Can the Blue Devils repeat as NCAA champions?
Senior forward Kyle Singler apparently thinks so.
"I love being here at Duke and am excited about next year," Singler said in statement issued by the university when he announced he was returning for his senior year. "I had two great options in front of me, but I did not want to miss out on all of the great things to come in a senior season."
Singler and senior guard Nolan Smith are the only returning starters from last season's championship team. But the cupboard is far from bare.
In fact, the prospects of the Blue Devils making a successful title run are probably better than they were a year ago. The newcomers are just that promising.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski is even going to change his style to accommodate the talent coming in, going more up-tempo with the addition of freshman Kyrie Irving at point guard and transfer Seth Curry joining the backcourt.
Admittedly, the front court looks a bit thin with the departures of Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek, but brothers Mason and Miles Plumlee could be headed for big years with all the attention going to Irving, Smith and Curry.
"We'll change our whole offense, the way we play because of Kyrie," Krzyzewski told the New York Athletic Club in early May. "We'll run a lot more and we'll press. He's fortunate to have Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler on the perimeter with him and the Plumlees. He'll have good weapons with him."
The mix of veterans and youngsters is the key. The newcomers can add firepower, but veteran seniors Singler and Smith can help the freshmen keep their perspective when things get high -- such as an expected preseason No. 1 ranking -- or dip too low.
--Senior F Kyle Singler was a first-team all-ACC honoree last season and senior Nolan Smith was a second-team choice. Combined, Singler and Smith averaged 35.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 5.4 assists a game in Duke's championship season.
--Singler enters the season with 1,767 points in his career, the third most ever for a Duke junior. At his present pace, he could become the 11th Duke player to get to the 2,000-point mark when the Blue Devils open ACC play against Miami on Jan. 2.
--Duke is one of six schools with at least two players (Singler and G Nolan Smith) on the 50-player watch list for the John R. Wooden Award. Purdue had three nominees (Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, E'Twan Moore). The other four had two each. They were Colorado (Alec Burks, Cory Higgins); Gonzaga (Steven Gray, Elias Harris); Michigan State (Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers); and Syracuse (Kris Joseph, Brandon Triche).
LAST YEAR: 35-5 overall, 13-3 in the ACC.
HEAD COACH: Mike Krzyzewski, 31st year at Duke (795-220 at Duke, 868-279 overall).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'll play just like we did when we had Jason Williams. Kyrie will make a big impact right away." -- Coach Mike Krzyzewski, on the impact he expects freshman Kyrie Irving to have to the Blue Devils.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Kyrie Irving, SG Nolan Smith, SG Seth Curry, SF Kyle Singer, PF Miles Plumlee.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Irving comes in as a highly touted ballhandler and the first true point guard for the Blue Devils since Jason Williams left after the 2001-02 season. With him running the show, Smith and Curry will be free to do their thing which is penetrate (Smith) and shoot the three (Curry). With Singler back for his senior year, the Blue Devils once again will be devastating on the perimeter on both ends of the court.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: G Kyrie Irving out of West Orange, N.J., is drawing comparisons to last season's freshman star guard, Kentucky's John Wall. Some say he's even better. Josh Hairston, a 6-7 forward, may be just as key off the bench because up front is where the Blue Devils may need some help. He stands 6-7 and averaged a double-double (20.2 ppg and 10.2 rpg) for Montrose Christian (Fredericksburg, Va.) as a senior. The other newcomer who will have a big impact is G Seth Curry, a 6-2 transfer from Liberty who sat out last season going head-to-head with Smith in practice.
--F Kyle Singler had knee surgery in early September but was expected to be back at full strength for preseason practices.
--Junior Miles Plumlee had 24 starts as a sophomore last season, averaging 5.2 points and 4.9 rebounds while shooting 56.1 percent from the field.