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Duke basketball: Season predictions

With Duke basketball's season opener against Davidson just hours away, The Chronicle's men's basketball beat writers took time to give their predictions for the 2013-14 Blue Devils.

Duke's regular season record:

Daniel Carp: 26-5. With three matchups against top-10 opponents in the season's opening weeks, Duke's schedule is just as tough as it was last year. And with a more difficult ACC slate this season including two matchups against Syracuse and two more against North Carolina, the Blue Devils are not going to win them all this season. But still expect this team to be in position to earn a top seed come March.

Bobby Colton
: 26-5. With an improved ACC, there may be more losses in the regular season for Duke than in years past. Road tilts against Notre Dame, Syracuse and North Carolina, neutral site contests with Kansas, UCLA and (presumably) Arizona, and a home game against Michigan are just a handful of the tests that the Blue Devils will have to face this season.

Ryan Hoerger
: 25-6. The Blue Devils could be more vulnerable early in the season than last year, when a senior-led team cruised through its first 15 games of the year. Potential hiccups include Kansas and Arizona in the nonconference as well as road struggles with the ACC newcomers: at Syracuse, at Notre Dame and at Pittsburgh.

Andrew Beaton: 27-4. Duke has been fantastic in non-conference season lately despite playing arguably the toughest schedule in the nation each time. The start this season may be a bit slower—this team doesn't appear to be quite where it has been at the past few years—but the long-term upside is higher. Every bump in the road early on will be rewarded in ACC play.

Duke's NCAA tournament finish:

DC: I'm comfortable saying Duke will make a Final Four this year, but don't want to speculate what will happen once they get there. This team is dynamic and focused enough to make a deep tournament run, and once Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood get comfortable enough moving with each other on the floor, the rest of the country better watch out. One of the keys in ACC and postseason play will be whether or not the Blue Devils get worn down inside by larger opponents.

: Final Four. This is a relatively youthful team, but players grow up fast when they have the kind of schedule Duke will be dealing with this year. Lacking a true center, I'm hesitant to have the Blue Devils make it any further than the Final Four. That being said, Duke's athleticism may prove to be a bigger advantage than their lack of height plays as a disadvantage. If Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood are as good as advertised, there is no reason why this team can't raise a fifth banner into the rafters at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Elite Eight. While Duke might be able to succeed in the ACC, where there are few imposing opposing big men, they're likely to run into one or two in the NCAA tournament (i.e. Adreian Payne and No. 2 Michigan State). The Blue Devils have all the talent necessary to make a title run, but depending on how they rebound they could find themselves ousted before they make it to North Texas for the Final Four.

AB: National Champions. Nobody else went there, so why not? I think it's difficult to argue any other team has more talent, other than Kentucky, and we saw last season that isn't a perfect formula every year.

Team Most Valuable Player:

DC: The optimal word here is valuable, and Duke's most valuable player this year is without a doubt Amile Jefferson. The 6-foot-9 forward from Philadelphia will be matched up with a ton of bigger and stronger opponents this season, and his ability to man the middle and rip down rebounds will be crucial to this team's success. If he can add a scoring punch as well, the sky is the limit for the Blue Devils.

Jabari Parker. Can it be anyone other than Parker? Rodney Hood may be the best all-around player on the team, and Amile Jefferson may be the team's X factor, but Parker is the superstar. The freshman may hit some bumps in the road this year, but he'll establish himself as one of college basketball's best players sooner rather than later.

RH: For the sake of argument, I'll take Quinn Cook. The junior floor general is tasked with managing the pace of the game on both ends of the floor, pushing the ball in transition and mercilessly hounding opposing guards with ball pressure. With so much talent on the floor, Cook also has to find a way to distribute the ball around to keep Parker, Hood and others happy, while also looking to create his own shots. As Cook goes, so will the Blue Devils.

AB: Rodney Hood. Parker may be the best future NBA player on this team, but Hood should lead this team in scoring and will be the most consistent. Like every freshman, Parker may need some time to adjust. Hood has the talent and experience to lead this team.

Team Most Improved Player:

Matt Jones. He will be a rotation player to start the year, but with Duke's instability at the shooting guard position, there is no reason to think he couldn't crack the starting lineup later in the year. His perimeter defense is already there, and if he can regain the 3-point shot that made him a highly-touted high school recruit, Jones can be dangerous by the end of the season.

BC: Amile Jefferson. Duke needs Jefferson to make the leap this season. The long forward has been working hard over the summer to put on weight in order to be the team's starting five, and by season's end that hard work will have paid off in a big way. Jefferson's freakish wingspan and soft touch around the rim will make him a threat for a double-double every night—regardless of opponent—by postseason play.

RH: Semi Ojeleye. The physical tools are clearly there; all that's missing is the mental half of adjusting to the college game. It's only a matter of time before Ojeleye starts reacting instinctively, and once he does, he could be extremely valuable to this team. Riding the freshman learning curve won't be easy sitting behind so many talented players, but Ojeleye has the potential to contribute points, rebounds and energy in expanded minutes by the time March rolls around.

AB: I'm going with Jefferson as well. He's crucially important as the "center" in the starting lineup, and he'll have the potential to be putting up double-digit boards in ~30 minutes per game this season.

Pressing concern:

DC: Scoring balance. With two go-to threats in Parker and Hood, Duke needs a reliable third option should the team struggle offensively. When the Blue Devils get into ACC play, they shouldn't have to rely on both Parker and Hood to be on their A-game every night. Otherwise, Duke could have some rough nights if their stars struggle.

: Foul trouble. A number of Duke's rotation players have been foul prone in their careers. Seniors Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton have been big culprits during their time at Duke, and Jefferson struggled with fouls as a freshman a season ago. Throw in the new enforcement of the hand check rule and all of a sudden Quinn Cook becomes a prime suspect for foul trouble as well. This Blue Devil team is deep, but Duke can't afford to have its best players sitting on the bench in foul woes.

RH: Rebounding. Duke has a lean, lanky starting frontcourt in Hood, Parker and Jefferson, and could struggle to corral rebounds against bigger opponents. Duke was outrebounded by vastly undersized Bowie State in its first exhibition game. If Coach K needs help on the glass, it could mean more minutes for Marshall Plumlee or Semi Ojeleye, which might compromise Duke's offensive productivity.

AB: 'Sheed. He was arguably the best driver on last year's team, but people forget about him now that it's the Hood and Jabari show. He didn't get into the last exhibition game because he was sick, and his conditioning appears to be a concern judging by Coach K's postgame comments. But if he's on his game, this team will be difficult to defend.

Bold prediction:

DC: Duke will struggle in nonconference play this season. Moreso than in years past, this Blue Devil team appears to be very much a work in progress heading into this team's first game. Compiling a 73-3 record in the month of November since the 2000-01 season, Duke has always prided itself on being the best prepared team at the beginning of the year. Although I am not doubting the Blue Devils' preparation, I think Duke will go through some growing pains as so many new pieces continue to become comfortable with one another.

: Matt Jones earns starts this season. Jones said it himself, Mike Krzyzewski loves defense. And that's exactly what Jones brings to the table. If he progresses during the season, Jones could become a mix of Andre Dawkins and Tyler Thornton—a guard with the size and ability to guard the wing while being a lights-out shooter from beyond the arc. Krzyzewski obviously isn't sold on Rasheed Sulaimon as a starter, and Tyler Thornton isn't a realistic candidate to start all season. That leaves the door wide open for the freshman Jones to make his presence felt in his first season with the program.

RH: Marshall Plumlee develops into a legitimate post threat. The redshirt sophomore hasn't been pretty to watch sometimes during his career in Durham, but after working his way back from offseason surgery, he's clearly trending in the right direction. He had good showings in Countdown to Craziness and against Drury, showcasing some post moves (including a Mason-esque hook) and a much-improved free throw stroke, though that's still a work in progress. His size will lend itself well to the Blue Devils on the glass, so we might be seeing a lot more of him this season than people think.

AB: Alex Murphy becomes an important rotation player. When he first came, people thought he might start immediately. He redshirted, and that clearly didn't happen. But on this year's team that will be subbing a lot, his versatile frame will prove useful.


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