Every time the Duke Blue Devils come into an opposing school’s arena, that school gives the Blue Devils everything they have, both on the court and in the stands. People cannot stand Duke because of their sustained success at the top of college basketball year in and year out, and Duke is reminded of how much they are disliked every day. After every road loss, Duke players and coaches rush off the court as their opposition’s fans and students rush onto the court.
Nothing satisfies a college basketball program more than beating Duke. However, this year those schools who knock off Duke should not be as surprised as they would be in past years. This year’s Duke team already has four losses, has dropped Duke out of the AP Top 10 for the first time in 122 weeks, and is currently ranked outside of the top 20. Duke’s issues that have led to such struggle thus far are obvious: lack of rebounding, limited scoring threats, and no experience.
Lets start off with experience, which has been Duke’s third biggest issue thus far. Duke lost three seniors from last year’s team in Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, and Seth Curry. These seniors were the leaders of Duke last year, and leadership is something Duke also lacks along with experience. Curry was the main scoring threat and Kelly along with Plumlee followed. Plumlee averaged double digit rebounds per game with Kelly helping on the glass as well. Not only were Curry, Kelly, and Plumlee Duke’s three best players, scoring threats, and leaders, they were also experienced.
Going into the season, it should have been no surprise that Duke would lack leadership, scoring threats, and experience considering their three best players from last year’s squad were seniors, two of which went onto the NBA in Plumlee and Kelly, with Curry floating between teams. Duke’s leader this year, junior PG Quinn Cook, is use to being in the shadow of Plumlee, Kelly, and Curry, as he was the past two years.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) has tried multiple starting lineups, rotating Rasheed Sulaimon with Tyler Thornton, and Amile Jefferson with Josh Hairston. The man who’s been in the starting lineup every game has been Quinn Cook, besides freshman phenom Jabari Parker and transfer Rodney Hood, but this is both of their first year in Duke’s program.
Quinn Cook is a leader in the sense that he facilitates the offense, but the difference between him and the three seniors from last year is quite simple: Cook has not made the big shot to put an opposing team away or to put Duke back in a game. Instead, that duty has gone to freshman Jabari Parker, who has not been able to make the big shot either.
Sure, Duke has two seniors in Tyler Thornton and Andre Dawkins, but this is Thornton’s first year getting any type of significant playing time, plus he’s a non-factor on offense, and Dawkins has not been getting substantial minutes, as he returns from his year off, to be a significant factor. Bottom line is, Duke has no leadership, not even one guy they can count on when it matters, unlike the three they had last year.
Duke’s second biggest issue is the lack of scoring threats. Every game Duke’s scoring has either come from Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, Parker and Quinn Cook, or Cook and Hood, but it has not consistently came from all three. However, Duke’s scoring success and winning has ridden and died with freshman Jabari Parker, which should not be the case. With the exception of the Kansas game, the rest of Duke’s three losses have been in games where Parker has shot poorly from the field. He shot 7 of 21 from the field with 19 points in the loss to Arizona, 2 of 10 with 7 points in the loss to Notre Dame, and 5 of 13 with 15 points in Duke’s most recent loss to Clemson.
This is absolutely unacceptable and rare from a Duke team coached by Mike Krzyzewski. It’s one thing to have a correlation between losses and the performance of one player, but it’s a completely different situation when that player is a freshman. Of course, Parker is one of the best players in college basketball, who will certainly be a top five pick should he leave for the NBA; but his individual performance should not dictate Duke’s success, that is too much pressure for Parker.
Instead, Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook need to become consistent scoring threats, and the scoring needs to pick up from the bench, as Rasheed Sulaimon and Andre Dawkins get more minutes.
Duke’s biggest problem which was known by all teams heading into the season, is their dreadful, just dreadful rebounding, both offensive and defensive. Not one Blue Devil has more than eight rebounds per game, as Jabari Parker leads the team with 7.6 rebounds per game and Amile Jefferson is second with 6.3 rebounds per game. Duke ranks 227th in the nation in rebounding and when you look at their losses and struggles to win games, it all goes back to the rebounding.
80% of the time, the team who out-rebounds their opponent wins the game. Too many times Duke has been the team out-rebounded, which makes them look worse in other aspects of the game. If Duke was a solid rebounding team like other top teams, their lack of scoring threats and leadership wouldn’t be as evident as they are. Rebounding is the key to winning, plain and simple. Duke’s opponents cannot win if they are only getting the ball after a made Duke shot, and that goes for all teams.
Will Duke make the tournament this year? Of course they will, they’re Duke. Could they drop out of the top 25? It is very possible with the way they’ve been playing lately.
Home court is huge in college basketball, and Duke is close to unbeatable at Cameron Indoor Stadium; but Duke has not been losing on the road because they are not on their home court. Yes the majority of Duke’s losses come on the road, but the reason they are losing on the road all comes back to their lack of rebounding, scoring threats, and experience.
Should Duke continue their struggle, a double-digit loss season with an early tournament exit could be the fate of Duke this year. But, if Duke’s improves on the glass along with finding more consistent threats to score the basketball, this young Duke team could gel and have success in March. Coach K has one of his toughest coaching jobs in a while.
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