What Worries Me
Looking at the season so far, including Saturday’s game against Wake Forest at Cameron, these are the things that worry me:
- Depth. Yes, Coach K says it is more important to develop the starters than the bench, and to an extent I agree with that. Just like in football starters need reps, but for the bench to be game-ready, they need game experience. They are getting it in trickles but, as a fan, I hope to see more and more as the season wears on. You may need Alex Murphy or Amile Jefferson to step in and hit a big shot or a big free throw at some point. Winning the games is important, and against lesser talent you would hope that the bench is ready to step in without much drop in talent level and game readiness. Duke hasn’t needed this as of yet, but at some point…
- Putting teams away. Looking at the final score in the Wake Forest game (80-62) it appears Duke blew the doors off of this team, but in actuality Duke did not do the job it should have putting this team away. Duke will have to develop a killer instinct and the motor to put teams away, especially those who are flailing. Letting young teams or teams who are still in the confidence building stages back into a game is dangerous. Duke must learn to keep the accelerator floored throughout the game. Leads are meant for building upon and at very least maintaining.
- Rebounding. Wake out-rebounded Duke by 8. This is the second consecutive game that Duke has been out-rebounded despite it being a point of emphasis in practice. Duke will not always be able to turn teams over, so limiting second shots while getting second shots of their own will become much more important as the season wears on and is really the only glaring weakness for Duke.
What I’m Loving:
- Defense. If defense was Duke’s Achilles’ heel last year, it’s a strength and trademark this year. What a difference a year makes. Duke, with the emergence of Quinn Cook and freshman swing man Rasheed Sulaimon, has been able to turn teams over, and get out into the passing lanes much better than last year. Duke has been able to defend not only the perimeter but the paint as well. With improvements across the board, it’s clear that much was done in the off-season to not only improve but to make defense the focal point as former Duke teams always have.
- Quinn Cook. Some wrote off the freshman guard as not ready for prime time, or not really Duke material–that was clearly not the case. Quinn, this year, shook off the nagging injuries that plagued him last year and entered the season with a new attitude. Probably Duke’s most improved player, Cook has been an assist machine. Rarely turning the ball over and leading Duke on the break, something lacking last year, Cook has changed the entire complexion of this year’s team. No longer is the offense stagnant, gone are the huge droughts in scoring. Guys are no longer standing around watching the ball, there is movement on offense, and every player because of that fact has made strides in their game. On any given night any starter can step up and be the man. Duke does not have a three-headed monster as it did with Smith, Singler, and Scheyer…it truly has a five-headed monster. Every starter is capable of putting up numbers with 4 of 5 starters have been named ACC Player of the Week and Rasheed Sulaimon (5th starter) ACC Rookie of the Week.
- Room to improve. As good as Duke has looked at times, there are a myriad of areas that they need to improve on, some stated in the aforementioned “What Worries Me” piece. Regardless, there are tons of teachable moments to come and this team is not yet playing as well as its capable of. That being said, it has shown incredible heart and resilience so far this season and has passed every test and not all with flying colors. What the coaches are hoping for is that this team isn’t resting on what they’ve done, but rather trying to continually conquer the next challenge with the same hunger and intensity as the last. That in and of itself will prepare this team for a run into the depths of the ACC season and then hopefully deep into March.