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ACC Preview # 9 - Duke

NC State |

| Virginia
| Clemson
Georgia Tech | Florida

The normal thing the last few years is to just pick Duke first and not worry
about it, and the temptation is there to do it again, because with Jason
Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and Chris Duhon all back, well, that's a
Fab Four for sure.  Dahntay Jones adds some punch as well.
The problem is replacing Shane Battier, and it's kind of a unique situation
for Duke.

Normally Coach K defines jobs which needs to be done and whoever
does them gets the minutes. A few years ago, he told the team that there was a
job for whoever wanted to step up and do some dirty work. That player would get
minutes. In that case, no one really stepped up. That team did not finish in
first place, incidentally, if we remember correctly.

In Battier's case, the defense, while not replaceable, is doable by
committee.  Jones can make a name for himself here,  Duhon is superb,
Williams is good but not as good as he can be. Same for Boozer and Dunleavy. 
But collectively, the defense should be ok. It always is, really.

And the offense should be super.  With three starters who can nail treys
- Duhon, Williams, and Dunleavy - and Horvath off the bench - the court should
be open for Jones and Boozer. Jones will slash and Boozer will crash.

The problem is replacing Battier's leadership.  It's funny, for a guy
who took a lot of abuse, from people saying he flopped, to saying he was a
phony, to saying he even had a funny head, he sure was a trooper.  In fact,
he was Duke's best leader since Laettner, and possibly since David Henderson.
Henderson was a superb leader.

But Battier was different. Laettner put his teammates through hell, pushing
them every step of the way, cursing them, bullying them, cajoling them. It
wasn't fun, but it was effective.

In Battier's case, he was much more supportive and encouraging. Demanding
yes, but in a less abrasive manner than Laettner.  He was the only player
Krzyzewski ever turned practice over to, at least in the sense that he let
Battier basically be an assistant coach. K just let him run the show in practice
last year, pretty much, and it paid off.

It's not a knock on any of the current players to say they probably aren't at
that level. Most of them would agree with it, we suspect.  Really, very few
college players ever get to that point.  But underneath the public polish
and the attention to detail, Battier was big a bastard as was Laettner. We mean
that in the competitive sense. We won't use the word Coach K uses for players
like that, but it's four syllables and illegal in most places.

But enough about the past.  We got sick of the back-to-back stuff after
seven years, and looking back is not Duke's style.  But it helps to get
that out, because leadership is Duke's major challenge. The points, and to some
extent the D, can be made up. But the leadership has to come from somewhere

The natural candidates are Williams and Dunleavy. Both had superb moments
last season, Williams for most of the year and most of the tournament, and
Dunleavy of course had a freak game in the championship.  His three
straight three-pointers will go down in Duke lore with the Laettner shot, the
Banks windmill over Ralph Sampson, and the Phil Henderson manslaughter dunk over
Alonzo Mourning. And maybe Billy King's total shutdown of Mark Macon. We have
always thought he basically trashed Macon's confidence, and ultimately career in
that game.

In the Final Four, though, Jason wasn't quite as fierce as he had been. His
game fell off a good bit.  And Dunleavy was erratic for part of the season.
Both will have to step up, but both are certainly capable of doing so.

Boozer and Duhon will also have to take their share of it as well. Duhon in
some ways may be more inclined to take control of a game than anyone else
besides Williams. He can dominate on defense, is a brilliant passer, and a much,
much better shot than he showed this past season.  Plus he has an instinct
for the end of the game.  He just knows what to do, and has an obvious will
to win.

We really don't know what to expect out of Dahntay Jones in this regard.
People have raved about him, but we haven't seen him in a pressure situation
yet.  Time will tell.  And we're excited to have Daniel Ewing, because
all the kid has done is win everything.  He's a great addition because he
understands the commitment.  And we can't forget Reggie Love, who has said
he'll give the guys water if it helps to win. He's the kind of guy you love on
your team, and he's a real basketball player to boot, though his primary sport
is of course football.

As we said, outside shooting should open up the court, and with Boozer and
Sanders down low, and Christensen if he is sound, and Jones and Williams
slashing,  well, it's potentially a nice offense.  And if Horvath is
healthy, he has long been regarded by most as the best shooter on the team, and
we have seen him as one of the smartest players we've seen in a long time. With
Nick, the problem has been, we think, being confident enough to compete on this
level. He's smart enough and talented enough.  The question is just

Casey Sanders was the source of an interesting debate on the boards
here.  Some thought he should play more; we thought he should wait until he
was playing at a higher level. The key to Duke's program is producing in
practice. If you do that, you play; if you don't, you won't. Casey evidently
wasn't, and in one game, he almost single-handedly let a 30 point lead nearly
slip away. 

But after Boozer got hurt, Casey stepped up, took responsibility, and did his
job, and he improved with dramatic speed.  We still agree with the basic
premise the program is built on - prove you are reliable and you play - but when
he got the chance, he made the most of it, and at times was a pretty close
replica of a young David Robinson.

So when you look at this team, you see four potential lottery picks -
Williams, Duhon, Dunleavy and Boozer - ok, possibly five with Jones - and a
solid supporting cast. Let's face it, Horvath, Sanders, Ewing, Christensen and
Love off the bench isn't exactly chicken feed. 

Still, repeating is extremely difficult, and the roles will change a great
deal this season.  Who will pull this team through tough stretches? Who
will step up when Coach K challenges them in practice? Who goes into the dorms
and talks to his teammates to get everyone on the same page?

There are a lot of people who are predicting Duke to pick up another matching
set of trophies, but we're not among them - yet. Duke should be very, very good, and
will be one of the favorites, but winning once requires amazing luck, and
winning twice requires even more luck and great concentration.  The luck is
beyond anyone's control.   The concentration - and leadership - will
be determined by the guys on the team, and that's a significant variable. 
We're sure Duke will be powerful, but repeating will take a lot, and replacing
Battier's leadership is going to be very, very difficult.

However, we're equally
sure that by the end of the season, this team will be playing at the highest
level it possibly can.  With the nation's best backcourt, and a lot of
firepower, and the best coach in the nation, they will be very, very tough. But
don't get the confetti ready just yet.