Five reasons for optimism, five for pessimism as Duke basketball begins its season

Blue Devils' Bagley 'unique' and 'you have to let unique happen'

Coach K speaks about Duke freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III as upcoming season opener approaches this Friday night
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Coach K speaks about Duke freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III as upcoming season opener approaches this Friday night

Duke comes into the season ranked No. 1 in the country. Here are five reasons to be optimistic and five reasons to be pessimistic about this Duke team.

Five reasons for pessimism

1. Youth/inexperience

Duke has one of the youngest teams in the country. It will likely start four freshmen and one senior on Friday. While the freshmen are talented and have played in exhibition games, they haven’t played against Division I talent yet. Senior captain Grayson Allen is the only returning player who played significant minutes last season.

2. Depth

All five of Duke’s freshmen can score. And Marques Bolden should be solid after a year in Duke’s system. But after that, it’s really unclear who will contribute off the bench. Sophomore forward Javin DeLaurier got some action in the preseason, but he wasn’t much of an offensive threat. He did play well defensively, and that may be all the Blue Devils need from him.

3. ACC is wide open

The ACC is expected to be talented once again. Notre Dame returns 6-6, 224-pound forward Bonzie Colson, who was preseason ACC Player of the Year, and senior guard Matt Farrell. Louisville, despite the loss of Rick Pitino, and Miami should be good. And UNC, the defending champions, with the return of Joel Berry III and Theo Pinson, should be one of the top three teams in the conference.

4. Not the typical Duke outside shooting team

One thing Mike Krzyzewski has stated multiple times is that this isn’t the typical Duke 3-point shooting team. During the two exhibition games, only Gary Trent Jr. and Grayson Allen showed consistency from behind the 3-point line. But then again, they were often wide open on their shots.

“We’re just an average shooting team right now,” Krzyzewski said last month during the ACC media day.

5. Missed classes and tardiness

Krzyzewski has shown that he won’t tolerate missed classes and tardiness. He suspended three freshmen – Trevon Duval, Jordan Goldwire and Alex O’Connell – for a game for doing so. There’s no reason to believe it will happen again. Krzyzewski said that the problem will be fixed. But it was a cause for concern.

“These kids have been a pleasure to coach, but a little momentary setback here, you know, it’s like righting the ship,” Krzyzewski said last week. “And understanding they’re representing not just themselves and our basketball program, but they’re representing, I think, the greatest university on this planet. And we all have to understand that we all have that honor.”

Krzyzewski explains "momentary setback" and "righting the ship" after Duke clobbers Bowie State 116-53.

Five reasons for optimism

1. Duke has a true point guard

One of the things that hurt Duke last season, was its lack of a true point guard. Both Allen and Frank Jackson handled those duties at times, but both were primarily scoring guards. Now Duke has that true point guard in Duval, who can push the ball and will look for his teammates in the open floor. That will free Allen up to be a scorer and find his jump shot.

2. One of Duke’s biggest teams ever

One of Duke’s biggest strengths this season should be its height. Duke has six players who are 6-9 or taller. Four of them will likely be in the primary rotation. Not too many teams can claim that. The Blue Devils will try to use their height to their advantage to control the boards and get out in transition.

3. Grayson Allen

Allen has looked good in the preseason. He’s scored with ease, and made plays for his teammates. He has been a lot more aggressive. He put up big numbers against Bowie State. Allen had 21 points, 11 assists and 5 rebounds. When asked what’s different about him compared to last season, Allen said the main thing is he’s finally healthy.

“I’m more athletic, I’m not hurt. That helps.” he said. “I’m able to drive and attack like I want to. I think I’m under control more, especially with the ball, and not just driving into 7-footers all the time.

“I like to play at 100 miles per hour, but you know just kind of switching that up and slowing it down helps.”

4. The freshmen look like they can play

Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley have shown that they have the potential to score. Trent has shown he can hit the mid-range jump shot consistently. Carter has shown some post moves, and Bagley can do it all. They seem confident heading into the season too. One will likely be Duke’s second leading scorer.

“The quality of players that they have,” Trent said of what makes the team special. “They can just play the game. They are smart. They don’t do too much. Everybody knows their role and everybody is here for one bigger picture and one goal.”

5. Duke has one of the best coaches in college basketball

In 43 years as a head coach and 38 years at Duke, Krzyzewski has been through and seen it all. He has the most wins of any coach in NCAA Division I college basketball history. And he’s two wins from 1,000 wins at Duke.

Fans get a look at the freshmen laden 2016-17 squad and their exhibition opener gives a peek at the future

Jonathan M. Alexander: 919-829-4822, @jonmalexander

How to watch Duke vs. Elon

Who: Duke vs. Elon

When: 7 p.m.

Where: ACC Network Extra