2011-2012 ACC Preview: #2 Duke

The 2011-2012 ACC season is about to begin. Over the next three weeks, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order that we think they’ll finish this season – from the bottom up.

Let’s take a look at our projected ACC runner-up, the Duke Blue Devils.

The high-flying Blue Devils are greatly improved from the beginning of the season, and look to silence their critics. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2011-2012 Record: 12-2

Key Wins:
November 22- Duke 82, Michigan 75
November 23- Duke 68, Kansas 61

Tough Losses:
November 29- Ohio State 85, Duke 63
January 4- Temple 78, Duke 73

Starting Lineup:[table id=27 /]The Good: This team is full of offensive weapons. Duke boasts the seventh-best scoring offense in the country at 82.8 points per game. They can hit shots from all over the floor and are shooting 50.5% from the floor on the year, good for fifth in the nation. The Blue Devils have arguably the best backcourt in the country, and their guards account for one of the best shooting trios in recent Duke history. Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, and Andre Dawkins are shooting a combined 42.3% from beyond the arc this year. Their frontcourt is also significantly improved and has been dominant in recent games, headlined by junior Mason Plumlee, who has averaged 11.5 points and 9.7 rebounds on the year thanks to a new array of post moves. The Blue Devils have also played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country. They’ve faced three opponents that are ranked in the top 16 of the AP Top 25, defeating two of them. This was a great test for this young team, and will serve them well as they head into conference play.

The Bad: Though they are much improved on the offensive end, Duke has struggled at times with interior defense this season. This was most evident against Kansas and Ohio State, when they allowed Kansas’s Thomas Robinson to go for 16 points and 15 rebounds and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger went for 21 and eight boards. To make matters worse, the Blue Devils have had lapses inside against some of their weaker opponents. Even when the game is out of reach, this is not something you like to see a talented team make a habit. The Blue Devils have also struggled from the free throw line this season, something they cannot afford to continue as they enter their ACC schedule. Duke has shot 67.9% from the foul line this season, which is significantly below their typical standards. The Blue Devils have been one of the better free throw shooting teams in the country in years past, and haven’t shot below 68% from the line on a season since 1997-1998. Duke’s woes from the lines this year have been headlined by Mason Plumlee, who despite making significant improvements in the post this season, is shooting an abysmal 38.5%. Austin Rivers didn’t seem to get the memo that Duke guards don’t miss free throws, shooting just 69.6% from the stripe. He has vowed that he will be shooting 80% from the line by the end of the year.

The Crazie: The craziest thing about this year’s Duke team is that it is continuing to come together before our very eyes. The Blue Devils lost three huge pieces of last year’s team, and has had to rebuild on the go thus far. This team was able to win at the beginning of the year based on talent alone, but in the last few games you’ve been able to see them really getting into a rhythm. It appears this team is not done making adjustments, either. When they were struggling earlier in the season, they opted for Tyler Thornton to start over sharp shooter Andre Dawkins, and now it appears that relatively soon freshman Quinn Cook will take over for Thornton as the team’s starting point guard. This is a team that is still building its image and getting comfortable playing together, but it’s remarkable how quickly they’ve gotten to this point.

Player We Love To Hate: This is a Duke blog…we’re going to skip this one.

The Bottom Line: Everyone knew the ACC was going to come down to Duke and North Carolina this year. Overall, the Tar Heels are a more experienced team and will ultimately take the regular season crown, but it should be much closer than many people expect. Duke will give North Carolina a significant challenge, and they should split their games this year, with each team winning on its home floor. The Blue Devils shouldn’t have much trouble handling the rest of the ACC competition, though they might drop a tough road game or two. They drew one of the more difficult road schedules in the conference this year, playing away at Florida State, Maryland, and Virginia Tech, which are likely the three toughest road games in the ACC outside the state of North Carolina. Although they seem to be written off by many of the “experts” for this year, this young and inexperienced team should surprise some people and contend as with Cook at point guard they continue to gel.

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Crazie-Talk’s 2011-2012 ACC Preview:

Boston College | Wake Forest | Clemson | Miami | Georgia Tech | Maryland

North Carolina State | Virginia Tech | Florida State | Virginia | Duke | North Carolina