With two National Player of the Year candidates and one of the nation's best recruiting classes, virtually everyone is already penciling Duke into the Final Four. Everyone, that is, except the team itself. "We know we have a good team this year but we take it day by day," senior co-captain Sean Dockery said. "We are a team that knows we aren't the team that we want to be right now. Every day we are just trying to get better." Though No. 1 Duke features four seniors with extensive playing experience, this season's Blue Devil team will look very different from last year's version and implementing those changes will take some work, several players have said. Limited by a short bench and a number of injuries last season, the Blue Devils eventually fell victim to fatigue and foul trouble in their Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State March 25. Guard J.J. Redick, forward Shelden Williams and departed-senior Daniel Ewing were all among the ACC's top seven in minutes played per game. To remedy the problem, head coach Mike Krzyzewski brought in a quintet of freshmen he expects to provide productive minutes immediately. With the freshmen joining the fold, Duke's game plan will be different than it was a year ago. The sheer number of bodies, allows Duke to play its patented pressure defense for all 40 minutes. "We will pressure teams more," Redick said. "We didn't create a lot of turnovers last year and get out in passing lanes because we didn't have a lot of people and couldn't get in foul trouble. We played more of a passive defense and just packed it in. This year we are going to look to create more turnovers." The team expects those turnovers to spark an up-tempo, fast-breaking offense, a pace that suits the athletic Blue Devils. Point guards Sean Dockery and Greg Paulus are fast players who can push the ball up the court quickly, and the team has plenty of players who can finish on the break. Add Redick and forward Lee Melchionni's three-point shooting when opposing teams slow the first wave of the break and its easy to see how Duke's fast break could be extremely successful. "With us playing at a faster pace it will give us a lot of chances to run in transition which is one of my strong points," guard DeMarcus Nelson said. "The way our team is set up this year, it is really exciting for me because it will allow me to showcase everything I can do and contribute to the team. It will also allow a lot of players to do the same. On our team we have so many different talented weapons that this style of play will benefit everyone." Even when opponents manage to stop the Blue Devil break, the team's offense will be less rigidly structured. Duke's four contributing seniors-Redick, Williams, Dockery and Melchionni-have three years of experience running Krzyzewski's offense, allowing the coach to give them more freedom than he has given them in years past. Redick, in particular, has started all but five contests in his 103-game Duke career. As a result of this experience, he has been granted the freedom to change plays on the fly, leading him to describe himself as the "Peyton Manning" of Duke's offense, after the Indianapolis Colts' quarterback who enjoys similar privileges. "We'll give [Redick] the opportunity to make calls for himself out on the court, to call an audible," Krzyzewski said. "I don't want him easy to guard, and I also don't want to run 20 plays for him because then everybody stands around and watches." Of course, it takes work to put in all of those changes. Krzyzewski said Duke's veterans, who are used to a slower tempo, might have a tougher adjustment. But the more experienced players said the changes would not be too hard to handle. "Running more will give us an opportunity to speed the game up a lot," Nelson said. "What happens when you speed the game up is you don't think hard enough, and mentally you aren't sharp enough, or you make plays that you wouldn't normally make if you were playing at a slow pace. That is something we are getting adjusted to now." The new, faster tempo will give the Blue Devils a different look, but one important thing will be the same as last year. Redick and Williams-both preseason All-Americans-will be the team's focal points. The two have been fixtures in Duke's starting lineup for three years, starting a total of 190 games in their Blue Devil careers, including 22 NCAA Tournament contests. The pair gives Duke the nation's top defensive presence and the country's premier outside shooter. With the influx of freshman talent, Redick and Williams are sure to see a decline in their minutes, but Krzyzewski said they were forced to play too many last season and that reducing their playing time could actually allow them to score more points in fewer minutes. "They can play harder and a little bit shorter, and maybe, not that they're then going to sit out eight minutes, but they can come back in," Krzyzewski said. "They're still going to play in the thirties, but it will be in different segments." The five new freshman also make for an interesting team dynamic. All four of Duke's seniors have been named captains, the first time the Blue Devils have ever had four captains in one season, and sophomore Nelson is the only active recruited scholarship player who is not a freshman or senior. But the seniors have embraced their role as mentors to the freshmen, and Krzyzewski said teaching the younger players could help the older players reinforce their skills. Many of the older players grew close to the freshmen while the team was at Duke for summer workouts, and all of them tell stories about the rookies' idiosyncrasies. "I have a younger brother who is the same age so I just look at it like I am talking to my little brother," Dockery said. "It is something that I enjoy. It is like giving back. Chris Duhon did the same for me. Dahntay Jones and guys like that were there from the start and that is what I am going to do for these guys." The Blue Devil seniors need to make sure the freshmen are ready to play, if only because having more available players will allow Duke's returnees to avoid the long minutes and conservative play they were forced into last year. And of course, their talent is a welcome addition to an experienced group of seniors that expects to go very far this season. "It's so hard to set a goal of a National Championship because only one team can walk away happy then," Melchionni said. "But then you look at our talent on paper, and there's a big divide between us and the other teams this year, and of course, it would be a little bit of a disappointment if we don't make it there, or get to the National Championship, or win a National Championship."
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