Once again, Duke basketball is off to another impressive early-season start.
Duke fans are hoping that it doesn’t end in disappointing fashion, like so many other seasons over the past decade have in Durham—including last year’s debacle against Lehigh.
Oftentimes, the overall lack of quality depth on Mike Krzyzewski’s more recent teams have derailed Duke’s chances of adding another championship banner to Cameron Indoor Stadium’s rafters. For a glaring example, just go back to the end of last season.
With Ryan Kelly injured and Andre Dawkins rendered ineffective, Coach K was forced to go to a very limited rotation in the postseason. That postseason ended with tough losses to Florida State and the aforementioned Lehigh in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, respectively.
It’s nice that this year’s Blue Devils team has started undefeated after going through the nation’s most rigorous nonconference schedule. But there are troubling signs that another short bench rotation could yet again dash Duke’s championship aspirations come springtime.
As of right now, Coach K is giving the majority of the minutes to just six players: Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Rasheed Sulaimon, Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton. Playing just six men on a constant basis is asking for trouble at any level of basketball.
But it’s not like Krzyzewski is doing it on purpose. He hasn’t been given much of a choice.
Redshirt freshman Marshall Plumlee is still trying to come back from a stress fracture in his foot. Fellow redshirt freshman Alex Murphy has been disappointing thus far in his young Duke career. He has barely seen the court so far this season, averaging just six minutes a game.
True freshman forward Amile Jefferson is starting to show signs of breaking out. Although he was kept off the scoreboard against Elon, Jefferson scored a combined 27 points in Duke’s prior three games.
How Murphy and Jefferson perform against ACC competition remains to be seen. But if either or both struggle against conference opponents, Krzyzewski simply won’t play them.
That could increase the pressure on the veteran duo of Thornton and forward Josh Hairston. While both players more than hold their own on defense, they leave much to be desired offensively.
That’s another big problem here.
The past couple of years, Krzyzewski could rely on Andre Dawkins off the bench to drain threes and hit clutch free throws. But with Dawkins redshirting this year, Coach K has to lean on unproven freshmen and unimpressive veterans to fill out the rotation.
The Cameron Crazies are hoping at least one of these players can step up as the calendar turns to 2013. If not, then Coach K is left with another short bench.
And as history has shown, a short bench usually equates to a short postseason for Duke.