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ACC Preview #1 - Duke

31 Shane Battier F 6-9 215 Sr.
4  Carlos Boozer C 6-9 260 So.
30 Andy Borman G 6-0 175 So.
15 Andre Buckner G 5-10 180 So.
5  Ryan Caldbeck G 6-3 190 Sr.
41 Matt Christensen F 6-10 240  Jr
21 Chris Duhon G 6-2 180 Fr.
34 Mike Dunleavy G/F 6-7 200 So.
3  Nick Horvath F 6-10 215 So.
14 Nate James G 6-6 205 Sr.
20 Casey Sanders C 6-11 220 So.
13 J.D. Simpson G 6-4 200 Sr.
12 Andre Sweet F 6-6 200 Fr.
22 Jason Williams G 6-2 190 So.

With Midnight Madness less than a month away, it's time to start thinking
about the season. Here's the first of our annual previews of ACC teams. As
always, we start with the Devils.

By all accounts, Duke is loaded for bear this season. With the return of Shane
Battier, who seems likely to be the next Devil with a retired jersey, a more
mature and slimmer Jason Williams, and Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, and Nate
James, the nucleus is in place for what could be a great season is in
place.  Still, there are question marks.

  • Nate James has had difficulty with tendinitis.  Will he be ready to
    go? After last year's tremendous improvement, we hope so.
  • Carlos Boozer reportedly went to tryouts for the U.S.20 and Under National
    Team out of shape and was manhandled by Zach Randolph - a high school
    senior. Not a good thing. Boozer did however attend Pete Newell's Big Man
  • The maturation of Dunleavy, Horvath, and Sanders. All three were painfully
    skinny last season. With some muscle they can help a lot more.
  • Matt Christiansen. With a passing resemblance to Bill Laimbeer,
    Christiansen is the biggest big man Duke has - by far. It took him awhile
    last season to figure out how to fit in, but three years away can do that.

All things considered, though, Duke starts the season in tremendous
shape.  Having a guy like Shane Battier, who is the best defender in the
country, hands down (or up), is a great place to start.  Add in Jason
Williams at point and Mike Dunleay at wherever he wants to be, and you have the
makings of a monster team.

Still, a lot will depend on how healthy Nate James is.  It's pretty
clear that Battier is marvelous, that Williams is gifted, that Dunleavy knows
the game inside out, and that Carlos Boozer could be a dominant player. None of
them are capable of playing the range defensively that James is.   The only player of
similar size to James is freshman Andre Sweet (and walkon Reggie Love).  If
James has serious problems, Duke's offense won't suffer - Dunleavy and Duhon
(sounds like a law firm) would probably start. But  the defense will suffer.
Next year Dahntay Jones will fill that responsibility.

Ok, that's about it for the downside.  Things mostly are looking pretty
cheerful in Durham, with the exception of the Maggette cloud which still
lingers.  Let's look at the main players:

  • Shane Battier. This guy has come a long way from the defensive specialist
    of his freshman year.  At times he has erupted, particularly the
    near-legendary Maryland game after watching a show on Shaolin monks, and
    Kansas last year.  He has developed into a remarkable all-round talent,
    and is still the best defender in college basketball.  What could
    possibly be on this year's wish list?  Not much. Continued improvement,
    assertive leadership, 
  • Nate James.  Last season James was a huge question mark.  By the
    end of the year, most of the questions were resolved.  He's a tough,
    tough defender, a good outside shooter, and most of all a leader.  This
    quality showed up early in his career but wasn't obvious on the court due to
    his injuries. As we mentioned, his knees are a problem.  We hope he can
    go 100% all year, because he is pretty effective.  His major weakness
    is ballhandling, and periodically he starts off without considering where
    he's going to end up.  Minor problem considering what he offers the
    team in terms of leadership.
  • Carlos Boozer. A bit of an enigma.  At times he did some absolutely
    amazing things last season.  At other times he
    disappeared.    It's important to remember that after a
    broken foot, we didn't see Boozer at his best. Nonetheless, his performance
    was up and down. Asked to play center, he did well at times but when faced
    with a bigger player he struggled at times inside (see Haywood,
    Brendan).  On the other hand, he was pretty comfortable playing with
    both hands, periodically demonstrated range, and had a few outstanding
    rebounding performances as well.  Before his foot injury, there were
    some concerns in the media and online about his conditioning.  That
    resurfaced this summer as he was dominated at the US Trials by Zach
    Randolph.  Boozer, according to one school of thought, may entertain
    NBA ideas.  If so, he should be very focused on intensity,
    conditioning, and improvement.  That's what the NBA requires. It's a
    very serious commitment, and they'll dump him in a New York nanosecond if
    he's not ready.  Aside from the Bigs, he needs to make the commitment
    to his teammates. Boozer is a key part of this team. He has tremendous
    talent and huge potential.  The time to harness it is now.
  • Mike Dunleavy. One coach told us over the summer that Dunleavy was going
    to explode this season, that he would have 30 point games and be possibly
    the best player in the country. Wow!  From all accounts he has
    continued to grow and has put on weight.  Last season, before he came
    down with mono, Dunleavy was a fascinating player. In some games he was just
    devastating - particularly in running games. Enjoy him on the break. 
    Get on the edge of your seat when he's out there.  At other times his
    shot abandoned him and he seemed to make poor decisions.   
    But that's freshmen stuff.  The real problem he had last year was he
    was so thin.  In halfcourt games he could disappear, and of course he
    got muscled a lot.  Yet he still snuck in and got rebounds in the
    crowd.  Dunleavy has a natural intellect for the game which will only
    look better as his body catches up.  We still think back on his
    astonishing game against USC as an indicator of what he is capable of -
    dominating the game like Bird.  We're not saying he's Bird.  But
    he's got some Bird in him.
  • Jason Williams.  We got e-mail last year after the New York games
    claiming the kid was a bust. No one was saying that by the end of the year,
    and certainly no one is saying it after this summer, where he apparently has
    been dominant.   His faults last year were primarily faults of
    impatience - a rash three pointer here, a forced pass there.  But when
    he did those things he did them because he was trying to win, not because he
    was foolish.  This season Williams could have a quantum leap - but
    he'll have to focus on patience.
  • Chris Duhon.  The rookie, we hear, has gained weight and power, which
    is good because he looked like a cross between Johnny Dawkins and Phil
    Henderson frame-wise.  Nonetheless, like Dawkins, he can play the hell
    out of this game.  He is one of the best outside shots around. Playing
    at a small school, when his team needed points, he could light it up,
    hitting threes in bunches.  He is skilled enough to play at point but
    with a shot like his he's likely going to be running off of screens a
    lot.  He's a superb shooter, and a willing defender as well.  He
    may or may not start, but regardless, he'll play a lot.
  • Matt Christensen.  His freshman year (he and Taymon Domzalski came in
    at the same time, believe it or not), Matt showed some smarts.  He is
    limited physically, but has pretty good hands.  If he can figure out a
    way to score underneath, or to do something productive after a board, he'll
    be a huge help.  There were a few occasions last season where he
    grabbed 2 or 3 offensive boards in a row.
  • Casey Sanders. The Diamond in the rough.  We saw Sanders start in the
    backcourt last season and beat the guards downcourt.  That's
    impressive.  At the beginning of the season, he was scared to go up
    under the basket.  He would look around and hesitate.  By the end
    he had a few moves down and was effective in bursts.  Casey's progress
    is entirely up to him. He has tremendous physical gifts.  From here on
    out it's weights and repetitions, and that's about it.  If he gets
    enough of both, he can be whatever he wants in basketball.
  • Nick Horvath.  At times he showed a tremendous savvy, hitting a game
    winning three at one point,  making plays beyond his years in traffic
    at others. Yet at times he wasn't a confident player, and he didn't play
    defense well enough to earn more time, and that hurt the team, particularly
    down the stretch.  Horvath isn't a great natural athlete, but he's
    athletic enough (at least as athletic as Dunleavy, probably more so) to have
    an impact.  Like Sanders and Dunleavy, his need is to get
    stronger.  We saw enough in him to be intrigued and to want to see
    more. The shooting is obvious, but the savvy is not always recognzied. He
    did some nifty things in traffic. He loves offense; now he must grok defense
    as well.
  • Andre Buckner. A late pickup, he was basically signed as insurance. He'll
    probably not start at Duke, but he's a quick little guard, and a pest on
    defense.  He's fun to watch.
  • Andre Sweet.  We've only seen him once, but as a utility man, and a
    defender, he can find a role early if he wants it.  There's a place on
    this team for a stopper.
  • Reggie Love. The X-factor. A really good ballplayer, he'll play football
    until December, then come over.  At one measurement (inside) he leaped
    higher than anyone thought anyone could, and so they had to estimate his
    leap because he put his palm on the celing. It's not Cameron, but it's still
    pretty impressive.

This team is a bit deeper than last year, when depth ended the season. K
teams usually do well against pressing teams, but he was down to 5 players
against Florida and the gas just wasn't there. That will help.  But this
team has a few key questions to resolve to determine how far it goes: 1) big man
production from Boozer, Christensen, and Sanders; 2) wing defense beyond James,
a key element in any Duke attack, and 3) muscle. Aside from Boozer, Christensen
and Battier, this isn't a huge bunch.  But they're smart, and quick, and
will pass very well. With Maryland and UNC, they should vie for #1 in the
conference.  Duke only lost 1 game in the past two ACC seasons. That'll be
hard to match, but then again, it was hard to do in the first place.