Duke Basketball: 4 Crucial Ways Duke Must Improve to Get to the 2013 Final Four
Is there a team in college basketball that is more ready to move beyond its last game than Duke?
Until the Blue Devils take the court this November, they will still have the nasty taste in their mouths from their indescribable defeat to Lehigh in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski returns a rock solid trio of seniors in Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, who will make sure that the Blue Devils don't settle for status quo.
To compete for their fifth NCAA championship and their 25th ACC title, Duke must get better.
Earlier in the week, I suggested that Coach K needs to "go big" in the upcoming season.
More specifically, here are four fundamental places Duke must improve if it is going to get to the 2013 Final Four in Atlanta.
Field Goal Defense
You don’t have to be Coach K to identify the biggest area of improvement for this year’s Blue Devils: defense.
Reviewing last season, Krzyzewski said, “We were just a very fair defensive team last year.”
One place that Duke must get better is in field goal defense.
The Blue Devils opponents shot 43.3 percent from the field in 2011-12. That ranked No. 180 in the nation, right between Mississippi Valley and Penn State.
Allowing other teams to get open looks and second-chance buckets has to become unacceptable. This requires both individual effort and team coordination.
Everyone on the floor has to commit to this or there will be breakdowns against quality opponents.
Because Duke plays uptempo, it’s not surprising that they give up a decent amount of points. However, the fact that the Blue Devils gave up 68.8 PPG is not good enough.
This put them at No. 222 in the country, right in between Radford and St. Francis.
To put that into further perspective, Kentucky, who got up and down the floor a lot too, held their opponents to 60.6 PPG (No. 25 in the nation).
What’s the old saying about defense winning championships? It's still true.
Year-in and year-out, Duke is thought of as a good shooting team. They normally don’t have much trouble getting the ball in the basket.
Last year, the Blue Devils shot 70.1 percent from the line, No. 131 nationally. Not horrible, but not great.
Unfortunately, the two players who shot the most free throws, Austin Rivers (184 attempts) and Mason Plumlee (176 attempts), both struggled.
For as talented of a player as Rivers was, he should have shot better from the line than 65.8 percent. Plumlee, who went from being painful to watch to frustrating, shot 52.8 percent.
It’s too bad for Duke that they can't have designated free-throw shooters. Seth Curry rarely misses (103 for 118 last year; 87.3 percent) and Ryan Kelly may be the best 6’11” free-throw shooter in the country (80.7 percent).
Over the years, Duke basketball has been known for its team-oriented style of play. Selfless, self-sacrificing players worked together as a unit to maximize everyone’s ability to score.
Last year, Duke only averaged 12.4 assists per game. That's good for No. 202 in the nation, sandwiched between Auburn and Houston Baptist.
Some people blame Austin Rivers for disrupting the expected flow of play last season. The obvious absence of a consistently effective point guard who could run the team and deliver the ball to teammates in scoring position was the biggest factor here.
The truth: Not one Duke player averaged even three assists per game in 2011-12. Wow!
While Seth Curry, last year's assists leader with 2.4 APG, can facilitate the team, he is more valuable off the ball.
Quinn Cook (1.9 APG) and Tyler Thornton (2 APG) will be counted on to run the show and distribute better this season.
The 2012-13 Duke roster has plenty of talent and depth to make a deep run in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Even though this squad may not have the star power of some past Duke teams, they have all the firepower necessary to make it to Atlanta.
Each of these four areas are fixable as long as the players on the court are willing to put forth the effort and stay focused on what creates good basketball.