Wait Until Next Year?

About halfway through the Sweet 16 matchup with Villanova, Duke fans realized that their focus was best turned to the 2009-2010 season. With only one major question remaining on the roster, has this year's team laid the ground work for Duke to continue the climb to return to the top?

In the Spring of 1990 the Blue Devils watched UNLV run around, past, and through them en route to a huge season ending victory. The next year the Blue Devils - utilizing the experience gained from that season and that game - completed an improbable run through March to win a title. Nearly 20 years later Duke once again has finished the season with a blowout loss. But, like that team, are the Blue Devils just one ingredient away from making a serious title run? A quick review of the 2008-2009 edition of the Blue Devils reveals a terrific coaching job by Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff. In short this was one of the best smoke and mirrors jobs in his coaching career. Consider that Duke lacked anything resembling a top 20 performer at two of the most critical position on the floor and you'd expect a season more similar to the class of 2005's sophomore season instead of 30 wins and a conference championship.

Take nothing away from Villanova - they were better, tougher, and had proved themselves in a better conference all season long. In short the better team won on Thursday night, but it didn't hurt that the Wildcats were able to get whatever they wanted from the field by breaking Duke down and getting into the lane where there was no Shelden Williams; no Carlos Boozer; not even a Josh McRoberts.

Offensively Duke seemed to be playing several games of one on one due in large part to lacking a point guard to settle things down and run the offense. When your big three shoot a combined 9-of-45 from the field, you're going to lose. That the Blue Devils were even in the Sweet 16 with a 6'5 scoring guard running the point is amazing - and Jon Scheyer did as well as he could have with the new role - but Duke lacked a floor general that could get into the lane; push the ball up the court; and settle the Blue Devils into the offense.

It all caught up to the Blue Devils on Thursday night. So now the focus turns to next season. But first...

Gerald Henderson will need to make a decision regarding his future. As a third year player it's likely the 6-foot-4 scoring guard will declare for the NBA Draft and get feedback as to where he is likely to be drafted while also being advised of the holes in his game. Various mock drafts have Henderson rated around the mid-to-late first round with some analysts projecting him as a "defensive specialist" in the pros. The previously referenced holes will likely point out an inability to drive the ball left, a streaky (but improving) jumpshot, and a relative lack of size for his position. The latter is incurable - save a Mike Dunleavy type of growth spurt - but some of the other issues are certainly something that can be improved. The real question for Henderson will be draft stock. Can he improve his with another year in college - perhaps move himself into the lottery - or has he maximized his "upside potential" over the last three seasons?

The smart money appears to be placed on Henderson's career in Durham ending with Thursday night's loss - although it's not written in stone. Such a prognosis means that Duke will be looking to replace just one player in the season ending rotation - albeit the most noticeable. It's likely that Duke will rely on freshman wing Elliot Williams to step up and become a more vital cog in the offense in the absence of Henderson - a role the 6'4 jumping jack seems well suited for after an off-season of tweaking his game. While Williams doesn't have the strength of Henderson - he was actually the owner of the team's top vertical and is a good deal quicker. Still the absence of Henderson leaves some pretty big scoring shoes to fill.

Help could come from Scheyer - who will be a senior. The question there becomes if the Illinois native will be asked to continue to handle de-facto point guard duties. Duke is currently searching for available point guards in the class of 2009. With Raleigh's John Wall likely headed to Memphis for his requisite year of college basketball, Duke has turned to Alabama's Eric Bledsoe - the nation's eighth best point guard and a four star prospect. Despite arriving late to the recruitment, Duke has made up substantial ground and may be inline for an unofficial visit from the 6', 180lbs prospect in the coming weeks. Also, Duke will likely watch the market of players who are released from the National Letters of Intent after the inevitable coaching changes come down in the next few weeks - much as they did when they grabbed Miles Plumlee a season ago.

The worst case scenario would be Henderson leaving and Duke being unable to land another guard for 2009-2010. If that happened the Blue Devils would break camp in October with just three ACC caliber guards on the roster in Scheyer, Williams, and junior Nolan Smith. In such a scenario the likely adjustments would be a move of Singler to the small forward position with Lance Thomas finally moving to his more natural position of power forward and either Miles Plumlee, Brian Zoubek, or Mason Plumlee manning the middle. Combo forward Ryan Kelly would likely split time as Singler's understudy - playing each of the three frontcourt positions.

The battle for the role of sixth man could come from the three guards as Smith and Scheyer would likely compete for the point guard slot. In short, next year's team would cure the program's need of big players - having six players standing 6'8 and taller - but would once again require Krzyzewski and his staff to scheme around the lack of a true point guard. The silver lining would be a more experienced group of scoring guards trying to fit the bill - including two players who split this entire season in the role. So would that be good enough to propel Duke past this season's successes?

Perhaps is the only answer that comes to mind. But all Duke fans can do at this point is wait until next season for the answer.


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