Yesterday’s loss against Kansas does not put them in any real trouble. They fought hard against a very talented team and unfortunately came up close in the end. I will not be giving a game breakdown like other guys but I will be giving some long term positives and negatives from last night’s game. These things can definitely change, for the better or worse, but these are things that I saw from last night may carry or hurt Duke all season.
- Duke can compete against top teams: Although Duke did not win the game, Duke had plenty of opportunities to win. I will be getting into some negatives later but Duke did prove that they can play against top competition. If a few bounces went their way, they could have easily won the game. I may sound like a pessimist at times in this article but I do know they can compete with anyone in the country.
- Jabari Parker is a star: If there was ever a time for a young freshman to sink in the spotlight, it was last night. In his first big game in front of his hometown, Parker excelled. He was by far the best player for Duke and is ready for the big games. The one main question is conditioning, as he seemed to tire late in the game. Regardless, Parker is a star and Duke has nothing to worry about.
- Amile Jefferson is not a center, but is a solid contributor: Amile Jefferson struggled at times playing center, but he scored a very efficient 17 points on just 9 field goals. He excels at slashing on Duke drives and showed surprisingly solid finishing over bigger defenders. Jefferson will not provide Duke a true center, but is a solid contributor.
- Rasheed Sulaimon looks good as a sixth man: Many people want to see Sulaimon starting, but I like him in the sixth man role. This allows Duke to start a senior and leader in Tyler Thornton and have significant scoring off the bench. Seeing Sulaimon succeed in this role could be huge for Duke as it is a dynamic that many other teams cannot replicate.
- Coach K is still coaching Duke: Duke is not a finished product but I trust Coach K more than any other coach to get Duke into a good position to win. Coach K has succeeded with many different teams and this one is no exception. Any negatives I list below can be overcome because I trust Coach K as a coach.
- Rebounding: We knew that Duke would struggle at times with rebounding and last night was no exception. Duke was out rebounded 39 to 24 and looked outmatched at times on the boards. Other than Parker, no other player had more than four rebounds including just two for Jefferson. Duke can improve their rebounding but it will always be a question for this year’s Duke team.
- Post defense: Similarly to Davidson’s De’Mon Brooks, Duke struggled to guard Perry Ellis in the paint. He was able to score 24 points on just 13 field goal attempts. Duke was also forced to double team Joel Embiid, who was able to pass out for five key assists. This is another problem that will plague Duke all year, but Duke can still win despite these deficiencies.
- Lack of trusted depth: Duke has 12 players that are worthy of playing but Coach K only appears to trust seven players. Only Cook, Thornton, Hood, Parker, Jefferson, Sulaimon, and Hairston played significant minutes. Duke appeared fatigued at the end of the game. One or two of the other Duke players will need to step up, because Duke will struggle if they are forced to rely on only seven players.
- Does Duke have enough leaders: The last time we questioned whether a Duke team had enough leaders; they went home in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. I believe that this year’s teams has more leaders, but is it enough? Tyler Thornton is a great leader for Duke but we will see if anyone else steps up.
- Does this team really fit together?: Hood and Parker are amazing players, but they both are best with the call in their hands. Cooks could be a great passer and leader for this team but has taken a lot of bad threes. Duke has talent but has a severe lack of height. Despite Duke’s talent, they will need to become a team to win the Championship
Today’s game does not really mean anything towards Duke’s season. Duke beat Louisville early last season but Louisville won in the tournament. Duke is still on a small list of teams that I think can win the National Championship but there are a few obstacles that they will have to overcome and improve on to win. Even with their weaknesses, they are definitely a Sweet Sixteen / Elite Eight team. Improving on these weaknesses will be the difference between a good and great season.