Duke dominance bears repeating

National champion Devils deeper, maybe even better

Atlantic Coast Conference

College Basketball Preview

November 07, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

They rolled to 35 victories and their third national championship with an explosive offense and an intimidating style, winning by more than 20 points a game. They return four starters, will plug in a dynamic player who transferred from another conference and boast the preseason choice for Player of the Year.

Yes, the Duke Blue Devils, despite losing the one-two punch of talent and leadership that defined Shane Battier, could be even better this time around. Yes, the Duke Blue Devils could win it all again.

"We tasted something great, and we want to taste it again," junior center/forward Carlos Boozer said. "I don't know if I'd rather be in any other position. I don't think I'd rather still be hunting for a national championship. You've got to find something that challenges you, and [repeating] might be the ultimate challenge."

You can see the bring-it-on attitude in the Blue Devils' eyes and hear it in their voices. And why shouldn't they carry themselves like kings of the hill? They have been living atop the hill for so long that any discussion about the Atlantic Coast Conference must start with the dynasty in Durham.

Consider that Duke has won or shared the past five regular-season ACC titles. Consider that, since the 1996-97 season, the Blue Devils have posted a 71-9 record against the conference, which is 15 games better than North Carolina and 18 games better than Maryland, the only other teams over .500 in league competition during that span.

Beginning with the 1997-98 season, Duke has won 133 games, the most prolific four-year stretch in the history of the game. The Blue Devils have been to nine Final Fours under coach Mike Krzyzewski, who started the run in 1985-86. Duke has a 73-22 record in the NCAA tournament. Its postseason winning percentage of .768 is the best of all time.

And there is no reason to think the 2001-02 edition will fail to add to the program's illustrious history.

"They lose a lot in Shane Battier [now in the NBA]. He's a leader on and off the floor," Maryland guard Juan Dixon said. "They lost a lot, but they're bringing back some great players. Duke has been doing it for years. They find a way to get it done."

The Blue Devils don't lack for weapons. Junior guard Jason Williams, who finished behind Battier in Player of the Year voting last season and who could be the first player taken in the next NBA draft, is back. So are junior forward Mike Dunleavy and sophomore guard Chris Duhon. So is Boozer.

They will form the experienced backbone of an offense that ran off points at a breakneck pace a year ago by spreading the floor and shredding defenses with three-pointers. The Blue Devils led the nation with a 90.7-point scoring average and made 10.4 three-pointers a contest.

This year, Duke expects to be more versatile with an improved inside game, bolstered by backups such as 6-foot-11 Casey Sanders and 6-10 Nick Horvath, who missed all but six games last season with injuries.

Boozer, who shot 60.4 percent and rarely confronted double-teaming on the block, will move to power forward when Sanders or Horvath comes off the bench. Sanders, who bulked up to nearly 240 pounds, started the last 10 games after Boozer broke his foot in late February before returning late in the NCAAs. And the 6-8 Dunleavy, who often camped on the wing last year and shot 37.3 percent from three-point range, has added 20 pounds and should play more down low.

That will make room for Rutgers transfer Dahntay Jones, a 6-5 swingman who made the Big East All-Rookie team in 1998-99. Jones has impressed Krzyzewski with his quickness and scoring ability, and he could become entrenched in a small forward/big guard role.

"Dahntay and how he fits in is a big key," Krzyzewski said. "He's very talented. We're very talented. As far as style goes, we're going to play fast. The development of our leadership is the thing. How do we communicate? How do we lead? No one will just take Shane's role. I've never had a leader like him."

The Blue Devils will not be running aimlessly. Williams, for one, will not allow it. A fierce competitor who craves the chance to take big shots to win big games - and a player on track to graduate next spring and leave early for the NBA - Williams averaged 21.6 points and 6.1 assists while making 42.7 percent of his three-point attempts. And with the emergence of Duhon, the Duke backcourt could present matchup nightmares.

Duhon might be the fastest player on an exceptionally quick team. He started the final 10 games of the year, gave the Blue Devils a smothering defensive presence, averaged 4.5 assists and shot 36.1 percent from beyond the arc. Williams and Duhon will essentially play both guard spots. They will get some rest when freshman Daniel Ewing enters. Ewing led his Texas high school team to two state championships.

"With Chris and I in the backcourt, as quick as we are, we're able to think as fast as we're going," Williams said. "When you think and play the game at a fast pace like that, it's harder to defend."

When asked whether the Blue Devils can be better than the 35-4 team that won it all last year, he said: "I think we can become better. We're going to be so much faster and quicker and better defensively. If you're devoted to something, you can get it done."

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