At 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country it is hard for Duke not to have a claim on being the best team in the country.
Heading into a nearly two-week break before their next game the Blue Devils have distanced themselves from every team in the country with the exception of Indiana. If you compare their schedules, aside from a couple of nice wins for the Hoosiers against North Carolina and Georgetown, their schedule pales in comparison to Duke’s.
The Blue Devils have beaten the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 teams in the country this season as well as getting several other solid victories over teams that are likely to be in the NCAA Tournament. The start is impressive considering many were not expecting this Duke team to be as good as some of their preseason rankings. It is not a great team, but it is a good team and at times this season they have been very good.
One of the keys is that unlike last year this group is playing like a team. They are communicating better, they are playing substantially better defense and they are a much more balanced team than they were last season.
Heading into the season there was a lot of doubters who suspected that this year’s Blue Devils were no better than last year’s team and without a marquee player like Austin Rivers, some thought they might even be worse, but it is clear that those thoughts couldn’t be further from reality.
Duke is actually much better without Rivers who dominated the ball on offense and wasn’t a very good defensive player. The Blue Devils have shifted the focus of the offense this season to Mason Plumlee who has shown that big men who stay in college can in fact develop into All-American type players, and at 19 points and 11 rebounds per game he is having an All-American type season.
Plumlee has been a dominate player in just about every game, something Duke fans have hoped for since his arrival on campus and something they now are getting to see.
The emergence of Quinn Cook as a true point guard, something the Blue Devils didn’t have last season. Cook has shown the ability to break down defenders and get into the paint. He can finish plays and has the court vision to find open guys. So far he is averaging almost 11 points per game and nearly 6 assists and only about 3 turnovers per game.
His ability to run the offense has been a major difference in the half-court offense that last year relied almost entirely on setting screens for guards and letting Rivers try to create off the dribble. Now they are getting better shots and moving the ball much better with Cook in the drivers seat.
Still this team has gone back to a staple of what has made Duke the program it has been over the years– defense. The Blue Devils have not given up more than 71 points in any game and with the addition of freshman Rasheed Sulaimon in addition to the defensive improvement of Cook the perimeter defense, a major concern last year, has been much improved.
This Duke team may not be the top ranked team and it is impossible to know if they are truly better than Indiana, but if you just look at this team play and you look at who they have beaten and how they have beaten them, it is hard not to consider how the Blue Devils aren’t possibly the best team in the country.
Whether they keep it up remains to be seen but right now this team is riding high and still can get better. Now just mull that over for the next week and a half.