By John Fanta
FOX Sports College Basketball Writer
Editor’s note: John Fanta is counting down his top 15 college basketball teams leading up to the start of the 2022-23 season. Checking in at No. 8 is duke.
The long wait is almost over at Duke. All the talk and questions surrounding the leadership change have grown tiresome.
How will Jon Scheyer fare in replacing Mike Krzyzewski? Will the Blue Devils maintain their status at the top of the sport?
Coach K takes the floor at Cameron Indoor for last time
After 42 years and five national championships, Mike Krzyzewski finally retired as Duke basketball coach.
Think about this: it’s been more than 500 days since Scheyer found out that he would be Krzyzewski’s successor. Of course, Krzyzewski’s retirement tour and run to New Orleans stole the show of the last college basketball season. But ever since the Blue Devils’ season ended with the Final Four loss to North Carolina, the top talking point in the sport has been the transition in Durham, and rightly so. When Duke players walk through the tunnel at Cameron Indoor Stadium for his first game on Nov. 7, it will be the first time in 42 years that Krzyzewski won’t be the one leading the way.
Scheyer has done as much as possible to this point to prove he’s the right man for the job. He has the No. 1 recruiting classes in the country locked up for both this season and 2023. The pair of classes combined have commitments from nine five-star prospects.
Turning to this season, the Blue Devils have the challenge of not only entering a new coaching era, but also replacing the void left by five players who went in the NBA Draft. Paolo Banchero, a spectacular talent even by Duke standards, was selected No. 1 overall by the Orlando Magic. Wendell Moore, AJ Griffin, Trevor Keels and an elite rim protector in Mark Williams are also off to the NBA.
For the 2022-23 season, the Blue Devils have a clear leader in Jeremy Roach. He’s the team’s leading returning scorer, and his leadership in March Madness last season willed Duke in so many situations. Roach has a killer instinct and will be counted on as an extension of Scheyer on the floor.
Duke’s Paolo Banchero selected No. 1 overall
The Orlando Magic selected Duke’s Paolo Banchero with the No. 1 oerall pick in the NBA Draft.
While the Blue Devils have their leader, how they mesh around him will determine how far this team goes. Roach will be surrounded by four new starting players, and Scheyer will be counting on his freshmen to perform. That’s nothing new at Duke, which if anything has sped up its recruiting efforts under the ultra-competitive Scheyer.
The expectation in Durham is always going to be winning a national title, and the Devils wouldn’t have it any other way. While there are some questions to answer, the sheer level of talent — and a coaching transition that has gone fairly seamlessly thus far — are why Duke is ranked No. 8 in our preseason countdown.
Who’s new on the roster?
As Scheyer said when asked during the summer about his newcomers, “How much time do we have?”
Nobody’s gone through quite the roster shift that Duke has in the offseason. The Blue Devils lost more than 90% of their scoring from last season, and while it was pretty much expected, that’s still such a massive turnover of production from year to year.
That said, Duke has the ability to reload quickly as one of the most desirable destinations for any prospect, and the Blue Devils landed three of the top four recruits in the country, according to the 247 Sports rankings. This team could start four rookies alongside Roach.
The No. 1 player in the 2022 recruiting class is 7-foot-1 center Dereck Lively II, who possesses the complete package of skills seen in today’s NBA big man. His long, athletic frame gives him the ability to protect the rim and defend at a high level, but Lively can do more on the offensive end than many of the traditional big men in the sport. Taking on the Blue Devils’ starting center position, Lively can make things happen on the interior, but he can also stretch the floor and hit perimeter shots. Despite being over 7-feet and 215 pounds, Lively has impressive mobility.
The No. 3-ranked prospect in the nation is Dariq Whitehead, a dynamic 6-foot-7 wing who won four national titles in five years at Montverde Academy and captured the national Naismith High School Player of the Year award. Whitehead has been recovering from a foot fracture suffered in August, but Scheyer said he is starting to make his way back out onto the floor for certain activities. The timetable for Whitehead’s return is fluid, though, and Scheyer and his staff do not want to rush the one-and-done prospect.
His return will be important — Scheyer has said that the Newark, NJ native impacts everyone around him in a way he hasn’t seen from many true freshmen. Whitehead does so many things solidly, from his defensive ability to rebounding and distributing. The one piece of his game that he’s worked on over the offseason is perimeter shooting. If that area of his skill set evolves, Whitehead could be the most important piece to Duke’s puzzle this season.
Size is a huge strength of this Duke recruiting class, and it will be interesting to see how Lively plays alongside the No. 4 recruit in the country, 6-foot-11 big man Kyle Filipowski. The two chose Duke because they wanted to play together, as Filipowski also has the ability to space the floor and make perimeter shots. Their length could make life very difficult for opponents.
As if having those three freshman talents isn’t enough, the Blue Devils fill out five of the top 27 recruits in the 247 Sports rankings with 6-foot-8 forward Mark Mitchell and 6-foot-4 point guard Tyrese Proctor.
Proctor, who surprisingly announced in June that he was reclassifying from 2023 to this season, attended the NBA Global Academy and had an impressive summer playing for the Australia senior national team in the FIBA Asia Cup. Playing against seasoned professionals in the event, Proctor averaged 11.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists in just under 20 minutes per game. The 6-foot-5 guard was known to be a playmaker and a shot maker, but he impressed defensively during Duke’s preseason and could very well be a starter.
As for Mitchell, he’s another long defender whose versatility will be a strength. He could be a mismatch weapon for Scheyer, as his size combined with his ball-handling ability make him difficult to guard. Look for him to be an X-factor at power forward.
Another freshman to monitor is four-star recruit Jaden Schutt, a legit sharpshooter that shot close to 40% from downtown in his senior year at Yorkville Christian High School in Illinois.
In the transfer portal, Scheyer made a pair of impact additions from the Big Ten with Jacob Grandison (Illinois) and Ryan Young (Northwestern).
Grandison was the headliner move for Duke. The 6-foot-6 grad transfer provides needed experience on the wing, having averaged 9.6 points, 3.8 boards and 2.3 assists per game last season on 45% from the floor. The biggest thing with Grandison is that he can be a known commodity on a roster that has several questions to answer, and he will help Duke on the perimeter. He shot 41% from downtown last season, and he can also attack the rim and create for himself at times.
Young brings a veteran presence in the frontcourt, as he averaged 9.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season.
Who will lead Duke?
Roach is the top answer to this question. By all accounts, the 6-foot-2 junior guard, who shined in the program’s run to the Final Four last season, is ready for the role. In the five games of the Big Dance, Roach averaged 11.8 points and 4.0 assists per game. He stepped up in huge moments when the Blue Devils needed someone to do so, proving that he can be the guy for his team in crunch time. His 15-point, five-assist, four-rebound performance in the Sweet 16 win over Texas Tech was as impressive as any of his games.
Roach will steer the ship for the Blue Devils. He’s proved he can do it in the spotlight, but with an entirely new core of guys around him, will he be able to elevate those around him this year? That will be key.
Top games to watch this season
There’s a Nov. 15 showdown with defending national champion Kansas at the Champions Classic. The Blue Devils’ next set of challenges will come during Thanksgiving Week at the Phil Knight Legacy, where they will meet Florida or Xavier in the second round and could draw Gonzaga in the final.
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge game is next when Ohio State comes to Durham on Nov. 30. Last year, the Buckeyes shocked Duke in Columbus. The Jimmy V Classic in New York City will pit Duke against another Big Ten foe in Iowa.
In terms of conference games to watch, the Blue Devils will host North Carolina on Fe. 4 before visiting Virginia a week later. Duke will make the return trip to Chapel Hill for the regular season finale on March 4.
The Big Picture
There’s more than enough talent on paper for Duke to be a top-10 team and make a deep March run. What this team is in November is not what it will be in March, and that’s the intriguing factor entering Scheyer’s first season. The Blue Devils could go through some growing pains with all the youth they have, and it will be interesting to see how the new head coach handles all of that. But Scheyer is ultra-competitive, and he comes off as the fitting choice to take over this program.
Just how healthy will Whitehead be, and can he serve as a key weapon on the perimeter? How will frontcourt minutes get distributed between the freshmen Lively, Filipowski and Mitchell, and how vital could the experience of Young be down low? Will Grandison make the most of a potential starting spot and serve in a key role for this team? Finally, could Proctor be the underrated X-factor of the entire class?
These are all big questions, but that’s part of Duke’s identity when you rely on one-and-done talent year in and year out. The leadership of Roach can’t be overstated, and this will be one of the most interesting Duke seasons in quite some time because there’s just a natural unknown when it’s a new leader on the sideline for the first time since 1980.
Top 15 countdown:
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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