Jabari Parker Makes Duke NCAA Tournament Favorites in 2014

Josh CohenCorrespondent IIDecember 21, 2012

Jabari Parker (left) makes Duke a bona fide title contender in 2014.
Jabari Parker (left) makes Duke a bona fide title contender in 2014.Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

With the signing of Jabari Parker, the Duke Blue Devils have emerged as the front-runners for the 2013-14 NCAA tournament (h/t ESPN.com).

Duke beat out BYU, Florida, Michigan State and Stanford for the services of ESPN's second-ranked senior recruit in the nation. The 6'8" small forward instantly reloads a Duke team that will graduate three starters in 2013, eliminating any transitional period and keeping the Blue Devils in title contention.

Parker is the crown jewel of a loaded incoming class for Duke.

He has as complete an offensive game as any recruit, with the size and technique to post up, the agility to beat guys off the dribble and the range to knock down threes.

As a high school junior, the versatile forward lit up his overmatched competition, averaging 19.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 3.3 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.

Behind that superb performance, Parker led powerhouse Simeon Career Academy to a state championship for the third time in as many years. He also received the Gatorade National Basketball Player of the Year award, the highest distinction for a high school player and a rarity for a junior. Only three juniors had won the award before: LeBron James, Greg Oden and Brandon Knight.

The second he gets to Durham, Parker will be the best player at Mike Krzyzewski's disposal. Coach K will certainly build around his latest signee, but he will have plenty of other talent to work with.

Transfer Rodney Hood is set to join Parker as a starting forward. Hood averaged 10.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game as a freshman at Mississippi State, displaying an impressive ability to create his own shots.

The forward pairing of Parker and Hood will be extremely difficult for opposing defense to contend with. Each has the skill to score at the rim and beyond the arc, making it nearly impossible to stop both players.

Put those forwards alongside Rasheed Sulaimon, and Coach K has an embarrassment of scoring riches. The freshman shooting guard is averaging 12.7 points per game, both getting to the basket and knocking down over 40 percent of his three-point attempts.

The one knock on Sulaimon is his streaky performance, but surrounding him with two other explosive scorers should help him play within himself.

Then there's Quinn Cook, who has been effective in his first season as Duke's starting point guard.

Not only is Cook averaging 10.4 points and 6.0 assists, he, too, has discovered a three-point shot in his sophomore season. After hitting just a quarter of his long-range attempts as a frosh, Cook is 18-of-36 on threes so far.

That gives Duke four sharpshooters, three athletic scorers and an effective point guard before we even talk about depth.

Freshmen Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson have shown some promise off the bench. Marshall Plumlee lacks his brother Mason's post efficiency, but he can replace his size if he can stay healthy. Duke also has signed shooting guard Matt Jones and small forward Semi Ojeleye, ESPN's 36th- and 41st-ranked recruits, respectively.

With the departure of Mason, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, Krzyzewski will lose some size and veteran experience. However, he is replacing it with tons of athleticism and offensive ability.

With his sure-handed and disciplined coaching, Coach K has more than enough talent in his arsenal to carry his squad to the Final Four in Arlington, Texas, where they have as good a chance as any team around to cut down the nets.