Having endured a 2012-13 season weighted by pressures of being the best in the ACC, NC State coach Mark Gottfried is all too willing to put that onus on another program for next season.
His choice is a coach and school used to modeling the target: Mike Krzyzewski and Duke. And Gottfried isn't just saying that the Blue Devils will be the ACC's best next year; he's declaring the team should be the preseason No. 1 in the nation. This goes against convention to a certain extent, as plenty of publishers will be putting Kentucky at the top of their rankings come October.
But Gottfried's going to bat for his conference brethren. Gottfried spoke to the News & Record of Greensboro, N.C., about how great Duke should be in 2013-14.
"We'll all have a great time trying to get ready for that," Gottfried said bemusedly. That's why, when handicapping the league at the beginning of July, Gottfried's eyes are straying to Durham. "I can't imagine anybody else being picked No. 1 in the country than Duke."
The Blue Devils get Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, who'll be a redshirt sophomore, as well as Jabari Parker, the No. 2 recruit in this year's freshman class. Add on an improved Rasheed Sulaimon (I love his game), Quinn Cook snugging into the role at point guard, Amile Jefferson stepping in at power forward, Andre Dawkins coming back for his final year after taking a year off. Then there are two other freshmen whom you'll hear plenty about: Semi Ojeleye and Matt Jones. The Blue Devils will be undersized but very skilled.
Hood tweaked his Achilles while training with USA Basketball last month, but Duke doctors expect him to be fully available by the start of the season. I wouldn't be shocked if the team spends a few weeks next year atop the polls, but they won't be the preseason No. 1 or 2 team, primarily because of that lack of size.
As for NC State, all of this is a big departure from last July. The Wolfpack lost big pieces in Lorenzo Brown, C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell. Last July, it was an optimistic outlook for Gottfried's program.
"I'm realistic to know that our expectations are not very high right now," Gottfried said. "I go to the grocery store and get the guy in the grocery store saying, 'Hang in there, coach. It's going to be a long year for you.' But maybe we're a team that can surprise some people."
"I think our guys understand that most people are going to consider us to be pretty bad," Gottfried said. "But I think we have a real confident group of guys. "Even though we're young and somewhat naive, we get it."
So goes the cycle in college basketball. Young and old, healthy and not. High and low, a rotation of expectations. Well, for most teams. Then there are others. Like Duke. It's just another season of Final Four designs for that program.