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Power Rankings: Duke Blue Devils 2012-13 Roster

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Who's the Most Important Blue Devil for Coach K?

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There's no question when it comes to college coaches, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is the best--he's number one in career coaching victories with 943. And counting. The head coach of the most hated program in all of college sports has seen it all. He's coached some superstar players--I mean literally, he led Team USA to Olympic gold. On the college hardwood, he's had a myriad of special players play for him at Duke--from Johnny Dawkins to Christian Laettner to Bobby Hurley to Grant Hill--the list goes on and on.

Every season he puts together a team that is able to contend for not only the Atlantic Coast Conference title, but the NCAA title as well. This year is no different as players like Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly have the Blue Devils primed for a run into late March. A recent foot injury to Kelly has some people down on the Blue Devils but an injury to a key player is nothing new for Coach K. In 2001 Carlos Boozer broke his foot in February, but Duke still went on to win the championship. In 2011, freshman phenom Kyrie Irving's toe injury prevented Duke from advancing past the Sweet Sixteen. Way back in 1988, Elton Brand broke his foot but Duke persevered to the Final Four. Adversity is nothing new--in life and in sport.

The key to being a great coach--and a great team--is depth. Relying on players that aren't the prototypical superstar, who don't put up 15 points and 10 rebounds a game, who aren't looking for the spotlight yet thrive when it's cast upon them.

In order for Coach K to lead Duke to towards championship number five, he'll need every player on his roster to contribute. He's only working with 11 players this season due to circumstances I've yet to mention, but this shouldn't stop him from getting the Blue Devils ready for March.

So just who is the most important Blue Devil this season not named Coach K? Here's a look.

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No. 13 Rodney Hood

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A bruising forward who is sitting out this season after transferring in from Mississippi State, Hood will have an immediate impact next season for the Blue Devils. While in Starkville, he averaged 10.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2 assists per game for the Bulldogs. He's arguably one of the top players in the country and at 6'8" and 210 pounds, he'll add length and athleticism to a Duke team that looks to be in good shape for 2013-14. Surprisingly, he's only the fourth player to transfer to Duke under Coach K's tenure.

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No. 12 Andre Dawkins

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Dawkins is sitting out this season for personal reasons as he is still coping from the death of his sister but will return next season for his senior year. Dawkins has seen his playing time and productivity increase in each of his three seasons at Duke. He's a threat from the beyond the arc having knocked down 167 three-pointers while shooting 40.1% from three. He's a physical guard as well who can get to the basket and knock down his free throws. At 6'4", 215 pounds, he's a big body who can do a lot of things and create some match up problems.

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No. 11 Todd Zafirovski

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Someone has to be the guy at the end of the bench and Zafirovski is fine with that (pictured far right). The walk-on, now in his senior season, is more of a practice player than a game day option for Coach K. Z will see the floor in the occasional Duke blowout but you can catch him cheering on the guys playing. He's only got five points--all this season. Barring injuries piling up, he'll be relegated to the bench and getting the bigs ready for game day.

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No. 10 Marshall Plumlee

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Often times called the best Plumlee brother to walk through the doors at Cameron Indoor, redshirt freshman Marshall has yet to shine. He's a high energy guy like his brothers and can get up and down the floor pretty well for a big guy (6'11", 235 lbs.). Primarily a practice player, he's only played in six game this season--including the previous four--but an expanded role come March isn't out of the question. Coach K will look for Plumlee to help fill the void left when Mason leaves for the NBA after this season.

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No. 9 Alex Murphy

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After redshirting his freshman year, Murphy, with the tongue out, was expected to play an increased role this year—things don’t always work out how they’re supposed to. With only 5.5 minutes per game, he’s proven he is a decent shooter (48.1 FG%) and outside of his seven-rebound game against Delaware, he hasn’t exactly used his 6’8” frame effectively on the boards. He’s towards Big Z at the end of the bench but certainly has the ability.

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No. 8 Josh Hairston

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Hairston averages only 12 minutes per game but is a big body in the post. He’s not asked to do too much for the Blue Devils but he’s plenty adequate to provide the occasional breather for the other bigs. He’s averaging just over two rebounds per game but has a knack on the offensive glass. He gave Duke good minutes in their loss to North Carolina State but at this point in the season, it’s looking like Jefferson has surpassed him on the depth chart.

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No. 7 Amile Jefferson

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Jefferson, a freshman from Philadelphia, has seen a spike in minutes during Ryan Kelly’s absence. He’s an athletic forward who can run the floor and get back on transition defense. Jefferson has totaled 16 points and 14 rebounds in the past two games and is providing a bit of an inside presence, having swatted three shots. In Duke’s win over Georgia Tech, he grabbed six offensive boards. If he can prove to Coach K that he can give them solid minutes, it’ll bode well for Jefferson once the postseason comes.

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No. 6 Tyler Thornton

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A true defensive nuisance, Thornton gives Duke a lockdown defender. He’s a hustle guy with a lot of toughness who’s the first one on the floor diving for a loose ball. He’s not the best shooter (38.5% career FG%) but he makes up for with the D. He’s averaging 1.6 steals per game, good for 6th in the ACC—and his ball pressure has created plenty more turnovers. He’s also a solid rebounder (2.4 rpg) and good ball-handler—in Duke’s lopsided win against Delaware, Thornton grabbed six rebounds and handed out 10 assists. If you're looking for one guy on a roster to disrupt a ball-handler, Thornton is it.

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No. 5 Rasheed Sulaimon

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Nolan Smith 2.0. Sulaimon adds a bit of everything to this Duke squad—he can score, rebound, defend, run the floor, knock down a three—you get the idea. He’ll fill up a stat sheet though you might not even know he’s out there. He’s grabbed 5+ rebounds in nine games this season and has scored in double-digits 11 times. He’s a slasher on offense, can get to the rack and can shoots 76.1% from the line. He’s the fifth-best player on this team but he’d be a top-2 or 3 player at a lot of other programs. And he’s only a freshman.

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No. 4 Quinn Cook

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The floor general for this Duke team, Cook is another guy that does it all. His 11.5 points per game are good for fourth on the team but he can certainly dish out the assists—he’s 2nd in the ACC in assists per game with 6.1. He’s quite the thief as well, averaging 1.9 steals per game—he’s had a steal in all but four games this season. He’s prone to turnovers but has done a better job of late and seems to be settling into the point guard role. He’s also a threat to step back and make a three, where he’s shooting over 40%, but Duke would rather him focus on creating shots for the big three.

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No. 3 Mason Plumlee

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Yes this is a real photo--from a fast-break against Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

So how is a guy up for the Wooden Award not the best player on his own team? Plumlee is having a monster senior season, averaging career bests in points (17.4), rebounds (11.5), assists (1.9) and blocks (1.7). He dominated the post like few others in college basketball and watching him get his 6’10”, 235 pound frame up and down the court is just as impressive. Cody Zeller from Indiana might be the only other big guy in college hoops that gets down the floor more ably than Plumlee. He’s really the only big man on Duke’s roster not named Ryan Kelly that teams have to focus on--and that’s a problem. The last time Plumlee reached his season points average was on December 29th against Santa Clara. In his last two games, with Kelly out, he’s 14-30 from the floor, well below his 59.1% season average. He’s still putting up solid numbers which makes Duke a threat in March.

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No. 2 Seth Curry

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Another Wooden Award watch list player, Seth Curry like his brother and father is a long-range threat—making 45.7% of his threes, good for third in the ACC. And he’s not just a spot-up shooter--he can stop on a dime in transition, step back and knock it down. You’d think a guy averaging almost 17 points per game would be able to run the floor, but Curry can’t really run the floor. He’s a shooter, through and through, and they’ve seen their fair share of them at Duke. He’s a talented, hard-working player with good instincts and can flat out shoot the rock.

How is Curry higher on the list than Plumlee, you ask? His ability to draw defenders to the perimeter allows mismatches down low and prevents teams from doubling Plumlee. The one knock on Curry, besides his lack of speed, is his defense—both related to his leg injuries. He’s not a liability, but he’s no Tyler Thornton either. But when the game is on the line, Curry is the guy that needs the ball in his hands.

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No. 1 Ryan Kelly

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The proverbial “glue guy,” Kelly is the one who ties this Duke team together. Without him, they’re a good team but not a team that really scares a lot of people. Ask Lehigh about that. The same foot injury that kept him out of the NCAA Tourney last season is the one that’s keeping him out now. With him, they’re downright scary. His 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game won’t wow you, but what he means to this team cannot be quantified. At 6’11” tall, he is a matchup nightmare—he’s a force in the paint on both offense and defense. He can step out and knock down a three and actually shoots it at a higher percentage from deep than not (52.1 3FG% to 47.1 FG%). In his absence, despite Curry stepping up his offensive output, Duke lost its only game of the season at NC State. With Kelly on the floor, they win by 10. They’re No. 1 in the AP Top 25 but without Kelly, they’re not the best team.

Is he better than Curry or Plumlee? No. But is he more important to Duke’s success in the postseason? Absolutely.