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ACC Preview #1 - Duke

1999-2000 Schedule
| 1999-2000 Roster

We're going to get started looking at ACC teams for next season, beginning
with the teams we know best and working our way out to the rest of the
conference. That means we start with Duke and move on to UNC, State, and then
Wake and probably Maryland. But don't hold us to that (or a schedule for that
matter, we'll do it as time and research allows).

First and foremost, this season marks two anniversaries: Coach K's 20th
season at Duke, and Cameron's 60th season.  As State and Carolina fall
farther from their roots, Duke alone in the Triangle has maintained the original
atmosphere. It will startle younger readers to hear that Carmichael was every
bit the Pit that Cameron is, and Reynolds was. Pity, really, on both counts.

Duke brings in a superb freshman class for the Anniversary Season, which is a good thing, since they
lose more than anyone should have to lose in one year: Brand, Avery, Maggette,
and Langdon.  When you look at these four, they are a remarkable group, not
for all being drafted in the first round but rather for the pressure they put on
other teams, offensively and defensively: if you doubled on Brand, as he forced
you to, the other guys could gut you. Concentrate on Langdon and Avery and
Maggette blew by you to the basket.  And on defense they offered a
tremendous amount of flexibility.

THE CAPTAINS

Unfortunately, they're all gone, so that's that; get it out of your system.

Returning from last season are Shane Battier, Chris Carrawell, Nate James,
Matt Christensen, and two walkons. That's it. 

However, it's a pretty good group to build out from, and in Battier's case,
being in a different situation - being The Man instead of a supporting player -
may prove to be either really a break or really a burden. We're hoping he has
the Shaolin Monk tape queued up in his dorm room. He's certainly capable of
taking on a role like Roshown McLeod had offensively, but he's been reluctant to
step up on offense.  How much he steps up will be really key.  He's
certainly capable.

C-well is a known commodity, an emotional leader, and a charismatic
presence.  He does a lot of things well, but isn't really someone who you
can say, "go score 25 tonight."  He might, but then again, he
might not. However, his game is solid, his defense is excellent, and his
leadership qualities are very very good.

One of the mystery figures will be Nate James. Like all the returnees, his
role will change dramatically, and he has perhaps the biggest opportunity to
shine.  His flaw so far is mainly ballhandling.  He plays rugged
defense and shoots well enough to be a significant factor.  He's also stood in line to
pay his dues, and this season his patience and hard work should pay off. 
All three of these guys are capable of playing great, great defense - Battier
and Carrawell were called the best defensive forwards in the country by some.

Another mystery figure is Matt Christensen, who redshirted last season after
going on a Mormon mission for two years prior. When we saw him as a freshman,
his feet were slow, but we never saw him make a mistake with his hands. 
His hands were superb.  Taymon had shaky hands and great everything else;
this kid had the hands.  He's a smart passer and a competent big man. 
How much will he play? Depends on how much he's improved. He's a question mark,
but he has a huge opportunity and is certainly smart enough to improve a lot
since last time we saw him play.

From there , it's freshmen - but some pretty good freshmen at that.  The
immediate holes are at center and point guard. Carlos Boozer will likely take
over at center, at least for the short term, and Jason Williams will be the
point.

Though he's not built the same way Brand is, Boozer is listed at almost the
same size, 6-9 and 260. He's a big guy.  He's also fundamentally
sound.  Apparently training yourself in Alaska forces this to happen. Duke
will have problems with some schools- notably UNC, with Brendan Haywood and Tech
with Alvin Jone and Jason Collier - but otherwise, it would appear, at least
from what we know now, that Boozer can compete with the other big men in the
conference.  We hope so. 

Behind him are Christensen and one of the most intriguing Duke recruits,
Casey Sanders, who is superbly athletic, but stick skinny. Last we heard he was
up to 212 or so, which is still terribly skinny, but he's got some mad
talent.  He can play in certain situations now, as a shotblocker, but
Haywood, for instance,  would break him in half.  On the other hand, Haywood would have to
guard him, and that would be tough as well.  But all things considered,
he's about 20 lbs away from being a full-time force. 

Jason Williams is not.  Having turned down the chance to go to Rutgers
and practice in the nude, he takes the point at Duke, and from all accounts,
what a point he is.  One high school coach raved about him, saying he has
NBA level ability and superb quickness. He also expressed concerns about his
shot, saying the mechanics were awkward.  We read that he can do a behind
the back alley-oop pass.  Sweet.  If his defense is up to snuff, Jason
will be a huge asset and in many ways the key to the team. For one, ball
pressure will radically ease the transitions for the new interior defenders. For
another, there is no other point guard, other than Andre Buckner, little brother
of Clemson's Greg Buckner.  But he was recruited as a backup.  Jason
is The Man.  If he's great, then Duke can be very good. If he's not, Duke's
not.

Aside from Sanders, Duke has another freshman big man, a kid we're impressed
with, Nick Horvath. Having turned down Minnesota, which was about to implode,
Horvath brings to Duke a skinny frame, a superb shot, good running ability, and
a great attitude.  Bob Gibbons compared him to a young Bobby Jones. Maybe.
We see a young Googs, a guy who has immense room to grow as a player.

Another very key freshman who will have to play early is Mike Dunleavy. Like
Horvath, and more precisely Sanders, he is pretty skinny.  More like really
skinny.  And his athletic ability is sometimes doubted. But we saw this kid
in the McDonald's game, and a) he understands the geometry of the game, and b)
he is smart as hell.  We saw him make about two plays, one a steal and the
other an exquisitely timed block which relied on a precise angle near the top of
the key.  The steal took a significant amount of guile and deception, as he
delayed long enough to deceive the passer and then rushed up to halfcourt to
knock the ball away.  Those two plays opened our eyes. Like Horvath, he is
a very good shooter.  He has a keen understanding of the game, especially
offensively. The questions we have are on defense.

As time goes on, and Sanders bulks up, everyone's defensive ability will be
less relevant: they'll overplay everyone and try and force turnovers,  and
failing that, run them at Casey - it doesn't matter how close you are to your
man when there's a great shotblocker behind you to back you up.  But that's a ways away
yet.  But at that point, Sanders will be bailing a lot of people out and
lowering shooting percentages across the land.

Andre Buckner is the last guy.  He was recruited to provide depth and
five or six minutes of rest to Williams.  He wants a bigger role than that.
If he's much like his brother, he'll probably get it.

So where is this team this season? Hard to tell. The older guys, all of whom
are reliable and relatively fearless, will have to bring the kids along. 
If Boozer and Williams are good from day one, and two of the other three are
reliable subs, then pretty good (we're assuming Buckner will handle his role
well).  The other factor this season, more than in a long time, is
coaching, in three senses: 1) Coach K is healthy and will be involved in ways he
hasn't been for a while. 2) He will be extremely motivated not just because he's
healthy but because of all the off-season distractions. 3) Wojo.  Wojo will
have an interesting role.  On the one hand, he is taking Quin's spot on the
staff, but he's not Quin and no  one should ask him to be.  But
Quin's not Wojo either. Wojo got what he has because he works hard as hell, and
that will be an asset (and on the plus side, only three guys have really played
with him, minimizing the transition).  In many ways, Wojo is the ideal
person for Jason Williams to apprentice with.  First, the intensity will be
a boon - Jason will not be allowed to coast even if he were so inclined. 
Secondly, he can discuss Cota, Gainey, and several other guards in very precise
ways.  Williams is absolutely key to this team.  Working with Wojo can
only help him. Lest we forget, Coach K is showing a keen eye for picking young
coaches - Bender, Brey, Amaker, Snyder....Wojo?

Where will they finish? We'll make our predictions after we comment on all
nine teams. We will say this: they aren't going to win 37 games unless the
chemistry is freaky good.  On the other hand, if you read our concerned
comments at the beginning of last season, this group, while young, will be in
many was opposite of last years.  The defense should be tough, they should be hardworking and a
great group of kids.  We thought that the Three Amigo$ had become something
of a clique, an observation seconded by Jason Williams.  That seems much
less likely on this team.  They have the potential to be pretty good this
season. (But when Sanders fills out and becomes  a complete player,
Krzyzewski will have something he's never had before - a shotblocker.  This
will give Jason Williams a playground on the break, and if Duhon decides on
Duke, he'll feast, too).  What this team is missing now is a slasher.
Williams may fill that role, but at 6'2" it'll be tough.  But still,
it's a good group to work with, even if  they are young.  If they are
eager to learn and not afraid to fail, they'll be very tough by the end of the
season.