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ACC Preview #15: Duke, Part III

How will the pieces fit?

Duke v North Carolina
 CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 08: Wendell Moore Jr. #0 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after making the game winning shot to defeat the North Carolina Tar Heels 98-96 with teammates Joey Baker #13 and Jordan Goldwire #14 during their game at Dean Smith Center on February 08, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The rest of the country and people who don’t follow Duke closely won’t necessarily understand this, but one of the great joys of following Duke is the roster adjustments.

We’ve all seen it: the lineup is introduced and out comes someone unexpected.

Take 1991, when it was Greg Koubek. Huh? Or 2010, when Jon Scheyer moved to the point and Brian Zoubek moved in at center.

It happens on a pretty regular basis, typically in ACC play, and usually, although not always, it makes a huge difference.

Last year we might have seen it in a wonderful way as Justin Robinson surged late in his senior year. Alas, we’ll never know.

There are probably three things you can look for on a good Mike Krzyzewski team: versatility, defense, and we’ll get back to #3 when the kids have gone to bed.

We’ll look at the offense too.

This team will have plenty of versatility and hence lots of room to adjust. We’d expect either Patrick Tapé or Mark Williams to start at center, but could a bulked-up Matthew Hurt or Henry Coleman slide in around February?

Sure. Why not? The beauty of not labeling people is that they can play to their strengths.

Hurt and Coleman are the logical guys to play what a lot of systems would call power forward, though Hurt’s got better range than that and is more of a stretch four.

Duke also has Jalen Johnson and Jaemyn Brakefield as highly versatile forwards, both with guard skills. It’s the Wisconsin Dynamic Duo.

When Tre Jones, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish were on the floor together, we said that we finally knew what having four point guards was like.

Well, this year’s team could mirror that with Jeremy Roach, Jordan Goldwire, Johnson and Brakefield. You could toss in Wendell Moore as well.

This team should defend really well. Start in the backcourt. Jordan Goldwire’s defense has always been superb and got him on the court even when he couldn’t hit daylight on the offensive end. Jeremy Roach is young but a willing defender. He should be fine. We’ll have to see about DJ Steward but at a minimum he can learn what he may not know (we’re not saying anything about Steward here. We just don’t know what kind of defender he is).

Wendell Moore is also back and at 6-6, is strong and athletic enough to guard almost anyone. Jaemyn Brakefield and Henry Coleman are also outstanding defenders. Coleman’s offense probably trails his D right now so it’s a way to build a role and could see him emerge later if he doesn’t right away.

If Williams can defend the lane - as we think he can - and rebound he’ll have a role. He could wind up as one of Duke’s best shotblockers.

Offensively, the Devils have a lot of weapons. Let’s start with the spacers. Hurt is a terrific shooter. Joey Baker has a gorgeous shot and when he heats up, he’s deadly. Steward comes to Duke with a reputation as a tremendous shooter. Brakefield has range too.

This should be one of Duke’s best three-point shooting teams in years.

That in turn should open up the inside for anyone who wants to get to the basket and in particular Wendell Moore but also Williams and Tapé, neither of whom can be closely guarded if three point shooting is on. It’s good news for Coleman too, who is already powerful enough to muscle inside.

Just a thought on Moore: last season he shot just 21.1 percent from behind the line. Yet at times, especially early in the season, he kept shooting. So the question is: is he just a bad shooter with poor judgment? Or is he a guy who expected success because he’s known it before?

Something for you to mull over.

Spacing the court really changes what the offense can do and it allows for more passing options and it looks like Duke has at least two outstanding passers: Roach and Johnson. Brakefield is also supposed to have an eye for it and as we’ve said before, good passing is contagious. Really though it’s unselfishness. When guys give it up for teammates, everyone wants to reciprocate. It’s the heart of the game.

Youth is still an issue and it will be as long as Duke aims high in recruiting. The turnover since Kyrie Irving was a freshman is just amazing. Duke has done a really solid job of dealing with it though.

Duke hasn’t won fewer than 25 games since Irving was at Duke and has averaged 28.9 for the decade with one national championship and three Elite Eights.

That’s pretty solid by any standard.

So that leaves us with #3 to get back to, as promised.

Coach K likes to have at least one guy on his team who is really, really tough and tough-minded. His best one was Christian Laettner but he’s had others. Grant Hill for one. Shane Battier was another. Tyus Jones was too, as was Zion Williamson, Chris Carrawell, RJ Barrett, Danny Ferry and Brian Zoubek his senior year.

He has a term of endearment for these guys we won’t repeat here just in case the kids are around but it’s 12 letters long and starts with “m” and ends with “r”. M*********r.

You can fill in the blanks. Samuel L. Jackson would be proud. Essentially it’s just Army for leader.

Anyway, we’re not sure just yet who is going to take that role. We know Joey Baker would like to. He has been up and down but he has the heart of a warrior. If he can be part of that, that’d be great. As we said before, being on this team may mean more to him than anyone else. We’d love to see him hit that level.

Otherwise, it could be Moore, Johnson or Roach. Or it could be Coleman, who may be more advanced emotionally than anyone we can remember recently. He’s ready to step in and do...something. In some ways he reminds us of Carrawell, now a Duke assistant.

It doesn't really matter as long as someone steps up.

We’ll have to wait and see who this year’s, uh, tough guy is, and there could be more than one, too. If that role is claimed and well executed, Duke could be a great team.