For most programs, losing your top three scorers to graduation or the NBA typically means a rebuilding season is on the horizon. But not at Duke.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski brings back a couple of key pieces from last year's team that came up just short of the Final Four. With the help of transfer Rodney Hood and a few highly-regarded freshmen, the Blue Devils should be back near the top of the polls once again to begin the season.
Here is what you need to know about the 2013-14 Blue Devils:
2013 Record: 30-6, 14-4 in the ACC
2013 Postseason: Lost in Elite 8 to Louisville
Key Additions: Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Matt Jones, Semi Ojeleye
Duke will be in good hands with the backcourt duo of Cook and Sulaimon. They both logged a ton of minutes last season, and another summer in the gym should do them a lot of good. Add in senior-to-be Thornton as a solid backup and it's tough to imagine too many teams in the country having a better backcourt.
It seems that Coach K will likely go small with his starting lineup, electing to start two guards, two wings and a center. Why? So Parker and Hood can be on the floor at the same time, of course.
Parker is widely regarded as the best high school player in the nation not named Andrew Wiggins. At 6'8, Parker can do just about anything on the offensive end of the floor. His jump shot has really improved the past few years, and his explosive first step allows him to get to the rim with ease. He's also a good passer with a high basketball IQ. And as he continues to add muscle and develop physically, his defense should only improve. He's the total package and is just about a lock for the NBA lottery whenever he decides to turn pro.
Hood suffered a scare back in June when he left the Team USA camp with what some believed was a torn Achillies tendon. After being evaluated, it was determined that he had just strained some soft tissue in the area and would only miss 4-6 weeks. Assuming he makes a full recovery, Hood could be a real matchup problem. He averaged 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds as a freshman with Mississippi State before transferring and sitting out last season.
The one weakness on the roster comes in the paint. Mason Plumlee and Kelly are gone and there's no clear-cut favorite to protect the rim. Jefferson is really the only other option to start at the five, and he only logged about 12 minutes a game as a freshman. Marshall Plumlee could be as good as his brothers one day, but is highly unproven.
As for the other two freshmen, Jones and Ojeleye, it's tough to see either cracking the rotation very often in 2013-14. This is not to say that both players aren't talented, but there's just too much talent in the backcourt and on the wings to see them playing more than a handful of minutes each night.
Duke never has a shortage of guards or wings who can score the basketball, and that will be true once again next season. Cook, Sulaimon, Parker and Hood are all pretty safe bets to average double figures. These four are going to give the Blue Devils a chance to win every time they take the floor.
What's going to determine whether Duke is a national championship-caliber team or just a really good team is their post play. If Jefferson or Marshall Plumlee can hold down the paint as the starting center, there's no true weakness to this team. That's far from a guarantee, though, and teams with a size advantage could bully the Blue Devils down low. Expect yet another deep run in March, regardless.