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Jeff Eisenberg

Kyle Singler's return makes Duke a clear favorite to repeat

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It may not have been as dramatic as Joakim Noah screaming "We're back, baby" into a microphone at a pep rally celebrating Florida's first championship, but Kyle Singler's decision to return to Duke is no less significant.

Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer passing up NBA riches to defend their title made Florida the instant preseason favorite to repeat four years ago. The effect of Monday night's surprise announcement from Singler will be the same for Duke.

"I love being here at Duke and am excited about next year," the three-time all-ACC forward said in the statement released by the school. "I had two great options in front of me, but I did not want to miss out on all of the great things to come in a senior season."

At a time when practically every NBA prospect with a pulse has declared for the draft, defending champion Duke is the only one of this year's elite teams besides Michigan State that will return all its underclassmen.

Yes, Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas each graduate, but their replacements make Duke quicker in the back court and more athletic in the front court. The Plumlee brothers are ready for added responsibility down low, transfer Seth Curry becomes eligible in the fall and highly touted incoming freshman Kyrie Irving is capable of stepping in right away at point guard.

The only irreplaceable player would have been Singler, the versatile, high-scoring forward who was named the Final Four's most outstanding player last year. Most mock drafts projected Singler to be selected late in the first round, but the junior has apparently decided to go against conventional wisdom, choosing to attempt to forge a legacy for himself at Duke.

As the Blue Devils made their somewhat surprising title run a few weeks ago, there were some that said this team was harder to hate because it didn't play the role of dominant favorites like its predecessors.

Not so next season. The bulls-eye will be on Duke's chests from now until the 2011 Final Four in Houston.

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