After an incredibly unimpressive win over Vermont this past Sunday night, which Mike Krzyzewski said the team treated like a loss, the Blue Devils made it a point of emphasis to pick up the defensive intensity and communicate better as a unit. That intensity and effort led to a 74-64 victory over the Crimson Tide.
The commitment to better defense was noticeable from the opening tip. Mike Krzyzewski shook things up by inserting Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton, two of the team’s captains, into the starting lineup and it was obvious the Blue Devils were much more active and vocal. There were better rotations on screens and Alabama had trouble getting good looks at the basket.
Unfortunately, while Duke’s defense was much improved, the offense was non-existent for the first few minutes. The Blue Devils trailed 12-5 at the under 12-minute media timeout and Jabari Parker was struggling. Then, another decorated freshman stepped in and gave the team a lift.
Matt Jones came off the bench and knocked down three-pointers for Duke on back-to-back possessions. It was a huge spark for the offense that began to click and it was the beginning of a great night for Jones, who finished with 13 points and three rebounds and played terrific defense.
Along with Jones, Jabari Parker eventually settled in and showed why he’s arguably the best player in the country. Parker put the team on his back in the second half when Alabama appeared poised to make a spirited comeback and had multiple clutch baskets when no one else for Duke could generate any type of offense.
Parker finished with 27 points (his seventh straight game scoring at least 20 points) and grabbed nine rebounds, but it’s still a cause for concern that the offense appears to revolve entirely around him at certain points in the game.
At one point in the second half, Duke had extended its lead to 18 points and it looked to be the perfect time to finish the opponent and come away with an easy victory. Instead, similar to the games against ECU and Vermont, the Blue Devils relaxed and allowed the Crimson Tide to climb back into the game, cutting the deficit to just five points with 5:17 remaining. Although they were able to reestablish a comfortable margin down the stretch, it still has to be disappointing to Mike Krzyzewski that his team allowed an opponent back into a game again.
While there were some positives to take away from the win over Alabama, there are still some potential major issues that could get exposed against Arizona on Friday night in the NIT Tip-Off Championship.
Against a team as good as Arizona, the Blue Devils will need balance and strong performances from everyone. Rodney Hood will need to be more of a factor. Quinn Cook will need to be more consistent. And Rasheed Sulaimon will need to show he can have some type of impact on a game.
Regardless of the outcome, playing against Arizona will be a great test that helps Duke get better. It’s a measuring stick to help address areas of improvement when they face marquee opponents later in the year. Hopefully the Blue Devils will measure up well against one of the other elite teams in college basketball.