Duke 2014-15 Record: 35-4, 15-3 in the ACC; National Champs
Key Players Lost: Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Quin Cook.
Key Players Coming Back: Matt Jones, Amile Jefferson, Grayson Allen and Marshall Plumlee.
New Recruits/Transfers: Brandon Ingram, Luke Kennard, Chase Jeter, Derryck Thornton, Justin Robinson, Antonio Vrankovic and Sean Obi (transfer from Rice).
Well, I think you know the story by now. Duke accomplished all its goals and were crowned champs this season after beating Wisconsin the National Championship back in April. As champs, not a whole lot went wrong for the Blue Devils this season.
For coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils, this was their fifth national title and maybe the most gratifying of them all, as Krzyzewski did it mostly on the contributions of three very magnificent freshmen: Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. Quin Cook’s veteran stewardship all season should not be overlooked either, but it was the freshmen trio that elevated their games the most in the NCAA Tournament.
To begin the season, Duke made an early statement with a 14-0 start before being upset by North Carolina State. Along the way to a 14-0 start, the Blue Devils beat some great teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Stanford and Temple. They were pretty much neck and neck with Kentucky as the two best teams in the country last season.
After the N.C. State loss, the Blue Devils would go on to drop their next game at home against Miami, too, giving them back-to-back losses. However, Duke would not lose two games in a row the rest of the way. The Blue Devils would win their last 11 conference games to head into the postseason hot.
They would lose to Notre Dame in the ACC Semifinals, which would prove to be their last loss of the season.
Duke would be awarded a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they say the rest is history. Duke had it mostly easy as they were hardly challenged on their way to Indianapolis, although Utah gave them a valiant fight in the Sweet 16.
In an epic game against Wisconsin (after breezing by Michigan State in the semi-finals), Duke just had more clutch plays in them and rallied late to win. Jones stood out the most as he scored 19 of his 23 points in the final 20 minutes of the game to win tourney MOP. He made some incredible shots down the stretch. For more on their remarkable run, you can read a recap here.
Individually, Okafor was named ACC Player of the year after averaging 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while shooting an astounding .664 percent from the floor (all team highs). For his reward, Okafor was the No.3 overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in Thursday NBA Draft.
Cook was named to the All-ACC Second Team after averaging 15.3 points per game while shooting .891 from the free-throw line and .395 from three-point range.
Jones was named to the All-ACC Third Team after averaging 11.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and team-high 5.6 assists per game. He was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 24th pick (pick would be traded to Minnesota) in Thursday’s NBA draft.
Winslow was the fourth Blue Devil in double-figures in scoring, as he chipped in 12.6 points as well as 6.5 rebounds per game. He was also named to the All-ACC Freshman Team with Okafor and Jones. Winslow was drafted by the Miami Heat with the 10th overall pick.
2015-16 Look Ahead:
The bad news for the Blue Devils is that obviously Okafor, Jones, Winslow and Cook are all departing the program. The good news, though, is Krzyzewski is bringing in what is widely hailed as the No.1 recruiting class in the country.
Much like Kentucky, Krzyzewski is reloading with a bumper crop of prospects that includes four five-star prospects in Brandon Ingram, Chase Jeter, Derryck Thornton and Luke Kennard. All four are expected to be immediate contributors.
Look for Ingram to especially to stand out, as he is tantalizing wing that can do it all. He is an effective scorer from all parts of the court and will likely be a one-and-done player who will probably go in next year’s lottery. Derryck Thornton has great shoes to fill with the loss of Jones, but he is an elite point guard who should blossom with time.
This class is indeed great, but it’s not as special as the Okafor/Jones/Winslow/Grayson Allen class. That was a special class of elite players and it may be too much to expect the incoming freshmen class to duplicate last season’s success.
Speaking of Allen, who could forget his epic performance in the NCAA Championship game? A former McDonald’s All-American, Allen showed the world he is legit by scoring 16 points (he had 18 points in Duke’s previous five NCAA Tournament games) in the title game. He can attack the rim and shoot from deep and will be counted on big time this season. With that breakout title game in his back pocket, look for Allen’s legend to only grow in the coming years.
Sean Obi, a bruising big who transferred from Rice and had to sit out last season, will help a lot in the post. He’s a tad raw, but he is at least a physical body Krzyzewski can lean on. Obi will at least be a menace on defense.
Solid vets like Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones and Marshall Plumlee will prove to be reliable pieces to surround the young guns of Duke. This team, though, will go as far as the freshman class and the maturation of Allen can take them.
So in summation, you should expect more of the same from Duke. That being, contending for an ACC title and another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Repeating will not be easy, but it is possible.