Column: Setting expectations for Scheyer’s first season as head coach

What should the expectations be for the Blue Devils in the first year of Jon Scheyer's tenure?
What should the expectations be for the Blue Devils in the first year of Jon Scheyer's tenure?

As Duke embarks on its 2022-23 season, head coach Jon Scheyer embarks on what he surely hopes is the start of a long and prosperous journey himself. Duke has a new head coach for the first team in 42 years, and it’s no secret that setting the tone early in your career is crucial to success in the future. For Scheyer, or any coach that banks on top recruits year in and year out, it is essential to avoid playing catch-up in the first few seasons. Presenting as a strong leader and making a seamless transition would be formative for setting the tone of Scheyer’s career. But what exactly can the world expect of this year’s team? 

From my point of view, there are three paths for the Blue Devils this year: “Seamlessness and glory,” “stumbling to success” or “a rocky road.” However, with significant roster turnover, it is hard to say exactly how this season will play out. Aside from losing its Hall of Fame coach, Duke also loses 10 rostered players from April’s Final Four squad. This includes all five of the team’s double-digit scorers. Of course, Scheyer is also bringing in the nation’s top recruiting class and a handful of transfers. 

There are a lot of moving pieces, and this season’s outcome is less defined than ever before.

Seamlessness and glory

Repeating Final Four runs is extremely difficult, especially when navigating a head coaching change and fielding, essentially, a whole new team this year. But if there is one man who could do it, it is Scheyer. The new commander of the Blue Devils has had his fair share of experience despite being only 35. He was captain of a national championship team in 2010 and coached the 2015 Blue Devils to another as an assistant coach. Not to mention, he served as Mike Krzyzewski’s No. 2 through this previous season’s run, and has a spotless record as acting head coach in his predecessor’s absence. 

Scheyer hauled in a loaded recruiting class, as well. Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead are the two headliners as ESPN’s No. 1 and No. 2 freshmen, respectively. But they only begin the list that includes No. 7 Kyle Filipowski, No. 26 Mark Mitchell and No. 50 Jaden Schutt. With captain Jeremy Roach returning for a third year, the pieces are all there. 

Last year’s team was composed in a very similar fashion. Although they boasted a little more veteran talent with junior Wendell Moore and sophomore Mark Williams, if Roach can step into a Moore-like leadership role this year and seasoned transfers Ryan Young and Jacob Grandison aid in transitioning the young guys to collegiate basketball, there is little stopping this season’s squad from finding the same success.

If Scheyer’s aforementioned accolades tell any story about him, it is that he will have the ability to step into this role without turbulence.

With Krzyzewski’s successor at the helm and a star-studded squad, taking this perspective means there is no reason to set expectations at anything less than a seamless repeat of last year’s run. 

Stumble to success

A quick look into North Carolina’s 2021-22 season and we may be able to draw some eerie similarities to how Duke’s season could turn out. New head coach Hubert Davis took a very talented squad through a rocky regular season. The Tar Heels lost nearly every high-powered matchup to start the year and narratives even swirled that Davis might not be “the guy” when his team fell out of the AP Poll. 

But this was all before the Tar Heels rebounded in the most spectacular way. To close out the regular season, they won five straight including at Duke, a team that had blown them out by 20 just a few weeks earlier. Although North Carolina would exit early from the ACC tournament, falling to eventual champion Virginia Tech, it would carry its prior momentum into the NCAA tournament. March Madness was nothing short of spectacular for a North Carolina team that seemed lost in January. It would take down No. 1-seed Baylor, No. 3-seed UCLA and No. 2-seed Duke before falling to No. 1-seed Kansas in the championship game. 

The Blue Devils may have a similar experience this season. Scheyer will bring that same homegrown grit to this Duke team that Davis brought to the Tar Heels when everyone was counting them out last year. But that is not before Duke hits a seemingly inevitable rough patch. 

Transitioning head coaches can be rough no matter how talented the newcomer. Each team is bound to go through some growing pains as the next man up attempts to fill the shoes of his forerunner (or attempts to right the ship). Additionally, this Blue Devil team is bound to experience some growing pains with this much change to the roster. Despite all their talent, they are still young and searching for guidance from a young (and new) head coach. 

Duke is bound to face some major adversity, whether it be at the beginning, while the team is still finding its footing, or toward the end, when the lack of experience cracks through and begins to show, as seen with Duke teams in the past. 

A rocky road

Of course, there is a scenario in which all goes wrong for the Blue Devils. There are plenty of concerns about the previous two outlooks and Duke could find itself struggling to balance them all if it stumbles out of the gates.

Early reports out of preseason are that Filipowski, a key piece of the roster, may be struggling with his adjustment to the next level. 

“My understanding of the intel that I’ve gotten so far is that he is way further behind where they were expecting him to be, on the defensive end in particular, in terms of his toughness,” ESPN’s Jonathan Givony said on the network’s Youtube show in October. “There have been some question marks from scouts coming out of there like, what kind of role is Kyle Filipowski going to have on this team?”

With Filipowski potentially filling a more minor role, some questions arise about where the Blue Devils will find their scoring. Roach was an excellent shot-creator to finish off last year, but he had his fair share of shooting struggles early in the season. Whitehead is coming off foot surgery and Lively has also been injured—missing both Countdown to Craziness and Duke’s scrimmage against Houston. 

The Blue Devils face off Nov. 15 against No. 5 Kansas. That means they will have three games to shape up before the first real test. A rough performance in the national spotlight could start a downward spiral with Scheyer trying to figure out how to be the reassuring voice on a young team.

Which will it be?

I have to believe that this year’s Blue Devils will likely be following the “stumble to success” path, and if not, it could be worse. I would love to be optimistic about the Blue Devils, but there are too many question marks.

Scheyer is the big one, of course, but even if he is as good of a head coach as Krzyzewski believes him to be, the team he has compiled has some concerns that not even the best coach may be able to fix in a single season. 

Scoring is what bothers me the most. Last year, Duke had Paolo Banchero, who could get the ball in any situation and have the best chance to score. Who is going to be that guy this year? Even if Whitehead bounces back from his injury, he has not had time to perfect his transition to be that guy, and Lively does not have the same scoring skillset as a player like Banchero.

I do believe that the Blue Devils could have a real shot at a tournament run if they get hot at the right time, like last year’s Tar Heels. Everything I said before is not for a lack of recognition of the talent this roster carries, but it is just going to take time for the Blue Devils to figure it all out. 

When this team hits its stride, there will not be many more dangerous. In March, I would not want to be on the opposing side of the floor.

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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