Similar to as it does every year in late February and early March, the Duke basketball team is hoping to use the next couple weeks to prepare for a deep postseason run in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
When the Blue Devils play well, they’ve shown the potential to compete with anyone in the country and have the ability to cut down the nets at the Final Four. However, when they aren’t on top of their game, this season’s team is particularly vulnerable to upsets.
The key for teams that have postseason success always includes peaking at the right time. Many Duke teams of the past have unfortunately peaked at earlier points in the season, and can’t manage to play their best when the games matter most.
It doesn’t feel like this year’s squad has peaked yet, and hopefully we’ll see that over the next six weeks. If that doesn’t happen, here are some of the biggest concerns as the Blue Devils enter the postseason.
The games at Syracuse, North Carolina, and against Kansas have all shown the challenges Duke has when its frontcourt players find themselves in foul trouble. Jabari Parker fouled out against Kansas and Syracuse, and Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee were both saddled with foul problems against the Tar Heels. If Duke has to face a bigger team that consistently gets the ball in the paint and attack the glass, it will be critical for Jefferson, Parker and Plumlee to stay out of foul trouble. Without some combination of these three on the floor, it creates difficult match-ups where smaller guys have to play out of position for Duke, which affects the team on both ends of the floor.
Strong Rebounding Teams
For a team that ranks 12th in the ACC in rebounding margin at 1.5, the Blue Devils must break even in the post and then capitalize on the advantages they have from the perimeter. Teams that have had success on the boards against Duke this season have often been able to hang around in games, particularly when they’re able to get offensive rebounds. Duke’s defense hasn’t been consistent enough to string together consecutive possessions of stops, and letting teams get extra opportunities to score with offensive rebounds has been a big part of the reason for the defensive struggles.
Poor Perimeter Shooting
It could be a symptom of tired legs, but it’s cause for concern that Duke is currently on a five-game stretch of scoring less than 70 points. The Blue Devils haven’t been nearly as effective from the perimeter as they were earlier in the season, and this has always been a huge component of the offensive attack. Andre Dawkins has been relatively quiet over the past few games and it would be great if he could catch a hot streak for the tournament, especially considering he’s one of the few players on the team with significant postseason experience. The offense also needs to recognize the adjustments that need to be made when outside shots aren’t falling, which it’s struggled with at times this season.
Point Guard Play
This has been a transition for the team over the past few weeks, and it will be interesting to see if Mike Krzyzewski decides to take a point guard by committee approach for the postseason. Quinn Cook has been coming off the bench because he’s struggled with consistency, which has increased the ballhandling opportunities for Tyler Thornton and Rasheed Sulaimon. Sulaimon has proven to be an excellent distributor and can create opportunities with his driving ability, but he still doesn’t have much experience as the point guard. Point guard play is often critical for teams that make runs in the postseason. Hopefully it doesn’t emerge as a weakness for Duke.
While the defense has grown a great deal throughout the season, it’s still one of the biggest challenges for this year’s team. Duke allows opponents to shoot nearly 45 percent per game, which is 13th in the ACC, ranking only ahead of Notre Dame and Boston College. One of the things I always watch for with teams in big games is how many times they can string together back-to-back stops on defense – Duke hasn’t been able to do it in big games this season. It’s tough to envision a scenario where the light suddenly comes on for the Blue Devils and they begin playing good defense against better competition, but maybe the extra couple weeks of practice team will help them correct some of the issues.
What do you think could be some of Duke’s biggest challenges in the postseason? Share your thoughts in the comments section.