Duke is 2-0 against the best the great state of Kentucky has to offer in terms of college basketball teams, but that isn’t all we learned from the Blue Devils victory over Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament.
This is a Blue Devil team that is carrying a great weight on their shoulders following the misery of how the 2012 season ended and the expectation is to be better is clearly present. And this team at the moment is certainly better, at least right now they are.
One of the biggest things we have seen from this Duke team that we didn’t always see from last year’s team was the ability to persevere through tough situations and show great poise and maturity. The Blue Devils essentially lead Louisville from the opening tip but when they gave up the lead late in the game they did not fold.
Last year’s Duke team may have folded at times under similar circumstances, but this year’s team responded on both ends of the floor. They got key stops and hit some key shots. If that teaches us anything about this team it is that they can, at least at this point in the season, respond to adversity on the court and make winning plays.
We also learned that Duke’s search for a solid point guard may be over for now. The Blue Devils starter, Quinn Cook, stepped up big time and hit some of those key shots, but he also responded to his own adversity to make those plays.
Cook got into foul trouble late in the game, and when Duke needed him the most and after sitting briefly, he came in and helped lead the team to the win and took home the MVP of the Tournament in the process. Cook isn’t Bobby Hurley, Jay Williams or Kyrie Irving, but he has talent and skill, and if he can continue to grow and mature Duke is going to be tough to beat.
If you didn’t know that Duke’s Mason Plumlee is the real deal before the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament you certainly should know t now. Plumlee has scored in double figures in every game and is averaging a double-double on the season, and he has done it all against some quality competition.
He has matured and developed into a complete player and while he still has his flaws he is starting to show the consistency that Duke fans have been waiting to see since stepped on campus. He has shown he can dominate games and hit big shots, especially from the free throw line. With him playing at such a high level it is hard to not see Duke surpassing the team from last season.
Duke also has some incredible balance in scoring. Their starting five are almost all averaging double figures in scoring and that makes this team incredibly dangerous. Rasheed Sulaimon is truly a star in the making on both ends of the court and he is playing well beyond his years.
The one area that remains a concern and the Atlantis Tournment continued to show, is that the Duke the bench production is nowhere near where it needs to be. Duke is playing four guys off the bench but only Tyler Thornton played significant minutes.
Josh Hairston spelled Mason Plumlee and or Ryan Kelly as did Amile Jefferson but the drop off in production is dramatic when they are on the floor. The solution would appear to be Alex Murphy but that situation remains a riddle wrapped inside a mystery. He would appear to be the one player with scoring potential yet he has played very little and not at all in two games this year.
Duke is going to need to get something from the bench to go where they want to. That doesn’t mean they have to light up the stat sheet but they can’t continue to put up nothing in terms of points and production.
Overall the team appears to be on the right track but the season is still young, still it is hard to see after two big victories and a title to their name, that Duke isn’t a better team right now than they were this time last season.