The Duke basketball program is currently at an all-time high: The Blue Devils are the defending national champions, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2011 (Austin Rivers) committed to Duke just a few days ago, and Hall-of-Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski is back after leading Team USA to Gold in the World Championships.
Although everything seems to be going the Blue Devils way at the moment, once the college basketball season kicks off in just a couple of weeks, a target will be placed on each of the Duke player's backs for the remainder of the season.
Sure, the Blue Devils are the favorite to win it all again next year. However, with a handful of contenders looking to make their way to the final game in March, the Duke players are going to have to earn every win that they accumulate over the course of next season.
After losing three key players from last year's championship team to graduation, Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek, and Lance Thomas, the complexion of this year's basketball team is sure to change, especially with the great group of young talent that arrived in Durham earlier this fall.
Highly-touted recruits Tyler Thornton, a great floor leader and point guard, and Josh Hairston, a big man that will demand attention in the paint, are sure to make their presence felt when the season starts, but two incoming players in particular are going to be key to a Blue Devil repeat.
Kyrie Irving, one of the top players in the Class of 2010 and one of the most versatile point guards in the country, along with Seth Curry, who transferred to Duke from Liberty University after averaging just over 20 points a game for the Flames in his freshman season, each will play crucial roles in helping Coach K and Duke defend their national championship next year.
Two major players that led the Blue Devils to the NCAA title last spring were Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, each of whom spent most of last season in the back court while Singler played down low in the post some depending on which player of the opposing team he was defending.
Alongside Smith and Singler in the back court last season was the All-American point guard in Scheyer, a guy who wasn't afraid to take the big shots or handle the ball late in the shot-clock.
This upcoming year, Duke won't have the luxury of handing the ball to Scheyer in pressure situations. Instead, after being named captains by Coach K earlier this year, Smith and Singler will each have their opportunity to take pivotal shots down the stretch if called upon by the coaching staff.
Joining Smith and Singler, who were both just named to the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 List, in the backcourt this season will be Irving and Curry, to go along with the sharp-shooting Andre Dawkins and fellow freshman Thornton.
This six-man guard rotation for the Blue Devils will be one of the best in the entire country, if not the best, and will allow Coach K to use a more up-tempo style of offense than in year's past thanks to the athleticism and versatility of Irving at point guard.
Curry will also provide a spark off the bench if he doesn't earn a starting spot on this year's team, most likely becoming the top bench player in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Regardless of the starting five for Duke, the Blue Devils are sure to be one of the most feared teams in the country next season, in large part to their outstanding back court. With Singler and Smith providing leadership, and with Irving and Curry providing a spark for the Duke offense, there's no reason to believe that the 2010-2011 squad can't become an even better team than the one that won it all last season.
Irving is going to be special, even if he does take part in the current one-and-done phase of college basketball, and Curry should be around for the long haul, given the fact that his brother, Stephen, played in college for four seasons before playing in the NBA.
Each of these two incoming players will play key roles for the Blue Devils in their hopes of repeating, and each is sure to make his mark on one of the most well-assembled back courts that the college basketball landscape has ever seen.
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