Death, Cameron Indoor Stadium, and elite Mike Krzyzewski offenses. These things are always inevitable. 

Duke never fails to have one of the best offensive units in the county—it has had a top-10 offense in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency ratings every year since 2008, when they finished a relatively dismal No. 13. 

But the real way to tell if the Blue Devils will be the best in the ACC is by looking at their defense—and Duke’s going to be scary there this year, making it far and away the best team in the conference. 

In 2010, the Blue Devils finished first in offensive efficiency and fifth in defensive efficiency. We all know what happened that year. 

In 2015, they finished third on offense and 11th on defense. Ditto. 

In 2011 and 2013, the only other times Duke has won 30 games this decade—it averaged 5th on offense and 18th on defense. 

Now, loaded with a hyper-athletic and talented frontcourt that looks like that of an NBA playoff team, highlighted by Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., the Blue Devils have the size and defensive chops to return to being the best in the ACC. It might take a little bit for such a young group to jell, but this team of top recruits is a cohesive team—unlike last year. 

“No one’s worried about what they’re doing next year,” senior guard Grayson Allen said after Countdown to Craziness. “It’s very important for our chemistry and success that we have everyone focused here.”

Last season, Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, supposed centerpieces of Duke’s frontcourt, flopped miserably despite being projected lottery picks before the year. Although many of this year’s stars—especially Bagley and Carter—could also be NBA bound, they don’t act like it. 

At 18 years old, Bagley plays with the humility of a grizzled 10-year NBA veteran, and though Carter might be a little flashier, he gives it his all on defense. With its starters, Duke will be nearly as talented as it was last year in the backcourt—sub in Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval for Jayson Tatum and Luke Kennard.

But what separates this team from last year is the pure athleticism in the post. Last year, all the Blue Devils had was Amile Jefferson–who was more of a defensive player than a threat on offense—and woeful production from Giles and Bolden. 

Battling injuries, Bolden could hardly move, especially on defense, and Giles was never anything close to what he was touted as coming off his second ACL tear—and never showed his full athletic potential. Bagley and Carter, although not defensive wizards, will be vastly better than anything last year’s group could offer—especially when you factor in Javin DeLaurier with another year of experience. 

Instead of plodding, flat-footed bigs, Duke finally has the versatility and quickness in the frontcourt to shut down ACC teams—all while having a predictably prolific offense. No team in the ACC is bigger and more athletic than the Blue Devils. 

In the long run, they’ll wear opposing teams down with their lethal combination of quickness and size. They might have some slip-ups, especially early, but this team has too much talent and chemistry to fail. 

North Carolina, the team picked second in the ACC, doesn’t have the depth to keep up. Projected No. 3 Notre Dame doesn’t have the size. No. 4 Miami doesn’t have the defense. And No. 5 Louisville doesn’t have Donovan Mitchell—or Rick Pitino. 

And what does Duke finally have? A true point guard.

Instead of having to run Allen or a variety of other more natural off-ball players at point, Duval will take over the reins on offense and find a way to get the ball to the right players. With only one basketball and so many mouths to feed on offense, it could get messy without someone like him to dish it out. 

His lack of an elite jump shot might even be a boon for the team—he’ll lean on his explosiveness and drive more often, leaving room for him to kick it around to one of his open bigs. As a secondary scoring option on this team, Duval will take a backseat on the scoring end and help what could otherwise be a selfish offense. 

The pieces just fit together too well for Duke to flop like it did last year in the NCAA tournament. It has the athletic bigs to hold together the defense, the veteran leadership in Allen and the true point guard to make it all fit together. 

After 12 years, the outright ACC regular-season crown is coming back to Durham.