Duke cupboard far from bare

A potential off-season full of departures and changes won't leave Duke without options writes TDD's Shawn Krest.

Before leaving for China and Dubai last summer, Mike Krzyzewski met with the media to discuss the trip. At the end of the press conference, he said he'd get everyone back together after they returned to discuss how things went.

With a wry smirk he added, "I can give you my impressions of how we went 0-4 on the trip, that we can't score, no upside."

Which pretty much sums up the general attitude following the end of the 2011-12 season. The team could never get everyone clicking at once, and by the time they got their defense figured out, their offense was failing them.

They lost two of three to finish the year, couldn't score, and no one seems to be finding any hope for the near future.

Despite the high numbers on the thermometer and the pollen-covered cars, it feels like nuclear winter has descended on Durham. To summarize the general attitude of fans and observers: The team isn't athletic enough to compete. Coach can't bring in the elite players to turn things around. Things are slipping.

Austin Rivers? Bags packed, off to join dad in the NBA. Mason Plumlee? His 9-9 shooting night against Lehigh thrilled NBA scouts (not to mention Herman Cain), and he's likely to join Rivers in the draft.

Illinois would be crazy not to take Chris Collins off the Duke bench, and what does that leave? A shaky team to begin with, gutted by offseason changes.

Except, of course, for the fact that it's entirely possible that none of that will happen. Let's consider each step in the offseason dismantling of the Devils:

1. Austin Rivers: There's no question he's grooming himself for an NBA future. Everything he does is with an eye toward becoming a better player, and ultimately, a better pro. And that's exactly why I'm in the small minority of people predicting (based on nothing other than my own insight—no tips or inside knowledge) that he'll stick around another year.

Most mock drafts have Rivers going in the mid-to-late first round. It's hard to imagine him going ahead of any of Carolina's big three, four if Kendall Marshall decides to join them. A couple of Kentucky guys will go near the top, and as we look through the prospects in college basketball, it's hard to see Rivers going near the top of the lottery.

He's a great slasher and fearless driver, but he's also thin for a pro. Harrison Barnes was the talk of ACC media day when people got their first look at how much he'd bulked up in the offseason. And this season, Austin Rivers ended far more drives on the floor than Barnes did. Another year, another offseason to develop, and another season as Duke's leading scorer, and Rivers will be one of the two or three players mentioned at the top of the draft. And for someone who takes his cues from what the best to play the game would have done, it's hard to imagine Rivers choosing to do otherwise.

Verdict: I wouldn't be shocked if he went, but I think it's better than 50:50 that he's back.

2. Mason Plumlee: Sure, he went 9-9 against Lehigh. Before we all declare him NBA ready based on that, consider Lehigh's next game in the tournament, when Xavier's Kenny Frease went 11-13 for 25 points and 12 rebounds against them.

It was the fourth double-double of the year for Frease, a guy who didn't even make "others receiving votes" in the All-Atlantic 10 voting this year, which means that a career day for a big man against Lehigh isn't exactly something to use as the centerpiece for a decision to go pro.

Plumlee's late season slump that bumped him from the starting lineup briefly will hold more weight in NBA scouts' minds. Most mock drafts have him late in the first round at best. He's a double-major and an Academic All American, making it highly unlikely that would be enough to draw him out, especially when little brother Marshall redshirted, passing up the chance to play with him and Miles this year for the good of the team.

Verdict: I'd put it at 75:25 in favor of him sticking around.

3. Collins: It's hard to make a case that he should stay. He's given the program more than a decade as an assistant. The prevailing wisdom is that he's behind VCU's Shaka Smart in the race for the Illinois job, which makes a return to the Duke bench a distinct possibility. Plus, as an assistant for one of the elite programs in the sport for more than a decade, he's had plenty of opportunities to leave. It's possible he's holding out for a job bigger than the Illinois one, a few years down the line.

Verdict: Slimmer odds than the two players, but not as slim as it may seem. 60:40 in favor of going.

4. Roster problems: At this time of year, hoop experts like to explain the reason for the success of mid-majors. They don't get the elite guys. They get the guys that stick around for four years and develop. Look at tape of the 2011 tournament. That tall, skinny guy? That's Ryan Kelly, who nearly doubled his scoring and added 100 points to his 3-point accuracy while filling out his size.

Seth Curry picked up a great deal of criticism for his performance at point guard, but then again, at the start of the year, Coach K said, "Austin Rivers is our only real threat to drive and score." By late season, he was scolding reporters for quoting him, saying, "No. Seth can do that too." He may not be the top choice for starting point guard, but he's a slasher who can score on drives from all angles. He's a player Xavier's Tu Holloway mentioned when he was looking for someone to compare to Lehigh's C.J. McCollum.

Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston went from freshman afterthoughts to sophomore contributors. Now imagine Hairston having a Ryan Kelly offseason. Consider Quinn Cook advancing as much as Thornton did from year one to year two. Think about Thornton developing his scoring ability as much as Curry did.

Verdict: It's not a cupboard going bare, it's a garden.

Then again, it's possible that I'm wrong. Maybe everyone will leave, no one will develop. No upside.

How did that China trip end up, anyway?


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