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Thoughts for hoops season

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

The major league baseball playoffs are heating up, college football is in full swing and Halloween is just around the corner. Most importantly, in Krzyzewskiville, basketball season starts with the Blue-White scrimmage Saturday, giving the Cameron Crazies exciting new reasons to paint up and scream their lungs out. With that in mind, here are five things Crazies can expect from Duke’s team this season:

  1. Backing out of the Coaches v. Cancer Classic will help the Blue Devils in the long run.

Bracketologists will hate this move because of how much it weakens Duke’s out-of-conference schedule. With Duke out of the tournament, the Blue Devils will not face potential bracket-buster Richmond in Cameron, nor will they see an anticipated third-round matchup with Kentucky in Madison Square Garden.

But the softer schedule will give head coach Mike Krzyzewski an opportunity to settle his starting lineup. Cupcakes such as Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 20) and UNC-Greensboro (Nov. 27) will give Duke time to develop Lee Melchionni, DeMarcus Nelson and Dave McClure on a very short bench. With eight scholarship players, depth is currently Duke’s biggest issue, and the Blue Devils will need reliable contributions from those three if they hope to repeat their Final Four performance from last season.

  1. DeMarcus Nelson will be a double-digit scorer as a freshman.

I can’t even remember the last time I’ve seen anyone as underrated as Nelson in recruiting rankings—all he’s done is come close to averaging a triple-double a game for three straight years and become the leading scorer in California state history. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Nelson’s combination of size, strength and skills makes him unlike any recruit Duke has ever had. He has been an unstoppable scoring machine at every level—including Duke, where he has abused current and former Blue Devils during summer camps the past two years—and there doesn’t appear to be any reason why he won’t be a force in the ACC this season.

  1. This will finally be Shavlik Randolph’s breakout year.

First he was too light. Then he was too soft. But after two years of disappointment, the underachieving Randolph is finally completely healthy and has had an entire year to learn how to play with his extra muscle. Couple that with the oh-so-smooth moves around the basket that made Randolph one of the nation’s top five high school prospects, and you have all the ingredients for a monster year from the much-hyped Raleigh star. This season, he should be able to sustain the glimpses of promise that he showed from last year to effectively complement Shelden Williams’ power game.

  1. Krzyzewski will not lose any recruits to the NBA this year.

Two reasons for this: First, next year’s national recruiting class is considerably weaker than all the other classes in recent memory—in fact, there may not be one surefire NBA prospect among them. Second, the Blue Devils don’t have anyone who is NBA-ready or a prospect as tantalizing as Shaun Livingston was last year. Eric Boateng is the nation’s No. 2 center, but he is so raw that it will take him several years to make a college impact, much less an NBA impact. Josh McRoberts, the nation’s No. 3 overall prospect, has a dazzling array of skills and impressive athleticism, but he does not have enough upside to be a lottery pick. Besides, McRoberts, who committed to Duke at the beginning of his junior year, has had his mind set on Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils for such a long time that even the NBA’s millions might not be enough to draw him away from college.

  1. Duke will beat North Carolina at home this season.

A sweep might be too much to ask for—North Carolina’s young talent has finally matured, and Roy Williams has molded the Tar Heels into one of the nation’s top teams. On paper, North Carolina can match the Blue Devils position by position on the floor. But Duke still has the better coach, fewer chemistry issues and a proud recent history of knocking off their archrivals. All those things will push the Blue Devils over the top when the Tar Heels come calling Feb. 9 in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

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