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Counterpoint: Duke men's basketball needs a paint job, and Mark's the man

Mark Williams comes to Durham as the No. 32 recruit in the country.
Mark Williams comes to Durham as the No. 32 recruit in the country.

The preseason never fails to give Duke fans funny ideas. Some of them induce “ha-ha” laughter, but the vast majority of them cause laughter of the more disturbing “stop tickling me, it hurts” variety. 

With do-it-all center Vernon Carey Jr. out the door, some say that it’s time for Duke to go small. Unfortunately, this myth definitely belongs in the latter funny camp.

Even worse, this seems to be coming from the Duke coaching staff. Associate head coach Nate James told the press last week that a current starting lineup would be composed of Jordan Goldwire, Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore Jr., Jalen Johnson and Matthew Hurt—all of whom are 6-foot-9 or shorter. If head coach Mike Krzyzewski does opt for a small ball lineup, he might fall prey to the bug that has doomed many small-ball teams: the shooters can’t defend, and the defenders can’t shoot.

The most puzzling feature of the lineup as it stands now is that it includes only one capable shooter: Matthew Hurt, who would supposedly play the center position. Last year, Hurt made 39.3 percent of his 3-point attempts, while Moore only shot 21.1 percent from long range. Jordan Goldwire shot 35.4 percent from beyond the arc, but mostly because all of his attempts were wide open (this in turn is because he only made three of his 25 attempts two years ago). Freshmen Jalen Johnson and Jeremy Roach are elite playmakers but no long-distance wizards.

Now, should Coach K replace his playmakers with freshman guard DJ Steward or the sweet-shooting Joey Baker? Absolutely not. Moore is basically an untouchable piece of the lineup and replacing Roach eliminates the only shot-creating guard the Blue Devils have. Additionally, removing Goldwire or Roach in favor of Steward or Baker would belie a defensive death wish.

And then there’s the case of the missing post defense. Hurt can’t defend centers, but it’s not his fault—he's a classic stretch four with brilliant shooting touch but little defensive prowess. While he might have bulked up 20-plus pounds this offseason, he’s still 35 pounds lighter than Carey was last year and will struggle to deal with taller and stronger post players like North Carolina’s Garrison Brooks, Virginia’s Jay Huff and Louisville’s Malik Williams.

It is certainly odd that the Duke staff have spurned 7-footer Mark Williams, the obvious replacement for Carey. Sure, Williams has holes in his game—he can’t shoot and he can’t defend the perimeter. But if Coach K surrounds him with capable scorers like Johnson and Hurt, Williams won’t have to do any of those things. The Blue Devils should play Roach and Moore at guard, while going big with Johnson, Hurt and Williams at forward and center.

On both ends, Williams can take traditional big man duties. On offense, he’ll focus on setting picks to open up space for the scorers and finishing off missed shots. On defense, he can clean up the boards and be the rim protector that Hurt can’t. This will free up Johnson and Hurt to focus on their forte: playmaking and scoring.

I hope Coach K doesn't fall for the usual preseason nonsensical blabber and abandon the traditional, rim-protecting post man.

But if Coach K does doubt himself, perhaps the Marvelettes could offer the music-loving head coach a guiding question: Please Mister Postman, look and see; is there defense in your bag for me?

Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle's men's basketball season preview. Find the rest here.


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