Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 3 Duke (Men)
Duke's run of consecutive final fours ended at eight last year, but the Blue Devils are a strong contender to return. Myles Jones and Deemer Class are two of the nation's elite midfielders all three starting attackmen return.
The key for the Blue Devils will be stopping their opponents. Duke ranked a dismal 54th in the country in scoring defense last season and will need to improve.
Duke at a Glance
2015 Record: 12-6
3 Big Things
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
For as easy as it was to notice Josh Dionne, Christian Walsh and Jordan Wolf were no longer around on offense last spring, Duke also lost its entire close defense from its 2014 title team. The Blue Devils started three sophomores there (plus a redshirt freshman goalie late in the season), but that group ostensibly will be better after some trial-by-fire seasoning. Duke gave up at least 15 goals in each of its six losses last year.
1. The key man on offense might be Case Matheis.
The talent of Duke midfielders Deemer Class and Myles Jones is unquestioned, but Danowski points out that from Matt Danowski to Ned Crotty to Jordan Wolf, the Blue Devils have usually had someone to orchestrate the offense. “Can Case be that game manager?” John Danowski asked. “Turn the corner when you have to, find the open man when he’s there, distribute the ball, settle the team down, push it? Can we have that field general? Can Case be that guy?” Once healthy, Matheis had 20 goals and 19 assists last season.
2. The defense is older - because it has to be.
The Blue Devils were porous at crucial moments last season, and much of that had to do with fielding an entirely new close defense (in front of a redshirt freshman goalie, no less). There’s more experience this year, and some of it could get moved around, like Brian Dunne spending time at long pole. “We didn’t have that senior that grabbed guys and said ‘This is what you do,’” Danowski said. “That happens, and you have to live through it. The hope is that you’re going to be better for it this year.”
3. Faceoffs are in good hands.
Just two years after the brilliant Brendan Fowler graduated, Duke might have another ace faceoff man prepared to dominate. Kyle Rowe, who played his first year at Stony Brook, shook off some early injuries and won 61.4 percent of his faceoffs last season. “As he got healthier and more comfortable being in our program, he really was terrific down the stretch,” Danowski said. “The hope is it will get better.”
Danny Fowler (So.)*
* returning starters
An easy choice, considering Jones was a Tewaaraton finalist last year — and for good reason. He’s already played significant roles on two NCAA title teams and had 40 goals and 37 assists last year. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder has a chance to help the Blue Devils add another a ring this year.
Frankly, it’s possible the Blue Devils don’t have to dip too deeply into their freshman class this season, which is ideal for the way Danowski builds his program. “We like all the freshmen, but this is a tough year for any of them to break in,” he said. But there could be opportunities in the midfield, and that makes Smith as logical a choice to get this nod as anyone.
After spending much of the last two years as an effective short stick complement to Will Haus, Zenker inherits the role of arguably the best Blue Devil few people talk about. “Tommy will just go about playing the way he always plays,” Danowski said. Which is to say well. In addition to sound defense, he also had three goals and four assists as a sophomore.
Biggest Question Mark
This could simply get filed under “Duke goalie” on an annual basis. Usually it sorts itself out to some degree, and Fowler (11.76 goals against average, 48.9 save percentage) played the latter half of the season in front of a youthful defense. Both he and holdover Luke Aaron, the Blue Devils’ top goalie in 2014, are back, and Danowski was encouraged by the progress of both in the fall.
Deemer Class had 34 goals and 19 assists to earn second team All-America honors in 2015. He was a first team honoree in 2014 and the Blue Devils expect a big year from the senior midfielder. (Peyton Williams)
What rival coaches say about the Blue Devils
"If having a lot of seniors overflowing with experience is a good thing, then Duke is a national champion again. Love to see Duke in vengeance mode after their early departure from the 2015 playoffs. Danowski, the Jedi master of all matters of the mind and good foundational lacrosse skills, will have this squad playing united and with an intensity that will be difficult for opponents to match. Myles Jones will finish as the runner-up for the Tewaaraton, but how great would it be for the game if we had an African-American winner follow a Native-American winner?"
"Certainly a talented group offensively. Jones, Class, Matheis, Guterding is not a bad place to start. The side of the ball that failed them last year was on the defensive end, and that group must get better or else it won't matter how many goals the offense puts up."
"You can’t teach experience, and they had a lot of new faces last year. They tried to ride the wave of the two middies in Myles and Deemer and I think with those guys back and experienced attack unit, I think they’ll be dangerous. It’ll all depend on their defense. That’s the question mark."
"Jones is uncoverable, and they really move smartly off the ball. Is O enough to cover up at the other end of the field?"
"They’re a matchup nightmare, a team that really moves the ball and can hurt you off the dodge or passing the ball. You have to be a team that scores it to win at the level they do. Most of them time when they’ve lost , it’s that they just didn’t score enough. That’s who are they are, and for that team it’s ultimately what defines them."
Duke returns all five of its 30-point producers from a year ago, including attackmen Jack Bruckner, Justin Guterding and Case Matheis and midfielders Deemer Class and Myles Jones. Offense probably won’t be a problem for the Blue Devils.
12 High Point
20 vs. Denver (Kennesaw, Ga.)
27 @ Jacksonville
April 10 at Notre Dame
There is no shortage of options, but this at least constitutes a must-see game. The Blue Devils and Fighting Irish both boast loaded offenses, and it would come as no surprise if this is merely the first of two or three meetings between national title contenders this spring.
Volunteer Coach Alec Jernstedt
Ben DeLuca spent the last two seasons as the Blue Devils’ volunteer coach, providing vital help at the defensive end before taking a full-time assistant job at Harvard. Jernstedt takes his place, and the former Towson defenseman figures to play a significant role in helping to develop a suddenly more veteran defense in Durham.
Duke’s final four streak might have ended at eight last season, but there’s plenty of talent remaining. The Blue Devils will score plenty, and if they can just slow teams down a bit, they might take their fourth Memorial Day victory lap in seven years.
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