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AskChron: Lineup, Final Four and leadership

With Countdown to Craziness bringing in a new season today for Duke basketball, we solicited some questions from our Twitter account @dukebasketball.

Read: Top recruits visit Duke basketball for Countdown to Craziness

Here are three of the best questions with answers:

Q: @GoDuke2011 asked, "@dukebasketball #askchron What is your projected starting lineup for the season opener?"

A: The best guess we have at a projected lineup comes from the way that the teams were divided during scrimmages at Fort Bragg. Duke basketball head coach Krzyzewski might deny that he splits the preseason teams based on expected starters, but one of the teams from Monday’s friendly sure looks like it could be a good starting five. That group started Quinn Cook at the point, Seth Curry as the off-guard, Alex Murphy on the wing, Ryan Kelly at the four, and Mason Plumlee at center. Curry has missed a good chunk of preseason practice with an injury, so his health will determine his status. If he’s not 100% for the opener, we could see Rasheed Sulaimon representing the freshman class among the starters. In Curry's limited participation, he spent the majority of the time with that first unit.

This starting five is close to my favorite from among the different options. Starting Cook over Tyler Thornton puts the best playmaker on the floor with the first unit and allows Thornton to be a steady asset off the bench if a surer hand is needed. Starting Murphy at the three gives Duke its most “traditional” lineup, with a pure small forward alongside Kelly as a stretch four and Plumlee as a true center. Krzyzewski can always move later in the game to a three-guard lineup, which he has utilized often in recent years.

Q: @CoachSoderling asked, "@dukebasketball #AskChron With this team's makeup, could it be a final four or even national championship material? Looks similar to 2010."

A: It depends what you mean by “makeup” here. In terms of attitude and work ethic, any team led by Krzyzewski is a good candidate to have the moxie to play late into March. But after last year’s team lacked leadership and cohesion, new leaders will need to step up from among the players (see question #3).

Read: Duke ranked No. 8 in USA Today Coaches' Poll

I have to say I’m not sure I see a comparison with the veteran 2010 squad, as this is still a fairly young team that has plenty to prove. In terms of talent, it’s awfully early to be making too many judgments, but Duke has something to prove in that sense before I’m ready to declare them a Final Four team. There is a ton of talent on the roster this year, but every player comes with question marks or past inconsistencies.

There is no bona fide star. Will Mason Plumlee blossom into a star big man? Will Ryan Kelly take another step forward? Will Quinn Cook turn into a dynamic team leader? All of these things could happen, but I need to see it before I believe it.

Q: @BlayneOwens asked, "@dukebasketball #askchron who is stepping up as the leader(s) of. This team?"

A: This is a very difficult team to get a read on from a leadership perspective. Krzyzewski has emphasized the need for Mason Plumlee to step into a leadership role, and it would be a huge boon for Duke if Plumlee met those expectations. Ryan Kelly shares Plumlee’s captain title, and his cerebral approach could grow into a quiet leadership role.

Interestingly, though, many of the more vocal Blue Devils are either underclassmen or not expected to start. Josh Hairston’s enthusiasm is reminiscent of Lance Thomas, and Quinn Cook is one of the more extroverted Duke players. The freshman class also comes in with excellent reputations as high-character players. Like I mentioned in question #2 regarding the team’s talent, there is leadership potential all over the Duke roster, but potential will need to become reality if Duke is to be a championship contender.


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