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ChronChat: Predicting the 2019-20 Duke men's basketball season

The 2019-20 Blue Devils’ season will get underway Tuesday against No. 3 Kansas in the Champions Classic and The Chronicle will have you covered for the 115th season of Duke basketball. Our Winston Lindqwister, Conner McLeod, Michael Model and Derek Saul break down their predictions for the upcoming campaign. How do you think Duke will fare?

What do you think Duke’s record will be?

Winston Lindqwister: 25-6, 16-4 in the ACC

I know, I know, I’m definitely looking at this team through some rosy lenses. However, I think some of the more negative takes for how Duke will pan out are mistaking the forest for the trees. Yes, the Blue Devils are undeniably less talented this year. But that’s in the context of serious questions surrounding everyone on Duke’s slate this year. The two losses I see coming in nonconference will probably be against Kansas and Michigan State—two teams with the continuity from last year to take down a more scattered Blue Devil squad. However, I think this team will undoubtedly hit their stride right in time for ACC play in a conference that across the board is looking down from last season. With Duke having a bit of an easier conference schedule on top of a shallower depth of talent in the ACC, I can definitely see the Blue Devils coming away with a remarkably solid conference record.

Conner McLeod: 22-9, 13-7 in the ACC

I’d be lying if I said Duke's less-than-desirable performance against Northwest Missouri State last weekend didn’t make me a lot more pessimistic about the team than usual. If the Blue Devils are going to be a title contender, as the AP poll suggested with its generous national preseason ranking at No. 4, it’s going to take some time. That doesn’t bode well for Duke’s season opener against No. 3 Kansas, especially with the Blue Devils’ lack of experience in the frontcourt. However, Duke can pad its record with a light nonconference schedule before tightening up the bolts come ACC play. However, I still predict a good amount of road losses for this young team during the conference gauntlet.

Michael Model: 23-8, 13-7 in the ACC

Duke miraculously managed to get through the ACC last season without its typical unranked upset—the loss at No. 20 Virginia Tech without Zion Williamson does not qualify. The Blue Devils will not have a lot of time to tinker with their lineup due to the 20-game conference schedule, and I expect two or three surprising losses this season. Duke faces a brutal stretch at Syracuse, at Boston College and at North Carolina to begin February, where the Blue Devils may falter, but will subsequently finish strong and compete for the ACC title.

Derek Saul: 24-7, 14-6 in the ACC

It feels weird picking this year’s Blue Devils to win just two less regular season games and as many ACC contests as last season’s group given that I’m not high on Duke’s 2019-20 roster, but it simply comes down to strength of schedule. Outside of the Kansas and Michigan State matchups, the Blue Devils’ nonconference slate is a breeze and the ACC is weak past the top four or five teams. So, even though Duke may not pass the eye test or rank highly in advanced metrics, I expect a strong record for the Blue Devils.

Who will be the team MVP?

Winston Lindqwister: Matthew Hurt

I’ve been high on Matthew Hurt all through the preseason, and nothing he has shown me has given me any doubt that he will be Duke’s steadiest source of offense. Hurt can do it all—he can post up, drive, slash and shoot. And contrary to some of his high school recruiting evaluations, he has been a vocal and capable defender all through the preseason. Without the star power of last season to drive the Blue Devils, Duke will certainly work more as a unit than as a starting five with exclusively role players, making Hurt’s numbers likely less eye popping than some of the freshmen last season. But don’t be fooled by the box score—Hurt will be the most integral component of Duke’s title hopes this season.

Michael Model: Tre Jones

Jones may have flown under the radar last season, but with three top-10 NBA draft picks gone, the Blue Devils are Jones’ team. The sophomore guard ranked among the nation’s best in on-ball defense and assist-to-turnover ratio last season. This time around, head coach Mike Krzyzewski is relying on Jones to create for himself offensively. Jones flashed his offensive potential last season with 18 points in the ACC championship game and 22 points—including 5-of-7 from downtown—two weeks later against Virginia Tech. If Jones can put up consistent numbers, this team could be poised for a deep March run.

Who will be Duke’s breakout player?

Conner McLeod: Jordan Goldwire

Some would argue that Jordan Goldwire’s peak came in his breakout game last season, when he helped the Blue Devils overcome a 23-point second half deficit to defeat Louisville. However, I believe Goldwire is only getting started. His maturity on the court has blossomed quickly since then, along with a better understanding of how to run Duke’s offense despite his own flaws on that side of the ball. The two-point guard lineup with him and Jones will continue wreak havoc on opposing backcourts and help provide that spark and energy Duke may need a couple more times this season.

Derek Saul: Alex O’Connell

I would have picked Alex O’Connell as my breakout player before each of his first two seasons at Duke, and my stubbornness has led me to choose him again. The 6-foot-6 guard is gifted offensively, with the best outside stroke on the team—O’Connell is a 41.6 percent career 3-point shooter—and athleticism that makes him a solid slasher. The problem for O’Connell is on the other side of the court, as he has struggled mightily as a defender with the Blue Devils. However, Duke’s other options in the backcourt all profile as strong defenders with questionable offensive games, meaning that O’Connell will need to step up as a scoring threat for the Blue Devils.

What will Duke’s best win be?

Conner McLeod: North Carolina

Despite my relatively bleak outlook on this year’s Duke team, I am just as skeptical of how good North Carolina will be this season. Though I understand that Cole Anthony will run amok throughout the ACC, I don’t envision the Tar Heels being that much better than the Blue Devils, if at all. I think Duke and North Carolina will split their two matches this year, as Tre Jones has the capability to somewhat neutralize Cole Anthony, allowing Matthew Hurt and possibly Vernon Carey Jr. to take over down low against North Carolina’s experienced, but less talented bigs. The game might be evenly matched, but in Cameron Indoor, it will be tough for the Tar Heels to overcome the energy and atmosphere oozing from the sleep-deprived, tent-loving Cameron Crazies.

Michael Model: Michigan State

While ‘balance’ appears to define this team, it will take at least a few games for the Blue Devils to find their proper mix. After losing to Kansas in the season opener, I think Duke will make a national statement in East Lansing, Mich., during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Jones returned to take the Blue Devils to a championship, and emotions will be flying high for a big revenge game— after last year’s Elite Eight loss—and brutal road test. I expect Duke to rise to the challenge and notch the signature win of its nonconference slate. 

What will be Coach K’s go-to lineup?

Winston Lindqwister: Jones, O'Connell, White, Hurt, Carey 

I see three members of this lineup as indisputable, with a lot of leeway for the other two. Jones, Hurt and Carey are shoe-ins for their respective slots from sheer talent alone. However, where Duke’s lineups will get particularly spicy is at the two and three. To me, O’Connell and White make the most sense for filling out the lineup. Not only do they both provide significant experience for a relatively underclassmen-heavy lineup, they both are relevant threats from deep—a key factor for any lineup boasting Jones and Carey. White also adds a crucial level of defense, allowing him to cover for where O’Connell or Carey may struggle.

Derek Saul: Jones, Goldwire, O'Connell, Hurt, Carey

I think Jones, Hurt and Carey are locks to play in crunch time, as nobody else on the Blue Devils matches the talent and well-rounded games of those three. I’ll admit, playing Jones, Goldwire and O’Connell together leaves Duke susceptible to being burned by a bigger guard or small forward, but the fast break capabilities of this lineup is juicy. Goldwire and Jones are two of the best at forcing turnovers in the country, and O’Connell and the freshman bigs are the best candidates to convert those steals into points.

Conner McLeod: Jones, O'Connell, Moore, Hurt, Carey

In my opinion, the only no-brainers for Duke’s starting lineup are Tre Jones at the point and Matthew Hurt down low. Carey didn’t impress me with his exhibition performance, but I still feel like he will grow into his role as a post presence at the five position, making him a better offensive weapon than Javin DeLaurier. O’Connell seems like the spark plug Duke needs to ignite its offense, as sans Jack White, the rest of the team seems to be anemic from downtown. To makeup for O’Connell’s defensive weaknesses, I believe Wendell Moore would be a good fit, as he provides the right size and a willingness to guard opposing small forwards.

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