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Duke’s recruiting class is No. 1 once again, but Coach K doesn’t have a super team this time

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A look at what’s next for Duke after putting the finishing touches on another No. 1 recruiting class.

Deep down, Mike Krzyzewski knew he wouldn’t be able to totally replace the talent he was losing whenever Duke’s season came to an end. This is the only downside of locking in the greatest recruiting class of the modern era, one led by a 285-pound wrecking ball who just registered a historically dominant season, a sidekick who averaged 23-7-4 and might get drafted No. 2 overall, and a third option who was a consensus top-five national recruit.

Duke’s season would end in heartbreak one step before the Final Four, but the weeks following have shown the Blue Devils are still going to be a problem next year. First, Tre Jones announced he was returning for his sophomore season despite widely being projected as a first-round draft pick. Then Krzyzewski put the finishing touches on another top-ranked recruiting class.

Matthew Hurt, a 6’8 power forward out of Minnesota, committed to Duke late last week, giving the Blue Devils a versatile offensive weapon in the front court who enters college as a consensus top-10 recruit. Cassius Stanley pledged next as an uber-athletic 6’5 guard who is on the fringe of five-star territory.

This gives Duke five incoming freshmen currently ranked in the top-40 of their class by ESPN.

Krzyzewski’s fifth and most recent national championship came in 2015, when four freshmen combined to score 60 of the team’s 68 points in the title game against Wisconsin. Duke has landed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country in every season since, a streak now standing at four years straight.

Duke’s run of dominance on the recruiting trail stretches from Brandon Ingram to Jayson Tatum to Marvin Bagley III to Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. Each of those teams were ranked in the top five of the preseason polls. All of them fell short before the Final Four.

Just how super is Duke’s next superteam? This is what you need to know about the Blue Devils’ incoming class.

Not all No. 1 recruiting classes are created equal

Here are the rankings for Duke’s incoming recruiting class from ESPN, Rivals, and 247 Sports.

Duke’s 2019 recruiting class

Player ESPN Rivals 247 Sports
Player ESPN Rivals 247 Sports
Vernon Carey Jr. 5 1 4
Matthew Hurt 10 7 9
Wendell Moore 21 23 29
Boogie Ellis 36 42 27
Cassius Stanley 29 33 28

Pulling in five top-40 prospects is undeniably impressive, but it’s worth noting this haul still isn’t as good as Duke’s last four classes. Seriously.

  • 2018: Duke pulled in ESPN’s No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 recruits. It also signed No. 17 (Jones) and No. 41 (Joey Baker, a redshirt forward who could play a big role next year).
  • 2017: Duke had four recruits in ESPN’s top eight, with Bagley (No. 1), Wendell Carter Jr. (No. 5), Trevon Duval (No. 6), and Gary Trent Jr. (No. 8). It also landed the No. 42 recruit (Jordan Tucker, who transferred to Butler).
  • 2016: Duke landed the No. 1 (Harry Giles), No. 3 (Jayson Tatum), and No. 10 (Frank Jackson) recruits, plus No. 16 (Marques Bolden) and No. 44 (Javin DeLaurier).
  • 2015: Duke had four top-25 recruits, led by Ingram, who was ranked third.

Duke’s previous three classes have all been unarguably more impressive. The 2015 class is the best comparison, especially when you factor in both teams will have had sophomore stars in Grayson Allen and now Tre Jones. But the gap in talent might look even wider when you factor in NBA stock.

Duke might not have a lottery pick in the 2020 draft

ESPN released a new 2020 NBA mock draft Monday. It didn’t have a Duke player going in the top 10.

Hurt was the first Duke player off the board at No. 12. Jones came in at No. 15, Moore was No. 17, and Carey was No. 22. This would be a noticeable step down from how Duke has stacked up in the last five drafts.

  • In 2018, Bagley went No. 2 and Carter went No. 7
  • In 2017, Tatum went No. 3 and Kennard also went in the lottery (No. 12 ... one pick ahead of Donovan Mitchell)
  • In 2016, Ingram went No. 2
  • In 2015, Okafor went No. 3 and Justise Winslow went No. 10
  • In 2014, Jabari Parker went No. 2.

Williamson is definitely going No. 1 overall in this June. Barrett feels like a lock for the top three. Cam Reddish has the most variance to his draft stock, but he’s still almost certainly a lottery pick and possibly a top-10 pick.

There are no guarantees Duke will have anyone selected in the lottery during next year’s draft. Hurt is far from an elite athlete and projects more as a really good college player (possibly for more than one year) than an NBA stud. Jones is going to need to improve significantly as a shooter and is going against a deeper point guard class next year. Carey doesn’t have the lateral quickness the NBA demands out of its big men.

Obviously, there is still a lot of time before the 2020 draft, but it feels likely Duke will break a six-year streak of having a top-three pick.

Duke has more shooting, but less defense

A lack of shooting was a major reason when Duke didn’t make it past the Elite Eight this past season. The good news for the Blue Devils is next year’s team should be way more proficient from the three-point line.

Here are shooting stats albeit in a small sample size for Duke’s incoming recruits, via Real GM.

Having two potential stretch bigs in Carey and Hurt should be huge for the offense with an elite shot creator like Jones at point guard. Alex O’Connell will be expected to be the team’s best shooter as a junior next season. Baker and Jack White are also veterans that hit from behind the arc.

The problem is that Duke is likely sacrificing defense as it gains shooting. The reason Carey isn’t projected to be a top NBA pick despite being a top recruit is because he’s going to have trouble defending the pick-and-roll and moving his feet in space. Hurt wins with skill, not physicality. Moore and Jones (truly one of the best defenders in the country) should be excellent on the perimeter defensively. Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden — should they return to school after entering the draft — will also be valuable pieces in the front court.

Duke had to play zone with Bagley and Carter two seasons ago because the team routinely got roasted early in the year playing man defense. Williamson and Barrett led an elite defense that finished No. 6 in America last season, but the lack of shooting was noticeable.

Coach K will have so many different lineup options next season

We don’t know Duke’s final roster just yet. Bolden and DeLaurier are testing the draft waters and could turn pro. It’s possible elite 2020 guard R.J. Hampton reclassifies and takes Duke’s offer, but Jones’ return to school would seem to make that less likely.

Assuming DeLaurier and Bolden both come back (neither is projected to be drafted), this is what Duke’s lineup should look like next year:

  • PG Tre Jones // Boogie Ellis // Jordan Goldwire
  • SG Wendell Moore // Alex O’Connell
  • SF Joey Baker // Cassius Stanley
  • PF Matthew Hurt // Javin DeLaurier // Jack White
  • C Vernon Carey Jr. // Marques Bolden

Krzyzewski is going to have a lot of different options. Perhaps Ellis will be impossible to keep off the floor, giving Duke a potential two point guards look. It’s possible O’Connell and DeLaurier win starting spots. Baker feels like the biggest wildcard of all.

Having lineup flexibility is a good thing, but it will also make for some tough choices for Krzyzewski.

A freshman-laden team hasn’t won it all since Duke in 2015

The four champions since then — Villanova, North Carolina, Villanova, and Virginia — were all led by upperclassmen.

Duke will be formidable next year. They will likely start in the year in the top five of the preseason polls. But for as impressive as this recruiting class is, it looks like the Blue Devils are due for a step back next year.