Duke Basketball: Coach K Needs to 'Go Big' to Get Duke Back to the Final Four
It's hard to be very critical of Duke's basketball program success over the last five years.
During that time, the Blue Devils have won a national championship (2009-10 season), three ACC tournament titles and 152 overall games (30-plus victories per season).
Only Kentucky can match that kind of domination.
The upcoming 2012-13 season is approaching fast, and coach Mike Krzyzewski's crew will write another chapter in the outstanding narrative that is Duke basketball.
One of the key decisions that will be made sooner or later is what kind of lineup Coach K will roll with come ACC schedule time.
Various experiments will be conducted with combinations and rotations during November and December, but Coach K, like most coaches, prefers to be locked in by the time the conference schedule begins.
Three starting positions are pretty much set going into the upcoming season.
Mason Plumlee will start in the middle, Ryan Kelly will fill the role of stretch 4 and Seth Curry will hold down one of the backcourt positions...most likely the 2.
Expect intense competition at the other guard spot between Quinn Cook, Tyler Thornton and the latest McDonald's All-American, Rasheed Sulaimon.
The biggest question mark will be how Krzyzewski will fill that fifth starting position.
Last season, because of a lack of frontcourt talent, Coach K was forced to go almost exclusively with a three-guard set.
In doing so, the Blue Devils lacked size, were vulnerable on defense and limited on the glass.
Krzyzewski has accurately stated, “We were just a very fair defensive team last year.”
Offensively, Duke relied too much on isolation plays, settled for threes and had only Mason Plumlee as a post-up option.
In order to address many of these shortcomings, Coach K needs to get back to the design and configuration of the 2009-10 championship team.
In other words, the Blue Devils need to "go big" again.
The 2010 title team had five players (Kyle Singler, Brian Zoubek, Miles Plumlee, Lance Thomas and Mason Plumlee) who were 6'8" or taller and averaged at least 14 minutes a game.
This group provided strong interior defense and rebounding—two of the most important building blocks for any championship team.
While Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Singler provided a majority of the scoring (53.3 points per game—70 percent of the team's points), the bigs down low established a barrier to the basket that most teams couldn't break through.
Looking ahead to this season, Krzyzewski has positive alternatives that would help him get back to a more balanced attack.
Incoming freshman forward Amile Jefferson could provide a missing level of toughness and grit that would allow Ryan Kelly to leverage his unique perimeter skill set for a 6'11" player.
Red-shirt freshman forward Alex Murphy has spent the summer sharpening his skills while playing for the Finnish under-20 national team.
Because Murphy has been in the program for a year, and has worked hard to increase his strength and improve his game against collegiate players, he will most likely be given first shot at the small forward position.
Also, Marshall Plumlee, another red-shirt freshman, has added necessary bulk. He arrived on campus weighing 215; he now weighs 240, and should be ready to contribute quality minutes down low.
Just throwing an extra tall guy out on the floor doesn't improve any team. Length alone is not the answer.
Seniors Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly need to establish a defense-first mentality with their young teammates.
Also, Kelly will have to become more focused on hitting the boards. He had four rebounds or less in 14 of his 31 games last season.
If the Blue Devils can effectively shift back to a more standard two guards, three frontcourt players lineup, watch for Duke to make its school's 16th trip to the Final Four.
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