Duke Basketball: 5 Questions the Blue Devils Face Going Forward
When you are undefeated and the No. 1 team in the country, there aren't many holes people can poke in your performance. The Duke Blue Devils have been impressive in their first 10 games and could be on a path to the Final Four.
However, it's still early in the season and the Blue Devils are far from perfect. Once conference play begins, Duke may solve some of their current issues but find new ones.
Here are five questions facing Duke for the remainder of the season.
1. Will Seth Curry's Injury Become More Significant as the Season Progresses?
At the beginning of the season, Duke announced Seth Curry was struggling with a leg injury he would have to deal with for most of the season. When Duke opened the year with an exhibition game against Winston Salem State, it was the first time Curry had played in two months.
The injury, which hasn't been pinpointed, appears to be causing Curry pain in his right shin and hinders him from being able to practice on a regular basis.
Ten games into the season, the senior guard from Charlotte, NC is still nursing the injury but learning how to adjust his game accordingly.
Curry is the team's second leading scorer with 16 points per game while playing over 30 minutes per game. Despite playing on a bad leg, he has maintained his excellent outside touch and is currently shooting 40 percent from the three-point range.
Thus far, Mike Krzyzewski has been able to effectively manage Curry's minutes. However, this will become more difficult when the Blue Devils reach the postseason after Curry has played an entire regular season.
2. What Will Marshall Plumlee Be Able to Contribute?
After redshirting last season, Marshall Plumlee was expected to become a key contributor for this year's team. According to the coaches and reports from Duke's preseason practices, the youngest of the three Plumlee brothers had worked his way into the rotation and was going to be one of Duke's regular substitutes off the bench.
Instead, he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot and was forced to miss the first nine games of the season. His loss has forced Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson to play out of position when they come in to relieve the frontcourt starters.
Following his debut against Cornell tonight, the coaching staff expects big things from Plumlee for the remainder of the season.
After spending a year in the Duke system and practicing against his two older brothers, Marshall shouldn't need as much time to adjust to the speed and physicality of play in the ACC. If he can provide a strong presence and rebounding ability, Duke becomes that much more difficult to beat.
3. Can Mason Plumlee Maintain His Effectiveness from the Free-Throw Line?
Duke fans don't want to think about this, but Mason Plumlee's free-throw percentage is trending downward.
Plumlee made 45 of his 57 free throws during Duke's first seven games, which was good for a surprising 79 percent. In Duke's past two games against Delaware and Temple, respectively, Plumlee is just 12 of 21 from the free-throw line, giving him a 57 percent average.
The big question will be whether or not Plumlee is able to regress back to his typical free-throw percentage during his career at Duke, or, if he can regain the touch he had during the first seven games of the season.
Plumlee's ability to make free throws makes him a force for the Blue Devils and provides the team with another scoring option in late game situations. If he becomes a liability at the free-throw line, Mike Krzyzewski may have to re-evaluate how he can use his big man at the end of close games.
4. How Will Rasheed Sulaimon Handle the Pressure of the Postseason?
Rasheed Sulaimon has quickly helped Duke fans forget about the departure of Austin Rivers, last year's heralded freshman. Sulaimon has provided an energy and confidence that has quickly made him a favorite of the Cameron Crazies.
The freshman from Houston, TX has not been afraid to look for his own shot and his offense has been key to Duke's early season success. His ability has also quickly earned him the respect and confidence of his coaches and teammates.
When Sulaimon scored 17 points in the second half against Ohio State to help lead the Blue Devils to another win over a Top 5 team, he showed he could handle the big stage.
However, it remains to be seen how he will handle the grind of an entire season of college basketball and the expectations that come with playing for Duke during the postseason.
Will Sulaimon hit the "freshman wall" or will he continue to progress and become a force to be reckoned with when Duke reaches the ACC and NCAA Tournaments?
5. Will Amile Jefferson or Alex Murphy Earn Meaningful Minutes in Close Games?
In Duke's three games against ranked opponents, Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson have combined for 19 minutes, three rebounds and zero points. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, they won all three games despite limited production from either of these freshmen.
As a redshirt freshman, many expected Alex Murphy to have a major role with this team, especially when he started in the team's two exhibition games. Instead, Murphy has seen limited time in close games and does not appear to be a part of the regular rotation.
Jefferson has played a bigger role than Murphy, but his lean frame could give him problems as the season wears on and he plays against more physical, experienced players.
Fortunately for these two, Duke is going through a stretch of their schedule where the opponents aren't quite as strong. This should give Jefferson and Murphy more opportunities for playing time, which could give them confidence going forward. If they can excel in these next few games, their play could give them confidence to perform in big games later in the season.
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