With an up and down regular season and the ACC tournament behind them, Duke Basketball is looking to make a final four run in this years NCAA Tournament. From the early 15 game win streak, to Ryan Kelly’s injury to a disappointing performance in the ACC Tournament last week, this season has been both exciting and frustrating for Duke.
They are a team that seems to be one of the best squads in the country one game only to look tired and unmotivated the next. In the games Duke has played well, they have proved they can be good enough to reach Atlanta, but they must play well consistently and not take games and sometimes halves off to be successful in this goal. For the Blue Devils to have a shot a Final Four this season (and they undoubtedly have the talent to), there are some things that they must do.
1.) Rebounding-Duke simply has to rebound the ball better then they did during the year. They can’t continue to give teams two, three and sometimes even four opportunities to score if they want to be successful. Offensive rebounds often lead to open shots for the opposing team, especially from the three point line and in the paint. For Duke to rebound better and more consistently, other players need to help Mason Plumlee on the boards. Ryan Kelly at the four and whichever player is in the three spot (it could be anyone from Rasheed Sulaimon to Tyler Thornton to Seth Curry) need to make a concentrated effort and be persistent going after rebounds while Duke’s guards need to be aware of long rebounds off of bad shots.
2.) Perimeter Defense-In the NCAA Tournament, a recipe for disaster is letting the opposing team’s guards get into the paint. While they did a good job with it at the beginning of the season, Duke’s perimeter defense of late has left a lot to be desired. Opposing guards have been beating Duke off the dribble on the perimeter and getting into the paint far too often. Once an offensive player is in the paint with the ball they have all the tools they need to get to the rim and score, or dish to an open shooter or cutter once the defense is forced to rotate over and help. This is amplified for Duke since they do not have a consistent rim protecting presence inside. For that reason Duke’s guards must keep the player’s they are guarding in front of them. Miami guard Shane Larkin and Maryland guard Dez Wells are examples of opposing perimeter players who were recently able to carve up Duke’s defense by getting into the paint. Starting this Friday, Duke cannot let this happen.
3.) No More Slow Starts-This year’s Duke team has had the undesirable habit of starting out games slow. This happens to every team occasionally but it has happened far too often for Duke this season. The Blue Devils cannot afford to dig themselves into a hole at the beginning of the game only to spend the rest of it attempting to play catch up. It is undoubtedly frustrating when a team with as much talent as Duke fails show up to play and looks tired and unmotivated. This is not a blueprint for success but rather one for an early exit from the tournament. Duke needs to start off games focused, prepared and hungry.
4.) Perimeter Shooting-This year’s Duke team is not solely dependent on three-point shooting, but it is an important component to their success and will have a big impact on whether or not they reach Atlanta. When the Blue Devils combine Mason Plumlee producing in the paint with their guards (plus Ryan Kelly) shooting well from three, they are a dangerous and versatile offensive team, one that is a nightmare to guard. The inside/outside game Duke possesses this year is what has made their offense so volatile. When they are making threes it opens up the court for drives and for Mason to operate in the post with single coverage. If Duke is not making threes it takes away an important component of their offense and puts a lot of pressure on Mason Plumlee in the paint. The three ball can be a game changer, and Duke must knock them down to advance to the Final Four.
5.) Seniors-Duke is an experienced team this year, led by their three talented seniors Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly. All three average double digit points and all three are in the starting lineup. They are the last class still at Duke from the 2010 team that won the National Championship. These three seniors have played in the NCAA Tournament three times before and have an incredible amount of experience between them. They need to use this experience to lead Duke through the tournament. They need to be consistent, dependable, confident and poised. It is important for them to help the younger players on the team who do not have as much experience and may need to the support of their older teammates. These seniors have been there before. They know what it feels like to win a championship and they know what it feels like to be knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the first game they play. This is the last time they will ever get to go out on a court with a Duke jersey on, so they need to play with appropriate urgency and passion the situation calls for.