With every starter gone, don't expect Duke to contend for the championship

<p>Marques Bolden will be the returning Blue Devil with the most experience after averaging 12.9 minutes per contest last season.</p>

Marques Bolden will be the returning Blue Devil with the most experience after averaging 12.9 minutes per contest last season.

For the third straight year, it’s apparently going to be Duke’s year. 

As usual with another No. 1 recruiting class and Mike Krzyzewski at the helm, expectations are championship or bust for the Blue Devils. 

Curb your enthusiasm. I’m not buying it. 

Although this team boasts an unprecedented conglomerate of raw talent with the top three recruits in the country, it also has a number of fatal flaws—youth, a potentially shoddy defense and a lack of 3-point shooting. This is the year—if you want to be disappointed. 

With dunking extraordinaire Zion Williamson and elite slasher R.J. Barrett, Duke will undoubtedly be ranked near the top of the preseason top 25. The Blue Devils will be very good, but they won’t seriously contend for a championship. 

Why? First, Alex O’Connell very well could be the team’s most reliable 3-point shooter. And he probably won’t even start. 

The way I see it, Tre Jones will play point guard, Cameron Reddish, Barrett and Williamson will play on the wing and Marques Bolden will occupy the post, replacing Duke’s entire starting lineup from this season. None of them has proven to be a reliable 3-point shooter as of yet. 

Jones, Barrett and Reddish are all extremely athletic, strong in transition and elite at getting into the lane, but have not proven that they can shoot from deep at the college level. The idea of Williamson or Bolden finding a consistent perimeter shot is a wild pipe dream. 

This could make the Blue Devils’ offense very one-dimensional. Duke was great inside this year, but only had one true 3-point threat in Gary Trent Jr., and it got bounced in the tournament. In 2016-17, it could shoot from deep, but had nothing inside, so it got bounced. 

As with teams that rely on more experienced players, the one-and-done model only seems to work with teams that can demonstrate balance on offense and can play some semblance of defense. Can Duke really get a zone to work with an entirely different set of players—especially with a group that doesn’t have twin towers like Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr.? It seems really unlikely. 

One could argue that Williamson’s athleticism and strength could help replicate that sort of production, but he’d still have to play alongside Bolden. Sure, Bolden was once a five-star recruit too, but he just isn’t athletic enough to be a true presence on defense for the majority of a game in a starting role, even in a zone. 

It's also a stretch to assume that a Duke team starting four freshmen and a relatively inexperienced junior could be a strong man-to-man defensive team. 

Will this team have a chance to win a title? Yes. But Blue Devil fans should not go into the season thinking this is the year. A lot of development will have to come on the perimeter, and perhaps a miracle needs to happen for an incredibly young defense to come together. 

High expectations are a dangerous thing. They turn losses catastrophic, big wins expected and championships mildly exciting. It's one thing to hope for a championship, but another to expect it. This team has far too many flaws to expect one. No team ever should. 

As a student, I wouldn’t chant “We Want Six” before a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Verbalizing the implied only reinforces Duke fans’ absurdly high expectations. 

Growing up a Stanford fan, I grew to expect nothing from a football team that was ecstatic to avoid a winless season. When the Cardinal made the Orange Bowl in 2010 after struggling for years and years, it was one of the best days in my life as a sports fan. 

Granted, Duke basketball is *slightly* different from the state of Stanford football in 2006, but the principle is the same. 

When you finally reach the pinnacle, lower expectations make it all the more sweet. 

Ben Leonard profile
Ben Leonard

Managing Editor 2018-19, 2019-2020 Features & Investigations Editor 

A member of the class of 2020 hailing from San Mateo, Calif., Ben is The Chronicle's Towerview Editor and Investigations Editor. Outside of the Chronicle, he is a public policy major working towards a journalism certificate, has interned at the Tampa Bay Times and NBC News and frequents Pitchforks. 


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