I also see a ton of reason to look forward to next season. I'm still operating under the assumptions (and you know what an assumption makes out of u and me...) that Rivers really is gone, Mason is coming back, and that we may get Jefferson but will not get either Bazz or Parker. I see that as kind of a mid-view of possibilities - we don't lose both underclassmen, but we don't get all our targets either.
With that in mind how do we stand? Pretty well.
1) The 1: We went this year without a really good solution at the point. We bring in no one new next year, but Quinn Cook could, and should, be a very different player next year than he was this year. Basically, he goes from being injured freshman to (hopefully) healthy sophomore. So, unless his evaluations as a recruit were wayyyyyyy off, we should have a very serviceable starting PG next season. Tyler is a worker, a classic lunchpail kid, but I think his ceiling is to be a defensive guy who can fill in at the point...he probably won't become a consistent scoring threat or a really good playmaker. Quinn needs to improve his D, but he all can see the potential, if he's healthy, and with work, to become a nice combo PG.
2) The 2: No Austin? Not going to say no problem, because an NBA talent is always good to have around. But Curry will be a senior and has shown that, while he does go into slumps, he can be a nice offensive threat. Dawkins has one more year to find the consistency and defensive effort he's been lacking. It'll be nice if he gets that going, but not essential. Sulaimon is a freshman, and with the rare exception (Irving, Rivers) you don't expect freshmen to carry the load...but from what we're hearing the kid can play, and he should compete for minutes at the 2.
3) The 3: I may be wrong, but I think Murphy is going to get a lot of minutes here. G should as well. 2 different guys, 2 strengths. We go from a team with no legitimate small forward, to a team with (assuming G and Murphy both develop their games over the summer) 2 legitimate small forwards.
4) The 4: Start Kelly, sub in Josh. I'll take that all day long. I'm excited to see what Kelly brings his senior year. The kid could very well be 1st team all-ACC.
5) The 5: Come on back, Mason. Starting Mason and subbing in Marshall will give us a very strong low-post. It'll also give Marshall a chance to develop without having to carry the load.
6) Defense: This will be the biggest question again, and there are a million questions here. Can Cook upgrade his on-ball D to keep himself on the court, where we will probably need him to keep the offense humming? Curry's not a bad defender, but he needs to improve. So does Dre (needless to say). How about Rasheed...is he ready to come play Duke D? How about Alex? G has the athleticism, and should be a very good defensive option at the small forward. Our interior guys get slammed for their D, but when the perimeter is letting guards into the lane, it puts the bigs into an almost impossible position. We need to improve our D at every position. Without a bunch of new bodies, can we do that? YES. Our D was NOT our problem the last 3 weeks of the season. We went from about Kenpom 100 to Kenpom 50. The guys were finally getting it. Now we bring most of them back. We need to be better. But we can be.
Hey, this team is not going to start the season top 5, we're not going to come in as a juggernaut. We're going to have to develop the talent we have. The five fingers will NEED to become that fist. But there is the potential there. For those who expect Duke to be the best team in the ACC and a final four contender coming out of the gate every season, you may want to look away and check the standings about February 1 to see if it's worth tuning in. For those of us who get excited about seeing the process of a team coming together, realizing that potential is not always filled but expectations are sometimes exceeded, it should be a really fun season.
If the underclassmen at Chapa Heeya all come back, UNC is going to be a beast. If, as I expect, Barnes and Henson go, UNC will be good, but will be at a level that I think Carolina, Duke, and (assuming the freshmen are as good as advertised) State will compete for the regular season title. 3 of the Big 4 fighting on roughly even terms in the ACC? Man, I'm expecting to start hearing Van Halen, Duran Duran, and Michael Jackson on Top 40 radio...
Brian Zoubek on what was going through his mind walking to the free throw line with 3.6 seconds remaining in the 2010 National Championship game and Duke up by 1: "Fifty percent [of me is] thinking, This is what I've been dreaming of doing my entire life. Fifty percent I'm crapping my pants."