Heading into March, Duke Much in Need of Its Upcoming BreakPosted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 26th, 2014
After dispatching Virginia Tech 66-48 on Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke will get a much-needed week off. Going into this break, the Blue Devils have played five games in the last 11 days. It was already going to be a tough stretch in the schedule, but it became even more so when a rare Triangle winter storm forced the postponement of the game with North Carolina, originally set for February 12. The rivalry tilt was rescheduled for play on February 20, the only available date that made sense for both schools, but it created a situation where Duke has basically been playing every other day for the last week and a half. Now with a clear schedule until next Wednesday at Wake Forest, it’s a good time to assess how this Blue Devils’ team is currently playing and their prospects moving forward.
Perhaps the best thing to happen for Duke lately is the emergence of Marshall Plumlee. After spot duty and inconsistent play for most of the season, the redshirt sophomore has developed to the point that he is now clearly the top frontcourt reserve. Plumlee had shown some flashes of talent previously, most notably in a home game against Florida State in which he achieved career highs in points and rebounds (seven each). That outing was followed by a total of two points and seven rebounds in Duke’s next four games. But in his last three outings, the youngest of the Plumlees has shown much more consistency. In 47 total minutes combined, he has scored 11 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. He has also had an impact on the defensive end, blocking five shots over that period. Earlier in the year, Plumlee was very weak at defending the high pick-and-roll and was often late in help situations. That part of his game has improved enough so that Duke can now take advantage of Plumlee’s size to help with it’s biggest issue on defense – protecting the basket. That weakness was on display again in the Virginia Tech game. The Hokies’ trio of big men, hardly an imposing bunch, converted 16-of-22 field goals against the Blue Devils’ interior.
Another positive for Duke has been the play of guard Rasheed Sulaimon. After a rough start to the season, the sophomore now looks like the player most expected him to be coming off a solid freshman campaign. It seems that he has figured out how he fits into this offense, which is designed to revolve around Jabari Parker (18.8 PPG) and Rodney Hood (16.3 PPG). In ACC play, Sulaimon is the team’s third leading scorer (10.8 PPG) and the team leader in assists (3.5 APG). He appeared to be the freshest player on the floor against Virginia Tech on Tuesday, attacking for 36 minutes on both ends, scoring 15 points and hitting 4-of-9 threes. Maybe more important has been Sulaimon’s recent defensive play at the point of attack, something that Mike Krzyzewski pointed out after the game. In last Saturday’s win over Syracuse, Sulaimon harassed freshman wunderkind Tyler Ennis into a 2-for-13 shooting performance. On Tuesday, he turned the pressure up on Virginia Tech’s Devin Wilson, resulting in a 3-of-12 shooting night with six turnovers for the Hokies’ freshman.
Following last night’s game, Krzyzewski mentioned that one of the negatives of the recent compact schedule was that there has was no time for the staff to focus on what Duke’s doing, because of all the time spent in preparing for the opponents. Now he said, “we need to review our stuff.” He also said that he likes the chemistry of his starting lineup right now, but he wants more production from Andre Dawkins and Quinn Cook off the bench. The numbers back that up for both players. Dawkins has only made 4-of-17 three-point attempts in the last six games, after hitting 22-of-42 in the six previous games before that. Cook has been relegated to coming off the bench due to inconsistent play, and, surprisingly, the junior point guard has only six assists in the last five games. It’s hard to see Duke making a serious postseason run without Dawkins and Cook getting back on track, so that will surely be one of foci during the upcoming practice time. It will be interesting to see how this young Duke team handles the time off. They need rest, but they don’t need to lose the mental edge that they have maintained through most of this successful recent stretch.