Is Duke’s new recruiting class unbeatable? Maybe.
Duke will have seven new players next season to offset the eight it lost off the 2017 team. Coach K will also have two brand-new artificial knees when practice starts in October, part of six surgeries he has had in the last 16 months, which included two ankle operations, a hernia procedure and lower back surgery that kept him out of seven games last season.
So does all this mean Duke will be in good shape to win its sixth national championship next April? Hard to say, based on the recent history of the Duke program.
After 6’11” Marvin Bagley reclassified from a junior in high school to a senior, Duke now has seven five-star recruits coming in this fall. Bagley joins, 6’9” Wendell Carter, 6’7” Jordan Tucker, 6’6” Alex O’Connell, 6’5” Gary Trent, Jr., 6’3” Trevon Duval and 6’1” Jordan Goldwire to make up – once again – the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Duke has had that before: the 2015 NCAA champions that rallied to beat Wisconsin in the title game.
Other one-and-done lineups haven’t fared nearly as well. Austin Rivers and Jabari Parker lost in their first and only NCAA tournament games, Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles in their second and Brandon Ingram in his third.
Meanwhile, Roy Williams will have the best perimeter in college basketball with Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and transfer Cameron Johnson backed by a front court of Luke Maye and three freshmen big men of their own.
Duke has cancelled its exhibition trip to the Dominican Republic, and Krzyzewski will still be limping when practice opens in October. The ballyhoo over all the freshmen captures the attention of college basketball, but remember that Duke’s first four national championships were won by veteran teams and the last by four freshmen who melded together unusually well before three of them opted for the NBA draft.
One-and-dones are tricky, and Kentucky has just one NCAA title under coach John Calipari’s recruiting success. Now Duke has to replace almost its entire team, meaning senior Grayson Allen will have eight guys alongside him who have never played a college game.
The Blue Devils lost four players from last season’s fifth-place finish in the ACC to the NBA draft. Will Duke actually be better with a brand new team? I’d bet on Coach K’s knee being completely ready for action before his program is.