#1 Duke Blue Devils
Last Year: 28-9 (11-7 ACC) NCAA Tournament Second Round
Duke is the most hated program in college basketball. Why? While there are a number of reasons, the best explanation is because they win. Mike Krzyzewski took this program over in 1980 and ever since it has only gone up. They won their first National Championship in 1991 only to repeat the feat again in 1992. Since then, the Blue Devils have won three more championships, tying Indiana for the fourth most of all time.
Their success has not slowed down in recent years either. The Blue Devils have won two titles in the 2010’s (2010 and 2015), along with a championship in 2001. Krzyzewski became the first coach to win a championship in three different decades, and with the recruiting class they have coming in, Duke looks like the favorite to win it all this year as well.
Duke is beginning to look like Kentucky with all the roster changes they have each season. Luke Kennard, Frank Jackson, Harry Giles, and Jayson Tatum all declared early for the NBA Draft. Three of the four departures were one-and-dones, with Kennard opting to leave after his breakout sophomore year where he led the team with almost 20 PPG. Tatum and Jackson followed, and Amile Jefferson was lost to graduation. Despite going undrafted, Jefferson led the team in both RPG and BPG last season and was one of the best power forwards in the league. The Blue Devils lost a crucial player at almost every position, but luckily for them they also managed to pull the number one recruiting class.
Duke added seven newcomers to their roster this season, four of which are five-star recruits. Those four players are also in the top ten of ESPN’s top 100. With this class, Duke is in the running for the greatest recruiting class of all time. Marvin Bagley was the top recruit in the 2018 class but reclassified and enrolled at Duke in time for this season which only strengthened the class they already had coming in. Alongside Bagley in the frontcourt is Wendell Carter, a 6’9 PF who is a consistent shot blocker and gets above the rim with ease.
The backcourt composed of Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. is just as impressive. Trent Jr. is a versatile scorer at all levels, capable of consistently hitting the three but also cutting to the basket when he wants. Running point is Duval, a big time playmaker that is already drawing comparisons to elite college guards like Derrick Rose and Eric Bledsoe. These four freshman will make or break this season for Duke.
This is the best recruiting class that Coach K has ever had but it is also the youngest team he has ever coached. There is very little senior leadership on this roster with Grayson Allen being the only noteworthy upperclassmen. This is Allen’s team to control but he will have to lead by example. Grayson was notoriously caught up in some tripping scandals last season so he is on thin ice — at the same time he has also proven himself as one of the best players in the college game. If he can stay out of trouble and off the bench, he should be able to control the floor and allow the freshman line-up to play off him successfully.
There is no reason Duke shouldn’t win the championship this year. All the necessary pieces are there and then some. Coach K is up there with some of the greatest ever and it is rare that Duke fails to live up to expectations with him leading the team. Vegas currently has them at 5:1 odds to win the title this year. My money is on Duke all the way.