Team Preview: 2014 Duke Blue Devils
By: Tobin Howes
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (884-238 at Duke, 957-297 overall)
2012-13 record: 30-6 (14-4 in the ACC)
They are the New York Yankees of college basketball. They win a lot—that means the team you cheer for will probably lose to them. What’s not to hate?
It has been a roller coaster ride for Duke fans the past two seasons: from losing in the first round of the big dance in 2012, they ground their way to an Elite Eight appearance this past year. It is easy to compare them to the Yankees, though; they are good every year. They have only been lower than a number two seed in the tournament twice since 1997 and have been a number one 10 out of those 16 years.
A team that is consistently good attracts top recruits, which is exactly who the Blue Devils received this year in the form of Jabari Parker. As Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee move on to their professional careers, the loss of their veteran leadership and fundamentals will be more than balanced by Parker’s sheer talent and athleticism. As the pundits on social media noted, maybe the NBA teams who considered “tanking” this year in order to receive the number one pick in the 2014 draft should be less concerned with “Riggin for Wiggins” and employ a bit of “Hari-Kari for Jabari.”
Strongside: Jabari Parker, Jabari Parker, Jabari Parker. As Jabari goes, so will the Blue Devils. Luckily for them, he has been going pretty darn well early on this season. He has only scored less than 20 in two of of their nine games so far and has been a solid presence on the boards, averaging nearly eight a game. He has demonstrated a well-balanced arsenal, from a silky smooth jumper to rim-rattling hops down low. Jabari still appears to be adjusting to Coach K’s defensive system but should have it down come tournament time. Regardless, he is a force around the basket who can elevate quickly and force attacking players to change their shot or block them entirely.
Both Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook are strong supporting players, providing solid defense and a bit of composure on the offensive end. If they can mesh with Jabari going forward it will spell trouble for opposing teams. Cook is a capable guard who can run an offense efficiently; Hood is the team captain and another powerful forward who can consistently get buckets.
Weakside: The Blue Devils have two forwards who possess the ability to change games; unfortunately, they only have one guard who fits that profile. Guard play is incredibly important in the tournament and this is where Duke appears to be lacking. While Cook is a more than serviceable starter, there is no secondary help. Rasheed Sulaimon was earmarked as the other starting guard at the beginning of the year but has yet to match, let alone exceed, his performance from last season. If the Blue Devils want to win a national championship it will be necessary for either Sulaimon or Andre Dawkins to emerge as an equal to Quinn Cook.
Another point of concern is the fact that Duke has no true center. Yes, they have 6’11” Marshall Plumlee (younger brother of Mason), but he has yet to mature. This is less of a problem on the offensive end, since Hood and Parker (both 6’8”) create serious mismatches for any center guarding them on the perimeter due to their quickness. They also counter zone schemes well since they can both hit threes. But lack of size will definitely be a problem under their own basket against larger teams, leading to lots of second chances for their opponents. This has already been a trend early in the season: the Blue Devils currently sit 274th in the nation in rebounding.
All Told: Although they have posted losses in their first two games against highly ranked opponents early this season, don’t count out this Duke team. If Parker performs to his potential and his supporting cast improves over the course of this season, the Blue Devils have Final Four written all over them.
Tobin Howes is more myth than man, yet more beast than myth. He has been known to disappear to the Southern Hemisphere for months at a time but his love of North American sports always brings him back. His turn-ons include but are not limited to girls in high socks, well cooked broccoli, and the smell of dryer sheets. Turn-offs are pencils, girls in short socks, and Maroon 5.