Harding's return bolsters Blue Devils

Updated: October 19, 2005, 8:00 AM ET
By Peter Newmann | Special to ESPN.com

How could Duke not be No. 1? The top seven scorers return. One of the top two recruiting classes in the country is coming in. The starting point guard from two years ago is back. And the coach won a gold medal this summer.

Key additions:
Lindsey Harding, jr., 5-8
Abby Waner, fr., 5-10
Emily Waner, so., 5-8

Key losses:
Wynter Whitley, 5.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg

Projected starters:
G -- Jessica Foley
G -- Lindsey Harding
G -- Monique Currie
F -- Mistie Williams
C -- Alison Bales

Duke has the most talent and most depth it has ever had. In the past, depth has been a problem; in two of the last four years, the Blue Devils were down to eight players by season's end. But Lindsey Harding's return and a great recruiting class give coach Gail Goestenkors a 13-player roster.

Harding, suspended for all of 2004-05 for an unspecified violation of team rules, was the starting point guard for two seasons (2002-04) prior to sitting out last year. It's probably no coincidence that Duke committed 104 more turnovers last season than in 2003-04, and dished out 29 fewer assists (admittedly, the Blue Devils played two fewer games). Harding's return only bolsters Duke's great passing ability and unselfish play.

Abby Waner, a Gatorade and McDonald's National High School Player of the Year, will be an instant impact as a freshman. She is a pure scorer who averaged more than 30 points per game in high school. She will back up the shooting guard and small forward positions. Waner's sister, Emily, also joins the Blue Devils after transferring from Colorado, and will be the backup point guard.

Talent isn't in short supply, either. Monique Currie is the top shooting guard in the country and best player on the team. She could have graduated last year (Currie redshirted 2002-03 after suffering a torn ACL in an exhibition game), but decided to come back for her fifth season in Durham for one reason -- she wants to win a title. Currie is the primary scorer and most clutch player on the team. She made three game-winning shots last season, including one at Tennessee.

Mistie Williams is the probable second-leading scorer and the top post threat. Alison Bales, a 6-foot-7 junior, also is a huge, game-changing presence inside. She was sixth in the nation in blocks last season at 3.7 per game and anchors a very good defense that limited opponents to 33.4 percent from the field, which ranked second in the country.

But while the strengths are defense and depth, as well as the senior leadership provided by Currie, Williams and Jessica Foley, the weakness -- if there is one -- is that Duke has never won an NCAA title before. Since 1999, the Blue Devils have reached the Final Four three times. Twice they lost in the national semifinals and once in the NCAA championship game.

They aren't used to winning the biggest games on the grandest stage, but that should change this season behind Goestenkors. After leading Team USA to a gold medal at the U-19 World Championships, the six-time ACC coach of the year and four-time national coach of the year is back for her 14th season -- which should be her best yet.

Peter Newmann is the college basketball researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at peter.d.newmann@espn.com.