ChronChat: Predicting the 2021-22 Duke men's basketball season

Duke kicks off its season in just a few days. What do our senior beats think of this year's roster?

What do you think Duke’s record will be? 

Jake Piazza: (26-5, 16-4, 1st in the ACC)

The roster of this team has all the makings to send head coach Mike Krzyzewski out with his sixth ring, and its first crowning achievement is going to be taking home the ACC regular season title for the first time since 2010. I know all we’ve seen so far is an exhibition game, but I know what my eyes saw: a hyper-athletic, lanky and fast-paced team that is a nightmare to match up with on offense and defense. There’s serious star power on this team, but what makes these Blue Devils so dangerous is that they already know how to share the basketball. Because of that, Duke makes a run at a national championship. 

Max Rego: 27-4 (17-3 in the ACC)

New Orleans here they come? I wouldn’t bet on it just yet, especially with another influx of young talent that will need to learn how to play as a unit, but this group has a chance to make a whole lot of noise throughout the regular season. Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels will be relentless off the dribble, Banchero is easily the most unique player Duke has had since Zion Williamson and depending on the lineup, the Blue Devils can switch everything defensively. Getting through Kentucky, Gonzaga and Ohio State with wins against all three would send a message, but even two victories would set Duke up to be a contender for a No.1-seed heading into ACC play. From there, navigating intimidating road games against Florida State, Virginia and North Carolina, along with the emotional rollercoaster that Cameron Indoor will be for Coach K’s final date with the Tar Heels, figures to define this team until tournament time. 

Alex Jackson: 26-5 (16-4 in the ACC)

This year’s Duke squad is poised for success and Krzyzewski’s last season could end in greatness once again, but I’m attempting to be cautiously optimistic. There is definitely a lot to like with this team. Not only does it have a new class of young studs, but it also has more experienced veterans at every position to help teach and lead. The only reason for my caution is because the Blue Devils are going to be relying on the development of three guys who will be seeing the floor a lot, and if their growth doesn’t pan out, Duke could be in a little bit of trouble. Roach, Wendell Moore Jr. and Mark Williams are all returning players who played well, but not to their full potential last season. If they can be the true leaders Krzyzewski needs them to be, then the Blue Devils will be headed for success, but if they still aren’t all the way there, Duke will have increased dependence on freshmen, which is where things could go wrong.

Evan Kolin: 27-4 (17-3 in the ACC)

This team has the potential to send Coach K riding off into the sunset with a sixth banner, but that potential is reliant on a variety of factors: Paolo Banchero meeting expectations as one of the top players in the country, Mark Williams playing like the Mark Williams we saw at the end of last season, Roach taking the next step at point guard, etc. I’m betting that more of these scenarios occur than not, and that the Blue Devils reach No. 1-seed status by mid-March.

Glen Morgenstern: 25-6 (15-5 in the ACC)

There’s no denying that Coach K’s last squad ever is a talented group. But it’s still quite young and not very deep. If any two of Duke’s starters are injured, the Blue Devils simply don’t have the manpower to compete with the ACC’s best. And if Paolo Banchero goes down for an extended period of time, it would take a miracle to finish atop the conference standings. If Duke is healthy for the postseason, though, the league had better watch out—Coach K’s cadre will be tough to stop.

Who will be the team MVP? 

Max Rego: Paolo Banchero

There’s a reason he has landed at the top of multiple mock drafts. Banchero can do it all with the ball in his hands on one end, and can potentially guard all five positions on the other. He should be in line to rack up 35 minutes a night and be a stat-sheet stuffer consistently. Expect the Seattle native to click with Williams in the frontcourt and coexist perfectly with fellow dynamic freshmen Keels and Griffin. If he can shoot it at around a 32% clip from three and 75% from the line, Banchero will have zero weaknesses, and could lead the Blue Devils on a tournament run. 

Alex Jackson: Mark Williams

Banchero is the obvious front runner for team MVP, but I believe Williams could actually be the “guy” for the Blue Devils. I know Banchero will be handling most of the Duke scoring, but Williams will be invaluable on the defensive end—not to mention a force around the rim on the other side. The 7-footer was blocking shots all over the place during the exhibition game, and if that can continue, he could single-handedly put Duke on the map as a defensive power-house. 

Who is Duke’s most underrated player? 

Max Rego: AJ Griffin

For someone whose athleticism and positional flexibility has landed him in the lottery of every 2022 mock, the New York native certainly feels a little lost in the shuffle. Griffin was the first member of this freshman class to commit to Duke and was subsequently overshadowed by Banchero’s surprising decision and Keels becoming DJ Steward’s replacement. He may be eased back after the knee injury sustained over three weeks ago, but the freshman looked pretty spry in the Winston-Salem State exhibition. Keep your eye on him as the season moves on. 

Alex Jackson: Jeremy Roach

One-and-done players are still dominating, but these past few seasons, the most successful teams have been able to develop their returning players. If Roach is able to take a big step this season, and I believe he will, then Duke is primed for success with a solidified backcourt. Roach won’t be the focus of any boxscore, but his ability to be a dependent primary ball handler for the Blue Devils could in fact be the key to them making a deep run this year. 

Glen Morgenstern: Mark Williams

The focus this year will be on freshmen Banchero, Griffin and Keels, but the most important development for Duke will be Williams. The 7-foot sophomore center impressed at the end of the season last year, averaging nearly 17 points and eight rebounds over his last six games. If he can translate that burst into solid play alongside Banchero, the duo can form as formidable a frontcourt as Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter Jr. in 2017-18. And by the way, Williams is projected as a first-round draft pick.

Evan Kolin: Jaylen Blakes

As I watched Countdown to Craziness and Duke’s lone preseason contest, Blakes quickly became one of my favorite players on the floor. The energy he plays with on defense is contagious, and he had surprising scoring ability and bounce on the other end of the floor. I’m not saying Blakes is going to usurp Roach as this team’s starting point guard, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he takes on a key role off the bench.

What will Duke’s best win be? 

Jake Piazza: Kentucky 

Primetime at Madison Square Garden. Duke and Kentucky. Krzyzewski versus John Calipari for likely the last time. The stars are all aligned for the season opener to be an iconic basketball game, and the Blue Devils are eager to wipe away everyone’s memory of last season. I don’t expect this to be an easy one, with the experienced transfers Kentucky brings in and star freshman TyTy Washington, but ultimately this aggressive Duke squad gives Krzyzewski the last laugh in his head-to-head series with Calipari. 

Max Rego: North Carolina

There can’t be any other option for this one, right? One final night, at the house that Coach K built, in the greatest rivalry in sports. As a cherry on top, Hubert Davis will be coaching his first game in Cameron and there’s a chance that this matchup could determine the regular season conference title. The Tar Heels, ranked No. 19 in the preseason tally, will merge the old-school secondary break with modernized pro concepts, as Davis attempts to put his stamp on the program post-Roy Williams. Conversely, after a full season to figure out lineup combinations, usage ratings and defensive tendencies, look for the Blue Devils to come out firing in an outrageously loud atmosphere that Saturday night. 

Evan: Gonzaga

Coming off the disappointment of last season, Duke will be hungry for a statement win, and this game has all the storylines for such a statement. Chet vs. Paolo, blue blood vs. new blood, you name it. This will be one of the most hyped regular season games in recent memory, and I’m expecting the Blue Devils to step up to the plate.

What will be Coach K’s go-to lineup? 

Alex Jackson: Roach, Keels, Moore, Banchero, Williams

There are a lot of guys on this year’s team that deserve valuable minutes. In the backcourt, Roach and Keels are the obvious starters, but Blakes is quickly making a case for a budding role. Among the forwards, I believe Krzyzewski rolls with the veteran Moore and the superstar Banchero, but Griffin and Baker are guys who can do damage on both ends, so keeping them off the floor is hard. Williams is a true center and I think Krzyzewski will realize the value of having him in the paint, but Theo John has been proving his worth all pre-season and will surely have a big role. The key to this lineup is Moore, the captain, who will be able to settle down the younger guys in difficult situations. 

Evan Kolin:  Roach, Keels, Griffin, Banchero, Williams

I’m glad we’re all in agreement that Keels will start at shooting guard—I think his chemistry with Roach (given that they played in high school together) will be huge for this team. Outside of that, obviously the lone other difference is Griffin starting at the three instead of Moore. I think at the beginning of the year, Moore’s experience (and Griffin’s injury) will lend the former to assume the spot, but you’d have to think Griffin—the potential lottery pick—assumes that role by the end of the year, right?

Will Duke win the ACC regular season title? 

Jake Piazza: Yes

I did my game-by-game run through of the ACC, and Duke is set up really well. Virginia lost its top three scorers, North Carolina has a first-year head coach and Georgia Tech and Louisville do not return the core guys who gave each an impressive season a year ago. Florida State and Virginia Tech are games I could see the Blue Devils dropping, but that’s not going to be enough to knock them off track of winning the conference. 

Glen Morgenstern: No

Don’t get me wrong, Duke is my pick to win the ACC tournament. However, winning the conference regular season title is no sure thing. So many things could derail the Blue Devils’ season—an injury to a star freshman, a COVID-19 outbreak as cases peak during the winter or early ACC losses during the team’s adjustment period. Duke is still quite young and not as deep as other years, making it more vulnerable to these events. It seems foolish to assume the Blue Devils will bypass all of these to finish atop the conference standings.

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

Max Rego profile
Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.

Jake C. Piazza

Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.


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