- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - Duke doesn’t view this season as a rebuilding year.

Four starters are gone, including speedy guard Alexis Jones surprisingly transferred to Baylor.

But the Blue Devils still have Elizabeth Williams, and they believe they still have a chance to win a new-look Atlantic Coast Conference in which Notre Dame has replaced them as the obvious favorite.

Speaking before Duke’s first formal preseason practice, coach Joanne P. McCallie said Wednesday that “being the top dog is the dog to be” and that “our sights will remain the same.”

The players certainly aren’t.

Guards Chelsea Gray and Tricia Liston and forward Haley Peters graduated, and Jones in in Texas.

This post-centric team will revolve around Williams - a center and three-time ACC defensive player of the year - and the Blue Devils hope some complementary pieces develop between now and the Nov. 16 opener at Alabama.

“I don’t think we’ll be as fast-break-oriented,” McCallie said. “The ball getting down the floor on the pass, that should be very good. There will definitely be some interesting differences offensively, but to highlight the points in the paint will be critical. I feel you win games with points in the paint.”

And not just from Williams, either.

“For us to be successful, I can’t be the only one scoring,” Williams said.

McCallie has surrounded her with the tallest roster in school history - Williams is one of seven players who are 6-foot-3 or taller.

But they have limited game experience: they have five newcomers, and sophomore forward Oderah Chidom is the only other returner who played more than 500 minutes last season.

“We want to dominate the paint and get the ball to our inside players,” McCallie said. “We don’t have as many players creating off the bounce. I do think we’ll have a different feel, no question about it, because we have so much depth at the post position.”

That wasn’t the case last year, when a perimeter-dominated team had its Final Four hopes snuffed out in a second-round NCAA tournament loss to DePaul and finished 28-7.

The senior class of Liston, Peters and Gray spoke openly last year of finally getting to the national semifinals after reaching three consecutive regional finals.

These Blue Devils believe Williams can lead them there, even though they acknowledge the numerous unknowns they face.

“This year, obviously, with a completely new team, we have high expectations for ourselves,” Williams said. “It’s a process. It’s going to take some time for us to learn each other and what we’re capable of doing.”

They hope it will be enough to compete in a stacked ACC that includes the defending champion Fighting Irish as well as perennial power North Carolina and newcomer Louisville, which replaced Maryland after the Terrapins bolted for the Big Ten.

“I like our chances and I like our competitive spirit,” McCallie said. “This team is feisty and they’ve got a good … spirit of what they’re trying to do.”


Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at https://twitter.com/joedyap

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