- Ky McKeon
Key Returners: Tre Jones, Jack White, Javin DeLaurier, Alex O’Connell
Key Losses: Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, Marques Bolden
Key Newcomers: Vernon Carey Jr., Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore, Cassius Stanley
Outlook: ESPN’s team was arguably the country’s best in 2018-19, fueled by an embarrassing level of talent featuring one of the best college players in recent memory. Despite the wealth of riches, Coach K failed to reach the Final Four, instead falling to Michigan State after barely squeaking by UCF in the Round of 32 and Virginia Tech in the Sweet Sixteen. Coach K has fully embraced the one-and-done era, keeping pace with John Calipari over at Kentucky. Since K’s “unofficial” start of exploiting the one-and-done talent pool in 2013-14 (Jabari Parker’s year), Duke has had the #1 or #2 recruiting class in each of the past six seasons. In that time, Duke has one National Title (and no other Final Four appearances) and a grand total of zero regular season ACC titles. On paper, the Devils are the ACC’s best team year-in and year-out, but in practice has yet to prove that consistently.
Let me be clear: Coach K is one of the best coaches of all time in any sport. Having said that, it’s obvious his X’s and O’s game isn’t what it used to be. Whether this is due to old age, egos of high-level recruits, or simply not having the time to properly develop guys in just a few short months, K’s offensive strategy has gone from actually running offense to “roll the balls out and play”. Last year’s squad was K’s fastest since 2008, which made sense given the ridiculous talent of Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. Those two scorched opposing teams on the run, and when Duke didn’t score on the first shot it often secured the rebound and stuffed the ball down the hoop. This season’s team will have a whole new look from a personnel perspective, but this style likely isn’t changing, especially since K failed to address 2018-19’s shooting issues.
Tre Jones is the most significant holdover from last year’s squad, a quintessential point guard that earned a spot on the Honorable Mention All-ACC, ACC All-Defense, and ACC All-Freshman squad. Jones was lauded by pundits (particularly Jay Bilas) last season, often being called the Devils’ most important player. This sentiment was of course total B.S., but Jones was a key piece to a team that desperately needed his leadership and defensive prowess. In 2019-20, Jones will be Duke’s undisputed floor leader and will likely see close to 40 minutes per game. He’s the perfect table setter and rarely turns the ball over, but his poor shooting must improve for Duke to capture a National Championship. Jones shot just 26.2% from downtown last season (21.7% in ACC play), and teams literally started turning their backs on him when he was on the perimeter, daring him to shoot from the outside. Even a moderate improvement to his shot this year will do wonders for Duke’s offense and title chances.
Shooting was Duke’s Achilles heel last season and likely will be again in 2019-20. Jack White and Alex O’Connell return as three-point shooting specialists, but none of K’s incoming recruits (save perhaps Matthew Hurt) are known for their outside shot. White was the perfect role player the first half of last season, knocking down 38.6% of his threes, rebounding like a maniac, and hustling his ass off, but something strange happened on January 14th against Syracuse. White got the yips and went 0/10 against the ‘Cuse zone and proceeded to miss his next 16 attempts over the course of several games. O’Connell has been one of the biggest casualties of K’s bloodthirsty conquest for one-and-done talent. He’s a knockdown shooter that just hasn’t been given a consistent opportunity to shine. Last season, O’Connell shot 37.5% from behind the arc and is a career 41.6% thee-point shooter. In 2019-20, both White and O’Connell should maintain key roles in Duke’s rotation and may even start a few games as the incoming freshmen develop.
Coach K brings in four star-studded freshmen to replenish the talent coffers left barren by the departures of Zion, RJ, and Cam Reddish. K was strategic in his recruiting and landed a player to fill each traditional position alongside Jones at the point. Two McDonald’s All-Americans, Vernon Carey, Jr. and Matthew Hurt, will man the center and power forward spots on day one. Carey is the highest ranked of K’s four recruits and brings with him to Durham a versatile skill set for his size. At 6’10”, Carey can shoot from the outside and put the ball on the floor, and his immense size makes him a sure bet to be an impactful addition on the glass and in the paint. Not many 6’10” guys can do what Carey can do on the floor:
Hurt, another top ten recruit depending where you look, is a very smooth, stretchy four that can score in many different ways. While not a great athlete, Hurt uses his impressive basketball IQ to put the ball in the basket and will be a perfect fit on a roster that needs steady shooting instead of ball dominance. The rookie frontcourt pair will join Javin DeLaurier in K’s big-man rotation. DeLaurier, one of three seniors on the roster, has always been a “fine” player. He can be relied on for rebounding and shot-blocking but will continue to only be a “catch-and-dunk” threat on offense.
Wendell Moore comes in to fill the SF spot and Cassius Stanley will occupy the SG position. Moore, another McDonald’s All-American, has a 6’11” wingspan to go with his 6’6” frame. He’s a defense-first player that projects as one of the best perimeter defenders in the ACC this coming season, but is decidedly limited on offense. He’ll be valuable in transition and as a dribble-drive threat, but Moore doesn’t offer much in the realm of shooting. Stanley, the #31 recruit per ESPN, might be the best athlete in college basketball next season – his jumping and dunking ability is absolutely insane:
Expect Stanley to be a high-usage player in K’s offense, likely taking a considerable load of the scoring responsibilities. He’s a better shooter than Moore, but it’s not his forte.
Offense gets most of the attention in college basketball, especially if the school’s name is “Duke”, but the Blue Devils should have one of the best defenses in the country next season. Coach K implemented some full-court pressure last year with his cadre of athletes and that likely continues in 2019-20. Jones and Moore are lock-down on-ball defenders, Stanley’s athleticism makes him a dangerous steal-and-run threat, and the Carey / DeLaurier combo inside should be formidable as well.
Duke has had a top ten defense the past two seasons, per KenPom, and should be that level again this year.
Bottom Line: Tale as old as time... Duke is incredibly talented and expected to win the ACC. Recent history says the Devils won’t capture the ACC title (they haven’t won a regular season conference championship since 2010), but the talent is too good here to be ignored. The race for the ACC crown will be the best in the country this season, with Duke, UNC, Louisville, and UVA all capable of winning the league.