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Duke is bringing the superteam back to college basketball

College basketball isn't "wide open" anymore. Duke has built a legitimate juggernaut entering the season.

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

The foundation for Mike Krzyzewski's next great team was laid three days after Duke defeated Wisconsin for its fifth national championship in 2014. Coach K cut down the nets in Indianapolis on a Monday, and by Thursday he was in the St. Louis-area home of five-star recruit Jayson Tatum.

Tatum would commit to Duke one year later, becoming the first domino to fall for the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Tatum's self-described best friend Harry Giles followed soon after, as would dynamic combo guard Frank Jackson. By the time five-star center Marquis Bolden picked Duke over Kentucky in May, one of Krzyzewski's greatest hauls ever was cemented.

College basketball has seen superteams before, as recently as Kentucky's monster 2014-15 group that started 38-0 before losing in the Final Four. There's something different about this Duke team, though. This time, it's returning players that serve as the backbone for a powerhouse while a loaded freshman class fills in the cracks.

Duke may have been the preseason No. 1 even without Grayson Allen. Allen was a projected first-round pick after breakout sophomore season that saw him finish second in the ACC in scoring and be named as a third-team All-American. Allen is the only member of the All-American team returning to school and he gives the Blue Devils a proven No. 1 offensive option who can score efficiently even while carrying a huge offensive burden.

Of players who used at least 24 percent of their team's possessions last season, Allen's 124.9 offensive rating placed No. 6 in the country. He's not the only major contributor returning to Durham. Amile Jefferson was granted a fifth year of eligibility after a foot injury cost him most of last season, and he should be a defensive rock in the front court. Matt Jones is an ideal senior glue guy on the perimeter, giving Duke defense, shooting and the ability to run point in a pinch.

Then there's the leftovers from Duke's recruiting class of 2015 in Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter. Kennard is a pure shooter who should get plenty of open looks as opposing defenses focus on everyone else, while Jeter can ease into a bigger role as a sophomore without the weight of overbearing expectations.

When you put it all together, Duke has a nine-man rotation with eight McDonald's All-Americans and six five-star recruits. Jones is the only player who wasn't a top-25 recruit in the RSCI and even he still has plenty of pedigree. At least on paper, this roster looks like one of the finest Coach K has ever assembled.

RSCI Graduating class Rivals stars McDonald's All-American
Amile Jefferson 21 2012 4 Yes
Harry Giles 2 2016 5 No*
Jayson Tatum 4 2016 5 Yes
Matt Jones 34 2013 4 Yes
Grayson Allen 24 2014 4 Yes
Luke Kennard 21 2015 5 Yes
Frank Jackson 14 2016 5 Yes
Marques Bolden 11 2016 5 Yes
Chase Jeter 14 2015 5 Yes

* Due to injury

This isn't simply a collection of five-star talent. The best thing Duke has going for it this year is that the pieces actually fit.

Duke has shooting, with Allen and Jones both making over 40 percent of their threes last year and Kennard projecting as an elite shooter for the rest of his college career. They have a ton of athleticism in the front court, with Giles, Jefferson and Jeter. They have a back-to-the-basket offensive savant in Bolden. They can play small with Jackson-Allen-Jones-Tatum and a big man or they can play big with two of Giles, Jefferson, Bolden and Jeter sharing the court together.

Duke has had a top-10 offense every year since 2008 and that shouldn't change this year. The problem for Duke is typically defense. Last year, 195-pound freshman Brandon Ingram slid to the four after Jefferson's injury. Duke was paper-thin in the front court. That's not the case this year, as a wave of long, athletic bodies near the rim should make this Coach K's most complete defensive team in a long time.

Still, there are questions. Duke might be the overwhelming favorite heading into the season, but they will have some things to figure out along the way:

  1. How healthy is Harry Giles? Giles tore his ACL on Nov. 5, two minutes into his first game of his senior year of high school. It's not his first major knee injury: After his high school freshman year, Giles tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus in a gruesome accident playing for USA Basketball. Giles' best attribute has always been his athleticism for a player with his size. Even for a consensus top-three recruit, there's no guaranteeing how he'll return.
  2. Who plays point guard? Duke essentially recruited over Derryck Thornton, so the former five-star point decided to transfer to USC. It leaves the Blue Devils without a true point guard on the roster. Allen, Jones and Jackson will be asked to pick up the slack, with Tatum likely serving as a supplemental creator.
  3. Is there enough perimeter depth? Duke has five players for three spots on the perimeter. That should be fine as long as everyone stays healthy. If even one player goes down, Coach K will find himself in a bind.
  4. What's the closing lineup? Can Coach K find a five-man group that can score and defend at a high level? Duke has thrived playing small in recent years, but their best defensive lineups are likely to feature two bigs. Can those two-big lineups score efficiently? There are a lot of possible combinations here and Krzyzewski will use the regular season to experiment.

Even with a relatively light non-conference schedule, Duke won't run the table like Kentucky nearly did because the ACC in 2016-17 is going to be so much tougher than the SEC in 2014-15. There are certainly no promises of a sixth national title either because anything can happen in the single-elimination format the NCAA Tournament. Villanova, Kansas, Kentucky, Oregon and many other programs will have a say in that.

If nothing else, the presence of this Duke team changes the national conversation heading into the season. Last year proved to be as wide open as expected until Villanova played picture-perfect ball at the right time. This year, there's a common enemy. If you come at Coach K, you better not miss.