Duke fans, there is absolutely no reason to be worried after the loss to Kansas. The game means absolutely nothing to our season except for bragging rights. Of course, as Duke fans, we are used to Duke winning all of their early season games because Coach K has his teams more prepared than most coaches. The difference between those years and this year is youth and inexperience. Normally Duke, (unfortunately) peaks in the middle of the season before tiring out during tournament time and losing in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8. I do not believe that is the case for this team. With the depth and athleticism Duke has, expect them to have some growing pains early on. When they figure it out, especially defensively, this Duke team will be one of the best we have ever seen. We will be thankful for the lessons these early losses taught the team mentally. Here are some of the reasons I believe there is absolutely no reason to panic.
Free Throw Shooting:
Duke was a miserable 16-28 from the free throw line, including 3 missed front ends of one and ones in the first half. Duke had a pretty steady lead of around 6-8 points early on. If they make half of the free throws they missed and go into halftime with a 10 plus point lead, I think the game turns out much differently. Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones were a combined 2-6 from the line. They are two of the best free throw shooters on the team so do not expect that again. The only bright spot from the line was Jabari Parker who went 5-5. Coach K will force them to work on their free throws until they improve drastically, and this team is full of good shooters so I do not expect this to be an ongoing problem.
Everyone said Duke’s achilles heel this year would be their inability to defend post players. Tarik Black, a transfer from Memphis who actually considered going to Duke, had only one point and one rebound. Their other center, Joel Embiid, who is an absolute stud with potential to be the first overall pick in next year’s NBA draft, was a lousy 1-4 with 2 points, but did do well on the boards with 7 rebounds. Amile Jefferson was guarding people bigger and stronger players than him all night and stood his ground. The 25 pounds of muscle he added along with his 7’1” wingspan gives him the ability to guard any center in the country. Amile has also made huge strides offensively and he is a huge mismatch on that side of the floor, especially if the opposing team’s center is slow on his feet. Marshall Plumlee is not an offensive threat but works harder than anyone. Duke needs him to be a Brian Zoubek type player when he is in, by playing scrappy defense and getting offensive rebounds. I firmly believe he has the ability to do so.
The only worrisome thing I saw in the Kansas game was Duke’s inability to rebound, granted most of the loose balls somehow bounced Kansas’ way. They were outrebounded 39-24 and 9 of those rebounds came from Jabari. Duke’s centers had a combined one rebound for the whole game which will have to improve. I noticed they were doing a lot of standing around while the ball was in the air and did not box out which is a problem Coach K can fix with ease.
Overall I thought Duke played pretty well against Kansas. Jabari Parker is just absolutely amazing and in my opinion is much better than Andrew Wiggins. Rasheed came in and played very well, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot in the 2nd half to keep Duke in it. Our on ball defense was spectacular in the first half and basically throughout the game, Kansas just hit some incredible shots in the 2nd half. If Duke would have lost this game last year, I would be worried because of the experience and leadership they had on the team with the 3 seniors. This team is still trying to figure out its identity and Coach K is still experimenting with different lineups to see who plays best together as a unit. This is a Duke team loaded with talent, shooters, athleticism and on top of that, every single player on the team loves one another. I can’t remember a Duke team that was so closely bonded. They aren’t only a team, I believe they view themselves as a family. Duke may lose 2 or 3 more games early on this season, but when this team finally gels and is at its best, expect them to be nearly unbeatable.