Duke won’t start the season as the nation’s No. 1 team as it did last basketball season.
The Blue Devils, though, will land in their familiar spot among the nation’s top 10 teams when they take the court for their first game come November.
One preseason poll, updated within the last week, has Duke as the favorite to win the ACC championship and just outside the top 5.
Gary Parrish’s Top 25 (and one) rankings list Duke as the No. 6 team in the country. The Devils trail (in order) Arizona, Kansas, Michigan State, Wichita State and Kentucky.
Louisville, at No. 7, is the only other ACC team in the top 10 of those rankings. Miami is No. 11, with reigning national champion UNC at No. 12 and Notre Dame at No. 13.
ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 has Duke at No 5, behind Arizona, Kansas, Michigan State and Kentucky. Writer Myron Metcalf has UNC at No. 7 and Louisville at No. 10.
So the ACC will, as usual, be loaded with top teams again next season. Duke, despite an offseason roster makeover, will be among them.
Only one of coach Mike Krzyzewski’s regular contributors is returning; he and his staff will have a tough job molding the team together. Senior guard Grayson Allen is the lone player on Duke’s 2017-18 team who started more than one game last season.
Most of the eight players who left the Blue Devils provided the bulk of last season’s scoring — guys like Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum, Amile Jefferson and Frank Jackson. All four started in Duke’s four ACC Tournament wins and two NCAA Tournament games.
In their place, Duke will count on heralded incoming freshmen. That group includes point guard Trevon Duval, shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. and power forward Wendell Carter. All three are 5-star recruits, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Four-star wing Jordan Tucker also signed with Duke; the staff expects him to add scoring punch on the perimeter while also helping defensively in the paint.
National observers analyzing Duke like the fact that Duval is a true point guard, something Duke didn’t have the last two seasons to run its offense. The Blue Devils project as a potent offensive team once again with Duval getting the ball to Trent, Allen and Tucker for high-percentage shots and open three-pointers.
While going 28-9 last season, Duke finished No. 6 in the country in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. The Blue Devils have been a top-10 team in that category nine consecutive seasons. They should make it 10 in a row this season.
However, Duke has only finished in the nation’s top 10 in defensive efficiency twice in the last nine seasons. The Blue Devils achieved that in the 2010 NCAA Championship season and the following season when they won the ACC Tournament and made the Sweet 16.
Duke needs to answer that question before it receives true national championship hype.
The Blue Devils are planning a foreign tour in August to the Dominican Republic; it will be their first such trip out of the country since 2011. The NCAA allows teams taking such trips to have extra practices on their campus before leaving the country.
That work should go a long way toward helping Duke mesh as a team.