College Crosse's Impossibly Early, Definitely Perfect (Sort of), Rock-Solid (Maybe) Fall Ball Top 20: Duke (1)

USA TODAY Sports

The reigning national champions end the countdown.

The 2014 season is months away. Let's punch fate in the face and make wild assumptions about what could be the best 20 teams in the country next year.

Team: Duke

Rank: 1

Important People: Jordan Wolf (A); Josh Dionne (A); Henry Lobb (D); Chris Hipps (D); Kyle Turri (G); Myles Jones (M); Case Matheis (A); Brendan Fowler (FOGO)

Formerly Important People: Bill Conners (D); David Lawson (M); Josh Offit (M); Jake Tripucka (M); Dan DiMaria (LSM); Greg DeLuca (SSDM)

Final 2013 Poll Positions: Media: 1; Coaches: 4

2013 Record: 16-5 (2-1, ACC)

2013 Snapshot: Kaboom!

* * * * *

Nightmare Fuel
The recalibration of Duke's offensive midfield is fairly substantial, even with the talent that dots the Devils' roster at the position. Gone from the first unit are Lawson and Tripucka, two cats that were timely performers and senior contributors that combined for 101 points and generated value both in their goal scoring ability and their penchant for finding opportunities to move the ball. The second line losses Offit, a steadying factor that kept Deemer Class and Jones on track in their development. As a result, Duke is facing a situation where it's building a midfield rotation with a converted attackman (Christian Walsh), two sophomores (Jones and Class) that were able to contribute at their own pace in 2013, and a host of options that haven't been put in a position -- at Duke -- to carry the load they will be asked to carry. The fear associated with this uncertainty is that if Duke becomes too attack-oriented (and the Devils are going to have a face-melting attack), the offense -- on the whole -- could struggle against a slate of opposing defenses ripe with capable units. There are options here for the Blue Devils to develop (Will Haus taking on an established offensive midfield role is a strong possibility), but the overall layered issue remains: Are Duke's young midfield options ready to hammer the accelerator and what will the constitution of these lines look like? Leverage is vitally important to a complete offensive approach (Albany is a notable exception, but that's a completely different experience), and there are questions as to the form this leverage will take for Duke next spring.

A Thousand White Doves
John Danowski is still a person; importantly, Danowski is still a person employed at Duke to ensure that the Blue Devils' lacrosse team does what it does best -- steadily improve as the season approaches May, and then explode at the most important moment on the calendar. Not only do tons of assets return to Durham for the 2014 season, but these assets are -- in many instances -- upperclass assets supported by highly-regarded underclass talent:

  • The close defense returns two senior starters (Hipps and Lobb), two important long-stick defensive midfielders in Brian Dailey and Luke Duprey (a junior and a senior, respectively), and an emerging keeper in Turri (a junior that earned valuable experience last season). Even with questions at the short-stick defensive midfield position due to the graduation of DeLuca and the fluidity in Haus' situation, enough tent pole performers remain to build a unit capable of sufficiently complementing the team's offense. This isn't a rebuilding effort, and given where the Devils left off last year, momentum could be in the defense's favor. (And if Casey Carroll -- he's on the roster! -- has another run in him, Duke's defensive situation looks even brighter.)
  • Fowler is a possession-generation machine, sent from the future to frustrate opposing faceoff man in hilarious fashion. All the opportunities that he is going to provide Duke to make the scoreboard blink -- and to take heat off of the Devils' defense -- is a value that is difficult to fully understand. In a stacked conference of faceoff competency, Fowler keeps Duke on a level playing field.
  • Even with concerns about the constitution and fervor of Duke's offensive midfield, the situation isn't impossible to resolve: (1) That unit only needs to support one of the best attack units in the nation; and (2) There is high-end midfield talent there that should take a major step forward in 2014. Jones could become one of the five hardest matchups in college lacrosse next spring; he's poised to earn the nickname of "Unfair." Class has the tools to embarrass opposing keepers. And Walsh -- even as a hybrid-type player -- is a volatile weapon capable of notable damage. There's enough points there to still make the Blue Devils one of the most dangerous offenses in the nation.
  • How do you even address Wolf-Matheis-Dionne? Seriously. That's just atomic.

The Stars, The Moon, Six Feet Under
The Stars: Danowski finds a way to weaponize quotes from Slap Shot and Duke wins the national championship on that fact alone.

The Moon: The midfield fills its holes ably and the defense is strong enough to not limit Duke's season, earning the Devils a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament; enters the ACC Tournament as one of the top two seeds and advances to the tournament final; Wolf earns a nod as a Tewaaraton finalist.

Six Feet Under: Danowski spends too much time trying to weaponize quotes from Slap Shot and Duke can't get out of the hole they dug for themselves with an uneven start to the season.

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