In the era of the one-and-done, Blue Devil fans have been treated to the high of a championship team propped up by younger talent and the lows of early tournament exits due to a squad laced with inexperience.
Maybe it's the post-Zion Williamson hangover, but this year's haul of new five-star faces just seems to come up a bit short in terms of the jaw-dropping talent needed to carry a team to victory. This season will serve as a marked change of place for Duke, as a team led by upperclassmen, not newcomers, will be the key to the Blue Devils cutting down the nets in March.
Although the Blue Devil freshmen certainly have talent, glaring weaknesses in each of their games make them unreliable to carry the team.
While Vernon Carey Jr. certainly has the potential to be a dominant center offensively, questions have persisted throughout the summer as to whether his defense would be able to fall in line. The Blue Devils didn't get to see whether he had improved much on that end of the floor in Duke's exhibition opener against Northwest Missouri State Saturday, when two fouls in his first minutes of play left him just 10 minutes on the floor.
Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley can certainly defend, but neither of them has shown that they have much offense to back it up. The former opened the exhibition slate going 2-for-11 from the field while the latter contributed seven points and no assists—numbers more indicative of role players than stars. And although Matthew Hurt has been the most impressive of the freshmen, his lack of physicality and athleticism make it hard to see him as a consistent star for Duke.
Now, before you get your pitchforks and call the season a failure before it even begins, the Blue Devils still have hope as contenders. After all, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is far from worried about the shortcomings from his freshmen.
"Over the last few years, we've had guys who were lottery picks already," Krzyzewski said after Countdown to Craziness. "We don't have that. That doesn't mean that some of these guys won't be pros or first round picks, they still have a lot to develop, and that's exciting."
Where the Blue Devils make up for these shortcomings will be in their upperclassmen, and how their individual developments make for a team that's a bit of a throwback to those from Duke before the 2010s.
The most important developments for the Blue Devils' upperclassmen will certainly come in their junior class, with Alex O'Connell and Jordan Goldwire being the keys to Duke reaching the next level this season.
O'Connell, a lengthy, smooth scoring shooting guard, will be the key to unlocking the Blue Devil offense this season. On a roster that desperately needs outside shooting to allow its talented slashers to go to work, the Roswell, Ga., native stands as the perfect complement to the team. With 65 percent of his shot attempts coming from beyond the arc last season, O'Connell projects as Duke's best threat from downtown. Couple that with a natural quickness for getting to the rim and grabbing boards, expect the junior Blue Devil to see many 20-plus minute games this season.
Goldwire projects as the exact opposite of O'Connell, but with an equally important role for this coming season. The Norcross, Ga., native is one of the best defenders Duke can put on the floor, routinely locking down guards and wings. He also has a budding offensive game that stems from an entire summer of working on shooting, don't be surprised when Goldwire's number is called off the bench well before his younger peers.
"[O'Connell’s] always competing," Goldwire said. "We’ve worked a lot this offseason working on our games, trying to take steps forward. I’ve seen a lot of improvement from him off the dribble and defensively. He moved down to North Carolina, but I came back up early. He was here for most of the summer and I came up in June so we were in the gym a lot together. We lived in here."
Rounded out by senior captains Javin DeLaurier and Jack White, both of whom are capable role players with great rebounding and defending acumen, Duke's upperclassmen offer consistency on both sides of the ball that the Blue Devil freshmen desperately need.
While you may be used to Duke's freshmen stealing the headlines, get ready for a change of pace this season. Duke's upperclassmen are balanced, experienced and ready to be the keys to make the Blue Devils go the distance.
Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle's men's basketball season preview. Find the rest here.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.