Remember the Alamo.
That catchphrase looks like it's going to be a popular motivator for the 2004-05 Blue Devil team. After all, San Antonio is where the Blue Devils let a 12-point lead slip away in the waning minutes of the national semifinal.
But with the likely defections of Luol Deng and Shaun Livingston, the phrase takes on a whole new second meaning. Remember the Alamo. Remember... Georgia Tech?
That's right, Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets made it to the national championship game using a fast-paced, guard-oriented offense. In fact, outside of 7-foot-1 center Luke Schenscher, Georgia Tech didn't even have any viable scoring options taller than 6-foot-6 Isma'il Muhammad.
The analogy isn't perfect; after all, Georgia Tech at least had a couple of big bodies it could put into the game outside of Schenscher in Theodis Tarver and Robert Brooks. For the Blue Devils, the only tall option beyond Shavlik Randolph and Shelden Williams is walk-on center Patrick Johnson.
But because of the Blue Devils' lack of post depth and especially given Randolph and Williams' penchant for picking up cheap fouls, Duke may need to copy the Jackets' formula for success if they want to reach the Final Four once again.
Playing Jarrett Jack for the Blue Devils will be Sean Dockery, a point guard head coach Mike Krzyzewski actually selected over Jack. Dockery seems like a Coach K-type of guy; a pure point guard, a tough, hard-nosed on-ball defender and a fiery competitor. He has a great nose for the ball and has the requisite quickness to generate tons of turnovers.
Unfortunately, though, he has some pretty big shoes to fill, and Dockery's offensive skills are nowhere near as advanced as his defensive abilities. He is a secure ballhandler who can get the ball upcourt without problems, but his shot leaves much to be desired. Last year Dockery shot an anemic 12 percent from beyond the arc, and though he is capable of finishing in the lane, he seldom looks for his own shot. He will need to improve his offensive skills if the Blue Devils have any hope of replicating their Final Four run from this year.
Jack was an integral part of the Yellow Jackets' offense, but one could argue that without Schenscher, Georgia Tech might not have sniffed the NCAA Tournament, much less the Final Four. Dockery solves the Blue Devils' point guard problem, but it will be up to Shavlik Randolph and Shelden Williams to solve the Duke's big man problem, exacerbated by Deng's likely departure.
The presence of Daniel Ewing, J.J. Redick and incoming freshman guard DeMarcus Nelson ensure that the Blue Devils will once again be a guard-oriented team, and so it will be up to Randolph and Williams to pull down clutch rebounds and prevent teams from double teaming on the perimeter.
Of the two big men, Williams is the more consistent. A wide body player who loves contact, Williams is an excellent rebounder and shotblocker who scores a ton of points on putbacks.
However, Williams might love doing the dirty work a bit too much; he picks up a lot of cheap fouls, making it difficult to keep him on the floor in end-game situations. Additionally, Williams' post moves could use some work; although they have improved, at times he does not yet appear very fluid or comfortable executing in the post. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but for Duke to get back to the Final Four, like Dockery, Williams will need to step up his game.
The same applies for Randolph; at times, he has shown the Blue Devils why he was the number one high school junior in the country. Yet because of injuries, Randolph has been a non-factor during much of his two seasons at Duke. With a full year to get accustomed to playing at 30 pounds heavier than he was, he may be primed for a breakout year.
Yet like Williams, he must do a better job of staying out of foul trouble. He has a tendency to become overaggressive on both ends of the court, and picks up bushels of cheap fouls as a result.
It will be tough for Duke to get to St. Louis next year, and with Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Wake Forest returning the majority of their important players, there is a very real chance that Duke could finish out of the top three in the ACC for the first time in a long time.
Yet keep in mind that five of the Blue Devils' top six players are McDonald's All-Americans, and Duke still has two other erstwhile top-100 high school players, recruit Dave McClure and Lee Melchionni, who can provide some depth off the bench. It will be difficult, but the Final Four is still in the Blue Devils' sights next season.
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