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A Look At Next Year

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This year was a magnificent ride, wasn't it? Listening to a bit of local talk radio on Tuesday, it was clear that it isn't necessarily going down well with everyone in the Triangle. Well, at least not with some fans of the baby blue. One guy called in and said that Duke, like UNC, was going to be hurting next year. Well, time will tell, but we don't think so. Here's why.

First, Duke barely got a serious glimpse of Mason Plumlee this year. What we saw was a powerful guy who has a remarkable passing knack. Brother Miles really came along and became a very reliable presence. And both are much more athletic than most people who don't watch them regularly realize. Plus they have the benefit of getting the crap beaten out of them daily by Brian Zoubek, and we wouldn't underestimate the dynamic of putting them against each other in practice.

Replacing Zoubek won't be easy, but these guys have a lot to offer.

But that's not where Duke will be most devastating: the perimeter is going to be intense. They'll have Nolan Smith back, and Andre Dawkins. And they'll also have Seth Curry and Kyrie Irving, not to mention Tyler Thornton, who gets less attention, but whose passion for defense may get him more minutes than people think. But Irving is a big deal.

He's been compared to Jason Williams and is expected to have an immediate impact on not just Duke but the college scene in general. He's an excellent scorer, passer and defender -- just a perfect fit.

Josh Hairston, at 6-8, will bring some size and flexibility up front, with some range, too. And he's a solid defender, which will earn him time and like Mason Plumlee and Irving, an excellent passer.

But the wild card may be Carrick Felix. At 6-6, and highly athletic, he has three years of eligibility left. He more or less takes the spot which Harrison Barnes was supposed to take, and in a twist, may have a bigger impact on the ACC than Barnes at UNC, and here's why:

Obviously, Barnes is on the fast track to the NBA. What's less well-known is that he's also on the fast track academically. We saw somewhere the other day that he'll enter UNC as a sophomore, which, if correct, means when he finishes his first year, he should be either a junior (or very close to being one) academically. And that should put him around 30-32 hours away from graduation.

For a motivated student, that's not going to take long. UNC offers Maymester, a three week semester, and two five-week summer sessions. In other words, Barnes could be finished at UNC in record time, conceivably by next fall if he so desired. The only thing to keep him at UNC is if he doesn't pan out (unlikely) or his own desire to stick around.

He'll likely be in the NBA for a couple of years when Felix is a senior at Duke, and Felix has the talent to have a real impact. We don't necessarily mean that he's going to be an all-conference performer, though that would be nice. But in Duke's system, he could be a stilleto. Or a Swiss Army knife. Pick your weapon.

He's the prototype for a versatile Duke defender, able to guard multiple positions and to place a lot of pressure on different people. When you think about how could be used, think about Billy King, Dahntay Jones, Brian Davis, Robert Brickey, Gerald Henderson. He'll be immensely valuable just as a defender, and if he brings a solid offense as well, it's just that much better.

Duke will have a ton of options, sufficient size, remarkable outside shooting, penetrators, and excellent defenders.

And that's all without Kyle Singler.

If he decides he doesn't like his draft scenarios and comes back, Duke could be off the charts. And on this team, he'd be able to simply play to his strengths.

And finally, we didn't mention Ryan Kelly. His potential is pretty obvious - he's a very smart player, highly capable. He just needs to fill out to be a bigger factor. But he'll be one


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