Duke's Question Marks Remain in Spite of Hot Start

Josh BrillContributor IJanuary 5, 2009

Twelve games into this year's edition of the Blue Devil's schedule, what we have learned about the team can be described in just one word—nothing.

That's right—absolutely nothing.

True, the team has shown great promise throughout the young season, and victories at Purdue and against Xavier in East Rutherford are nothing to be sneezed at.

But the truth remains that every glaring question about the Devils posed during the preseason still lingers, and will remain intact until Duke takes care of business during ACC play, something that the boys from Durham have not done since the days when J.J. Redick was making defenders tremble at the mere sight of him spotting up for one of his patented 25-foot treys as Shelden Williams bullied opposing bigs in the blocks.

But since then, the Cameron Crazies have been subjected to what I like to call the Josh McRoberts era, consisting of a slew of underperforming teams who take care of business during non-conference play before faltering down the stretch, leading up to disappointing finishes in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.

Until this team proves otherwise, I will refuse to accept that they are any different.

When I posed this theory to fellow Duke supporters, I was greeted by a chorus of, "This team is nothing like last year! We have a big three consisting of a real go-to player (Kyle Singler), a kid who can light it up for 25 on any given night (Jon Scheyer), and a freak of natural athlete (Gerald Henderson) who is finally getting it done!"

Sure, I thought to myself, with those three guys leading the way, and Nolan Smith as a huge upgrade over Greg Paulus at the point, and hey, even Brian Zoubek looked solid against Xavier! What if he becomes a regular contributor?

But then it hit me. I had just made a completely serious remark that involved Brian Zoubek, the player I have referred to as "the single greatest waste of height since Shawn Bradley" for the last two years, contributing positively to basketball games on a regular basis.

After subjecting myself to a series of lashings as punishment for subjecting such a notion, I countered the optimistic fan by reminding him that the "big three" he was so high on consisted of Henderson, a career underachiever at Duke who is best known for being the guy who threw the elbow at Tyler Hansbrough during the ACC tournament two years ago, along with Scheyer, a nice shooter who has yet to prove that he can be an effective scorer when his shot is off.

As for Singler, it is unclear whether his legacy will be as a nice player who could fill up the stat sheet or as a true number one option on a successful team.

In addition, our starting point guard is coming off a season in which he averaged just six points and 1.3 assists in just under 15 minutes a game, and though he has looked much improved in non-conference play, he remains a question mark heading into the always grueling ACC schedule.

But then again, this year's team has shown great strides since last season's disappointing first round NCAA tournament exit.

Other than the early season near-catastrophe against a Rhode Island team led by a red-hot Jimmy Baron, who put on a clinic of three-pointers from well beyond the arc with a hand in his face that even J.J. would be proud of, and the post-Purdue hangover at a Michigan team that seems more legitimate with each passing week, the Blue Devils have looked sharp in every game they've played thus far.

They seem to understand the offense as well as any team in the last few years, have played some of the best defense in the country, can go nine deep when they need to, and have had spurts where the offense has looked close to unstoppable. By all accounts this is a team with the potential to go down as the kind of well-coached, talented, and successful team that has become synonymous with the words "Duke Basketball."

But early season success is something Duke fans have become accustomed to, and until the team shows that they can perform like they did against Xavier when pitted against bigger, more athletic teams, all the chatter about this being the team that brings us back to glory must stop.

But the good news? With games against Georgetown, Wake Forest, Clemson, Miami, and North Carolina all coming up before Feb. 11, the Blue Devils will have plenty of chances to prove themselves.