C in 2014 Class, Chicago, Illinois
Tyus Jones, No. 1 PG in 2014 Class, Apple Valley, Minnesota
Justise Winslow, No. 5 SF in 2014 Class, Houston, Texas
Grayson Allen, No. 6 SG in 2014 Class, Jacksonville, Florida
(ratings, locations all according to ESPN)

While there may be some growing pains for Duke and Krzyzewski, there is no denying how talented this Duke team is this year. They are extremely deep in both the frontcourt and backcourt and they do have some valuable experience returning. If Okafor can grow into a dominant big man, and someone can replace the wing scoring of both Hood and Parker, this Duke team has all the pieces they need to win what will be an unforgiving ACC. In fact, if those things do happen, an ACC Championship will be a pretty small ceiling for this Duke squad, a Final Four will be a legit possibility.

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