Five Keys to Duke Postseason Success

            With the season nearing an end, I thought it would be a good time to look at a couple keys to Duke’s post-season success.  The Blue Devils haven’t been back to a Final Four since they won it all in 2010.  Despite some struggles and growing pains of having a relatively young team, this group is as talented as any in the country.  Here’s a few things the Blue Devils will have to do to go deep in both the ACC and NCAA tournament.

1.         Quinn Cook must return to early season form

            It is pretty obvious that point guard Quinn Cook has been underperforming recently.  He hasn’t started the last four games and is only averaging 9 points and 1.5 assists while only shooting 37% from the field during this stretch.  Now, in return, senior Tyler Thornton has taken over his spot as starting point guard and has been playing the best basketball of his career.  Despite Thornton’s effectiveness, when Cook is playing well he’s one of the top lead guards in the ACC.  His play in the loss at Carolina proved he’s capable of playing at a high level.  While Thornton has been playing well, Cook has a higher ceiling and Duke will need him back on track and at his best to make a deep run in March.

2.         Amile Jefferson gets back to crashing the boards

            Amile Jefferson has been one of the pleasant surprises of this year’s team.  Many times he has been playing out of position and been forced to defend and rebound in the paint as the biggest Blue Devil on the court.  He went through a 6 game stretch early in conference play where he averaged 9 rebounds a game, 3 of those games against the biggest frontcourts in the league.   Amile Jefferson’s effectiveness on the boards will be critical for Duke down the stretch, limiting 2nd chance points for opponents while giving this Duke offense more opportunities will be huge in tough tourney games. 

3.         Jabari Parker stays aggressive

            This one is pretty simple; Jabari Parker must continue playing at the level he has been in the last few weeks.  Over the last 7 games the freshman has averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game.  He has been assertive about attacking the paint and getting in the lane for easy shots.  Parker has turned it over a little more than you would like over this stretch but he’s stayed aggressive offensively and been active on the defensive glass.  His outside shot still hasn’t been falling like it was at the beginning of the year, but he’s doing a better job of not settling for the long, contested jumpers he was hitting early on in the year.  This Duke team is at its best when Jabari Parker is in attack mode, he will need to continue being aggressive throughout his first (hopefully not last) postseason run.

4.         Marshall Plumlee continues to have big impact

            No one really knew what to expect out of Marshall Plumlee coming into the season.  He played sporadically in nonconference games but has seen his minutes gradually increase throughout the ACC season.  The 7-foot sophomore played the 2 best games of his career recently against rival North Carolina and seemingly new rival, Syracuse.  The third Plumlee brother has averaged 6 rebounds, 4 points, and almost 2 blocks a game in the past three games, two of those against the opponents mentioned above.  He’s been on the court more too, averaging 16 minutes per the last three.  His presence defensively is not often seen on the stat sheet, his ability to change shots at the rim and give Parker and Jefferson breaks from defending opponents post players will be huge come tourney time.  If Plumlee continues to provide size, toughness, and defense off the bench, Duke will be more equipped to handle the big frontlines of the countries elite.

5.         Get the offense back on track

            I may just be nitpicking here, but the Blue Devils offense has stalled by their standards in the last few games.  A second half drought against UNC allowed for them to get back in the game and ultimately come back and beat the Blue Devils.  Duke hasn’t scored over 70 points in the last 5 games and has shot 31% from three and 41% from the floor during this stretch.  Now these numbers could be a little low due to the fact that they’ve been seeing a lot more zone recently.  The stretch of 4 games in 8 days was no cakewalk, tired legs could be the reason for the mini, team wide shooting slump.  They’ll get some much needed and well deserved rest with only 2 games in 17 days between now and the start of the ACC tournament.  With Dukes defense being a big concern at times this year; they’ll need their top 5, high-octane offense to be at full force for March Madness.

          

           Duke is in a good spot heading into tourney time.  They have some extra rest with just 2 games left, a game at Wake Forest and of course the rematch against Chapel Hill on senior night.  Duke has plenty of practice time to get their offense back on track and hopefully get Quinn Cook back to playing the basketball he’s capable of.  Coach K’s squad could be poised for a deep run in March with Jabari Parker and Marshall Plumlee playing some of the best basketball of their careers.