After more than two weeks of return and departure announcements by Duke’s star freshmen and junior captain Jeremy Roach, the final domino fell Tuesday morning with the news that ACC Rookie of the Year Kyle Filipowski will return for his sophomore season. Shortly after, five-star prospect and top-ranked Mackenzie Mgbako announced his decommitment, adding another foil to the developing roster puzzle for head coach Jon Scheyer in year two.
With that roster finally coming into view, The Chronicle’s Mackenzie Sheehy, Ranjan Jindal and Dom Fenoglio are here to break down what it all means for the Blue Devils come November.
How does Kyle Filipowski’s return change Duke’s outlook for 2023-24?
Jindal: Last year, the Blue Devils made a trip to the Final Four, and there is reason to believe that could happen again. In today’s college basketball landscape, the flip side to recruiting elite talent is the inevitable challenge of building continuity amid cycling rosters. However, with at least three starters returning now, the 2023-24 Duke squad has the unique ability to combine talent and experience.
I do believe the possible loss of Roach is huge, largely because of his ability to make big plays down the stretch and his veteran leadership. That said, Filipowski should continue to improve his 3-point consistency and decision-making in his second year and his chemistry with fellow returners Tyrese Proctor and Mark Mitchell will give the Blue Devils immense confidence. The 7-footer has unquestioned toughness, and the experience of playing in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments is invaluable. This team has the potential to be special in Scheyer’s second year, but it will be paramount to stay focused and disciplined amid high expectations.
Sheehy: Filipowski was the headliner of the Duke squad in the 2022-23 campaign as the leading scorer and rebounder for the Blue Devils. He may seem like he has hit his ceiling, but he only has room to grow. His athleticism and sharp shooting will continue to develop under the tutelage of Scheyer while also building a strong foundation for the new coach’s reign. With the potential loss of Roach to the NBA draft, Filipowski’s greatest asset is perhaps his leadership. This time around, he will have the veteran experience in tight contests to put in all-around performances time and again.
With Proctor and Mitchell returning for round two as well, Scheyer’s lineup has the potential for the perfect blend of youth and experience. Filipowski can dominate in the paint while providing improved shooting from beyond the arc. If he continues to develop in year two, he is bound to be something special.
Fenoglio: While Filipowski mostly played at the four for the Blue Devils this year, he currently projects as the starting center on next year’s team. With the incoming crop of freshmen and the return of Proctor, Duke’s roster is somewhat guard heavy. Therefore, even more so than this year, the job of rebounding and protecting the paint will likely fall on Filipowski’s shoulders. However, the 7-footer has shown that he is up to the challenge. If he can work on increasing his post presence on defense without fouling, the Blue Devils can regularly field a lineup in which all five players are threats from behind the arc. This would stretch opponents out on defense and open driving opportunities for Proctor, Mitchell and whoever joins them on the court.
Without Mackenzie Mgbako, what incoming freshman is most likely to make an immediate impact?
Jindal: Jared McCain
He may not be the most or even the second-most talented incoming freshman, but regarding team impact, McCain has the potential to be a key cog in Duke’s offensive machine. The one thing that held the Blue Devils back offensively this year was 3-point shooting, and the departure of key shooters — including Dariq Whitehead and Jacob Grandison — will leave a void that McCain can naturally fill.
The 6-foot-2 guard has a smooth and efficient jumper, and his ability to space the floor is essential at this level. While he is not the biggest or most athletic guard, McCain’s game transitions well to the college level as a reliable scorer. Defensively, McCain is not elite but formidable, and his size will allow him to defend smaller guards. There is a plethora of guards at Scheyer’s disposal, and the Corona, Calif., native will be fighting for minutes with fellow incoming guard Caleb Foster. Nevertheless, most successful teams have an elite 3-point shooter, and McCain is the epitome of that.
Sheehy: Caleb Foster
With Roach off to professional basketball, Proctor will need a partner who can play more of a shooting role to complement his playmaking. Foster provides the perfect contrast to Proctor’s game as a multi-level threat who can shoot from anywhere on the court. The 6-foot-5 combo guard is known for his shot-making abilities in tough situations. Especially with Roach and freshman Dariq Whitehead moving on, the Sherman Oaks, Calif., native will be relied upon for his shot creation and versatility. Add to that his ball-handling and any opponent of the Blue Devils will have a tough time shutting him down.
The only caveat could be his defensive play. It remains to be seen whether or not Foster is capable of guarding quicker and smaller guards, but Scheyer is more than capable of developing his defensive prowess. He will be competing against McCain, but his experience in the shooting role makes him a perfect fit for the starting spot.
Fenoglio: Sean Stewart
Listed at 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, Stewart plays physically down low while also being able to run the court and guard on the perimeter. While he has neither the length nor the height of other post players, he has been touted on the prep circuit for his interior presence and projects as a similar type of player as Mitchell — or even former Blue Devil Zion Williamson. Since he already has the strength to compete at the college level, Stewart will be ready to guard from day one. However, he still needs to work on parts of his game on the offensive end. In order to earn a steady place in the lineup, Stewart will need to develop a more consistent 3-point shot, or at least one that opponents are forced to respect.
Not often do teams have the chance to field multiple elite athletes in the same starting lineup. So, If Scheyer can find a way to play Stewart alongside Mitchell in a way that enhances both of their best qualities without sacrificing anything on the offensive end, Duke can form a defensive lineup that shuts opposing teams down.
What will Duke’s starting lineup look like in November?
Jindal: Tyrese Proctor, Jared McCain, Mark Mitchell, Kyle Filipowski, Kadin Shedrick
While intraconference transfers are somewhat rare, Virginia center Kadin Shedrick recently listed Duke in his top-5 transfer destinations. If that were to happen, Shedrick would replace Dereck Lively II as a rim protector. In a bench role for the Cavaliers, the 6-foot-11 center recorded 1.4 blocks per game, good for fifth in the ACC. He is a little bit more polished offensively than Lively was, even shooting 79.4% from the free-throw line this year. The Blue Devils had a lot of success in the pick-and-roll last year, and Shedrick will be a serious lob threat.
Looking at the rest of the frontcourt, Mitchell and Filipowski will provide length against opposing offenses and, if they both continue to develop their jump shots, can stretch the floor well. While Foster has elite talent, I give the start to McCain simply because he and Proctor really complement each other. Foster works well at point guard and in the second half of the season, Proctor flourished as the primary facilitator. McCain’s shooting ability will open up driving lanes for Proctor, and they will balance each other’s offensive games. Should Roach return, he could take McCain’s spot well.
Sheehy: Tyrese Proctor, Caleb Foster, Mark Mitchell, Sean Stewart, Kyle Filipowski
While Duke relied upon its youth in Scheyer’s first year at the helm, the 2023-24 campaign promises a perfect blend of youth and experience. Mitchell, Filipowski and Proctor will provide a veteran consistency that was lacking from this year’s starting lineup other than Roach. Because the college scene is nothing new to them, it gives freshmen like Foster and Stewart the creative freedom to play their form of basketball with experienced players backing them up. The trio of returning starters adds a perfect contrast to the fresh-faced tenacity of the incoming freshmen, while the youthful members will add new playing styles that will only cause the starting lineup to grow. With this balance, Scheyer’s second year as a head coach could very well end with a deep run into the NCAA tournament.
Fenoglio: Tyrese Proctor, Jared McCain, Mark Mitchell, Sean Stewart, Kyle Filipowski
With the improvement Proctor made to his perimeter shot throughout the season, he and McCain have the potential to form one of the best shooting backcourt duos in the nation. Also armed with two strong drivers in Mitchell and Stewart and a pick-and-pop option in Filipowski, this lineup has a plethora of offensive options. If Scheyer can find a way to get these five firing on all cylinders, opposing teams will have to pick their poison between getting lit up from deep and bullied down low.
On the defensive end, this squad could be even better. Proctor and Mitchell have already proven themselves as strong on-ball defenders, and McCain and Stewart can add even more ball pressure. Should a player get through any of them, Filipowski will be waiting in the paint. An imposing defense and versatile offense has been the hallmark of many great Duke teams in the past, and this lineup has the potential to add to the history books.
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Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity first-year and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity first-year and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity first-year and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.