Just a couple days after crowning Virginia as NCAA champion, the book has closed on the madness of 2018-19 college basketball season. Outside of Virginia’s historic turnaround, nobody made more headlines than the Duke Blue Devils. Led by freshman sensations Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett; Duke was a non-stop highlight reel.
However, they met their maker in the tournament, losing in the Elite 8 to Michigan State. Most were flabbergasted, as Duke looked like the most dominant team. The reality is, their roster had schematic issues from the beginning. For the first time in college basketball history — Duke landed the top three recruits for the freshman class. But, they all played the same position. Out of that class, Cam Reddish was the only outside shooting threat. Reddish finished the season shooting just 36% from the field and 33% from three-point range.
From the start, Duke had issues with outside shooting, rotations, and youth. As we have seen in the NCAA Tournament, history repeats itself. The last three champions included North Carolina, Villanova, and now Virginia. What do all three of these teams have in common? Outside shooting, veteran leaders, and depth off the bench is their strength. Duke struggled mightily from behind the arc and at the free-throw line. There are only so many close games Duke can squeak by the skin of their teeth without biting the bullet.
Now that this season is over, it is time to look at the turnover rate for Coach K and evaluate the new roster. Duke recently received good news, as Tre Jones announced he will return for his sophomore season. Coach K will have his star point guard back with the new freshman coming in. As of right now, the incoming recruiting class consists of Vernon Carey Jr, Boogie Ellis, and Wendell Moore. There are still spots open right now as Matthew Hurt, Trendon Watford, and R.J. Hampton remain undecided.
For predictive measures, Matthew Hurt is heavily favored to be in Durham next season. Hurt is the #10 overall player in the ESPN 100, known to be a sharpshooter at the power forward spot. Duke’s rotation on paper would be far more balanced than this past year; assuming Hurt commits. Trendon Watford has been a high riser, reaching #22 in the ESPN 100 rankings. Watford is a versatile small forward, having a similar physical profile of Cam Reddish and Virginia star DeAndre Hunter. However, Watford does not currently hold a Duke offer. His recruitment depends on the decision of Matthew Hurt, who would fill his positional spot.
Watford is also being heavily pursued by Alabama and new coach Nate Oats. Watford is a native of Alabama and would fill a huge need for the Crimson Tide. But, Coach K is known for pulling in late season recruits in year’s past. Trevon Duval, Derryck Thornton, Marques Bolden, and Marvin Bagley all came during April or later. The biggest x-factor is the looming status of 5-star guard R.J. Hampton; who is currently in the 2020 class.
Rumors have been swirling regarding Hampton’s status, as he could potentially reclassify into the 2019 class. Hampton is a combo guard that score at will and switch from on and off the ball. Hampton actually wrote a blog for USA Today, stating his intentions and criteria for a school.
“A lot of people think I just want to run the point and that’s it, and I do want to do that too, but if the coach needs me to play off the ball sometimes and guard the two or the three at times I’m fine with that too. I actually think playing with another elite point guard is a more attractive option because either one of us can bring it down and I can do what I do best and score the ball.”
If Hampton wants to play with an elite point guard, there are not too many as good as Tre Jones. As for his list of schools (Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Memphis), Duke clearly has the best point guard play. Kansas could have Devon Dotson return, but Dotson is more of a duplicate to Hampton than a compliment.
If Duke were to land Hampton and Hurt; the lineup can include Jones, Hampton, Moore, Hurt and Carey. On paper, that lineup looks a lot more balanced than the 2018 season. Hampton, Moore, and Hurt can all shoot from outside and Carey has proven he can hit a mid-range jumper in high school. Not to mention, Duke would have veterans Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier, Alex O’Connell and Jordan Goldwire off the bench. Duke would also have four-star guard Boogie Ellis in the midst of that rotation.
Ellis looks to be the wild card of this recruiting class. Boogie is a tough shot maker and explosive scorer that is currently labeled as a combo guard. It is unclear how ready he is to start at point guard but his status in the Duke rotation will be decided on the commitments of RJ Hampton/Trendon Watford.
The title contention for the 2019-20 Duke Blue Devils is contingent on these commitments. Worst case scenario, Duke could miss all three recruits and end up starting Jones, O’Connell, Moore, Delaurier/Bolden and Carey. Although, the outlook for the ACC next season is wide open.
Virginia is currently awaiting decisions of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, who are both juniors. DeAndre Hunter could technically return, but his stock is currently in the top 5 of the draft. Hunter’s return is very unlikely. UNC will lose Cam Johnson, Nassir Little, Luke Maye and Coby White. So, their starting lineup is currently wide open. Virginia Tech just lost Buzz Williams, and other players via de-commitment/transfer and to the draft. Florida State will lose Terrence Mann, Phil Cofer, Christ Koumadje, David Nichols and PJ Savoy. FSU’s feature returner will likely be Junior guard M.J. Walker. Louisville has been trending upwards, but will likely lose star guard Jordan Nwora to the draft.
As Duke tries to mourn the loss to MSU, an imminent take over of the ACC can be upon the Durham faithful with just a couple of signatures.