This follows from the previous question. In Duke’s two most recent games, Rasheed Sulaimon has been frustrated. Even a novice sports psychiatrist could read his open book body language.
While it’s great that he plays with such passion, his frustrations have a tendency to negatively impact his game. Against Virginia, when Sulaimon slumped his shoulders and dropped his head after every Joe Harris bucket, the Duke freshman had four points on 2-for-10 shooting.
But it’s not fair to pick out Sulaimon. Duke as a team has been prone to bouts of bad judgment. In the loss at Miami, the entire squad, with the exception of Sulaimon and Jefferson, laid down like dogs in the face of adversity. Virginia pushed Plumlee out of the paint and the Duke post players simply ceded the inside area to the Cavaliers. Maryland similarly owned the paint and Duke acquiesced in favor of launching threes.
At various points, Duke has failed to keep clam in the face of a challenge. Too often offensive struggles inspire forced shots from three-point range rather than a reorganized offensive attack.
Even when Duke lost to Maryland, the Blue Devils made the game close at the end despite playing horribly for almost the full 40 minutes. There is simply too much talent on the roster for the Blue Devils to allow adversity to take them out of their game plan.
As Duke heads into the tournament, it’s impossible to know what will ultimately happen. What can be reasonably expected, however, is that at some point Duke will face a tough challenge. Whether it’s cold shooting, an opposing player going off for a career high or a team that simply matches up well against Duke, the Blue Devils will have to remain composed.
Last year, Lehigh befuddled Duke from the get-go and the Blue Devils never recovered. This year losses to Miami, Maryland and Virginia have been marked by a Duke team that failed to recover from a slow start.
It’s one thing to lose because you got outplayed, it’s another to lose because you got out of sorts due to early frustration. And so the ultimate question is, after a season of ups and downs including injuries and blowouts, is Duke mentally tough enough to push through the challenges of the NCAA tournament without falling into the bad habits of forced threes and an overextended defense?