Thursday, December 2, 2010

Elite Duke team could hold its own in any era

It's only December, but two trends jump out when you are talking about Duke basketball.

The first is that the yearly predictions of how much depth Duke has are once again not true. Early in every season, people talk about how many options Coach Mike Krzyzewski has, but Krzyzewski always shortens his bench as the season progresses. We saw a glimpse of that Wednesday night as Coach K relied on six players and reserves Miles Plumlee and Seth Curry saw their minutes shrink.

The second is that the Blue Devils may be the rare great team in this age of college basketball. North Carolina was just that in 2009, a seasoned team that could compete with some of the ACC's all-time bests. We're not saying that UNC team was better than N.C. State in 1974 or Carolina in 1982 or Duke in 1992, but it was a powerhouse that wouldn't get wiped off the floor by the all-time greats.

Duke could be in a similar situation this year. The ACC is down - North Carolina is not nearly as good as projected, and N.C. State is much better but still has a long way to go. The Blue Devils could easily steamroll the league and win 14, 15 and maybe 16 conference games. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are elite college players, and Kyrie Irving and Mason Plumlee are strong in their own rights. The depth on the bench means competition for playing time, which is always healthy.

One always has to be careful when evaluating Duke early on. The Devils are unreal at home, especially when bolstered by a crowd like Wednesday. So there's a tendency to see these early-season efforts at home and overproject the Devils. But you can't help but be impressed. Duke looks like a great team for any era in a year in which the ACC in basketball sadly seems to resemble the ACC in football.

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