I have been pessimistic at times with this Duke team and many people felt the same after last night. I cannot explain exactly what happened, but last night I saw where this Duke team could be. They are not there yet but still hung with a very talented Arizona team despite an off game for Jabari Parker. Arizona is a very talented team and is closer to a finished product than Duke right now. Despite this, Duke hung with them for most of the game and looked like a team with the potential to be great.
After looking terrible on defense against Vermont, Duke held Alabama 15 points below their season average and Arizona 8 below. Duke was not a lock down defense but they were looked much better than they did earlier in the season. They have now proven that they can be an elite offense team and a pretty good defensive team, just not at the same time. Part of their offensive struggles has come from their emphasis on defense but they will be able to piece it together later in the season. We know their offense has the potential to be great and we now know they have the defensive intensity to match.
This was not new from last night, but Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood are two of the best players in college basketball. Arizona threw many different talented players at Hood and Parker and they were still able to score a combined 43 points. Arizona’s talented defense led to an inefficient game out of Jabari Parker but he will be able to adjust to the different defenses thrown at him. Parker and Hood were not able to outscore Arizona by themselves last night but they should receive help soon. As soon as they get some help, Hood and Parker will be able to carry a talented Duke offense.
I was also very pleased with the play from Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston last night. Many people complained about the lack of scoring from this duo, but Duke does not need them to score. They both worked very hard on the glass and did a great job of forcing the taller Tarczewski into a poor game. Tarczewski definitely struggled at times this game and the bigs were a large part of that. Duke struggled down low earlier in the season with Jabari Parker playing at center but Jefferson and Hairston have now proven that they can play defense and rebound enough to man the position. Center will not be a strength for Duke this season, but Duke will find a way to negate the disadvantage.
Where Duke will see improvement through the rest of the season is at guard, mostly Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon. I have a lot to say about this duo and will do so in a different article. The point of this article, do not worry. Duke is young and extremely talented. They played a close game against a great Arizona team and they are still a ways from their full potential. This Duke team will get there, it will just take longer than what we are used to.