Another season brings another chance for Duke to redeem itself after a second consecutive early exit from the NCAA tournament.
The No. 8 Blue Devils try to rebound from a disappointing tournament finish when they open the 2008-09 season against visiting Presbyterian on Monday night as part of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
One year after going 22-11 and losing to Virginia Commonwealth in the first round of the NCAAs, Duke went 28-6 last season and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Despite the rebound, the Blue Devils lost 73-67 to West Virginia in the second round and fell to 3-3 in the last three tournaments.
Duke is 13-7 in the NCAAs since winning its last national championship in 2001.
“We had a hell of a year, and I need to make sure that we have a hell of a year the whole year,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who guided the U.S. men’s basketball team to Olympic gold this summer in Beijing. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to win the NCAA, but we could. Last year, the way we were, we couldn’t.”
The Blue Devils faltered down the stretch last season, going 3-3 to close ACC play and finish second in the league behind current preseason No. 1 North Carolina.
“We understand that we had a pretty good season last year in the regular season, but we did not play the way we wanted to or fulfill what we wanted to, as far as our standards,” senior point guard Greg Paulus said.
With those memories still in mind, Duke returns nine of its top 11 scorers from a team that finished fourth in the nation with 83.2 points per game.
“The biggest thing for us is, we’re a different team this year,” junior Jon Scheyer said. “Last year and the year before, we’re going to use those as learning experiences. But for us, this is a new team, new guys and we’re going into it fresh with a lot of confidence. I’m not taking any scars with me this year.”
Though last season’s leading scorer DeMarcus Nelson (14.5 points per game) is now with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, ACC rookie of the year Kyle Singler returns looking to build off a freshman year in which he averaged 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Junior guards Gerald Henderson (12.7 ppg) and Scheyer (11.7) join Paulus, who averaged 11.4 points and 3.2 assists, in the backcourt.
With 7-foot-1 center Brian Zoubek fully recovered from a nagging foot injury, and a pair of talented freshmen in 6-7 Olek Czyz and 6-10 Miles Plumlee, the Blue Devils should have more of an interior presence and could go as many as 12 deep.
Duke, which is one away from becoming the fourth school in NCAA history to record 1,850 victories, tries to win its 60th consecutive non-conference home game and ninth straight season opener. The Blue Devils are 26-2 in season openers under Krzyzewski.
This will be Duke’s first meeting with Presbyterian, a small South Carolina school which is coming off a 5-25 first season in Division I.
The Blue Hose, who have never defeated a Division I school on the road, will play as a member of the Big South Conference for the first time this season.
Al’Lonzo Coleman, a 6-foot-7 sophomore center who led the Blue Hose with 11.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game last season, returns for a team picked to finish last in the Big South’s preseason poll.
Barring an upset, Duke will face either Georgia Southern or Houston in the tournament’s regional championship Tuesday in Durham. That winner of that contest advances to the semifinals of the Classic at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 20.