Duke Basketball: Final Regular Season Grades for Blue Devils

David Aldridge@davidmaldridgeFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2013

Duke Basketball: Final Regular Season Grades for Blue Devils

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    The 2012-13 regular season was another successful campaign for the Duke Blue Devils.

    The team finished the regular season with a 27-4 record and another top five ranking in the national polls. Duke also appears to be successfully adjusting to the return of Ryan Kelly to the lineup and playing some of its best basketball of the season.

    Although this group has been strong during the regular season, success at Duke is measured on what the team does in the postseason.

    But no matter what happens over the next few weeks, it's important to remember what this group accomplished during the regular season.

    So while the team looks ahead to the ACC and NCAA Tournaments, let's look back at the regular season performances of each Blue Devil.

Rasheed Sulaimon: A-

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    Rasheed Sulaimon caught people by surprise to start the season by earning a starting spot in the lineup as a freshman.

    He received even more attention when he led Duke to an early season victory over No. 4 Ohio State with a 17-point second half.

    However, the freshman from Houston, Tx., has suffered through a couple shooting slumps and has been criticized on a few different occasions by Mike Krzyzewski for letting a poor shooting night negatively impact the rest of his game.

    Even with those shooting slumps, Sulaimon is a strong candidate to win ACC Freshman of the Year and is a strong perimeter defender for Duke.

    He appears to have adjusted quite well to the college game and could be a difference maker for Duke in postseason play.

Alex Murphy: C-

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    One of the biggest reasons people were surprised Rasheed Sulaimon earned a spot in the starting lineup was because many expected Alex Murphy to be a starter on this year's team.

    Instead, Murphy has struggled to find playing time and is usually the fourth man off the bench for the Blue Devils.

    The 6'8" redshirt freshman has had some exciting moments this season, including highlight reel dunks against Maryland and N.C. State, but he hasn't been consistent. Murphy also appears to be a step slow defensively, which usually means sitting on the bench when you play for Mike Krzyzewski.

    Next year could be a breakout season for Alex Murphy, but this year has to be considered a disappointment in terms of his own performance.

Amile Jefferson: B+

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    When a 6'8", 195 pound freshman forward joins the team, he's usually expected to play limited minutes and focus more on developing his strength.

    Amile Jefferson has been a pleasant surprise for the Blue Devils and provided value contributions while Ryan Kelly was sidelined for 13 games with a foot injury.

    There are times when he still struggles with more physical post players and he gets lost on the defensive end, but Jefferson has exceeded the expectations many set for him.

    With Kelly now back in the lineup and Josh Hairston being the first post player off the bench, it's unlikely Jefferson will see much more significant time this season. However, he's proven he will be a big part of Duke's future.

Marshall Plumlee: D

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    Had this been Marshall Plumlee's first year as part of the program, I'd be more inclined to give him a higher grade or an incomplete because of the injury he suffered in the preseason.

    But with him having a redshirt year to be with the team and learn the game last season, he should have been able to return from his injury this year and offer some sort of production.

    Also, because it appears the front line will be a weakness for Duke next season, it would have been good for Marshall to get some experience this season.without having to deal with any pressure.

    With his season total of two points compared to five turnovers, Blue Devil fans have to be nervous about whether or not Plumlee can step up next season.

Quinn Cook: A-

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    Quinn Cook struggled during his freshman season while playing through a nagging knee injury he suffered in high school.

    This season, the sophomore from Washington, D.C., has flourished as the primary ball handler for the Blue Devils and shown he is not afraid to take big shots in difficult moments.

    Cook's 3-pointer in the final minutes at Boston College helped Duke avoid an ugly upset and his play in the second half against North Carolina helped keep the Tar Heels from starting any sort of comeback.

    If Duke fans had preseason concerns about having a point guard good enough to lead the team to a championship, Cook has erased any doubt of that.

Tyler Thornton: B

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    Tyler Thornton is one of the few players in college basketball who has the ability to be completely maddening to his own team's fans as well as the opposition's fans.

    Thornton has served as the backup point guard for Quinn Cook but his more critical role is being a defensive stopper who guards explosive perimeter scorers.

    There are times, such as against North Carolina, when Thornton makes incredible defensive plays and frustrates the opposition into careless turnovers. There are other times, such as against Virginia, when Thornton commits silly fouls that leave Duke fans shaking their heads.

    Thornton appears to relish being a defensive spark plug for the team, and he could offer the Blue Devils the defensive spark they need to cut down the nets.

Josh Hairston: C+

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    Doug Brodess of Bleacher Report recently wrote an article saying Josh Hairston is the most underachieving player in college basketball this season.

    With all due respect to Doug, that's ridiculous.

    Hairston hasn't been a major factor for the Blue Devils this season, but he played well while sharing minutes with Amile Jefferson when Ryan Kelly was injured and he offers great energy off the bench.

    Hairston's confidence in his 17-foot jump shot can be quite frustrating for Duke fans but his willingness to step in the lane and take a charge on defense he been very impressive.

    He isn't a guy who fills the stat sheet, but Hairston has been an adequate bench player for the Blue Devils.

Todd Zafirovski: A

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    It's tough to grade a guy like Todd Zafirovski because most of his contributions to the team go unnoticed by the general public.

    I have no way of knowing this but I'm guessing Zafirovski is a guy who works hard in practice every day and helps Duke's other post players prepare for physical opponents.

    Much to the delight of the Cameron Crazies, Zafirovski scored in two different games this season—against Delaware and Cornell.

    This might not necessarily be a good thing for the Blue Devils, but Zafirovski's five points in those two games means he finished the regular season with more points than Marshall Plumlee.

Ryan Kelly: A+

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    In case you have been living under a rock and haven't heard, Duke is undefeated this season when Ryan Kelly is in the lineup.

    Prior to being sidelined with a foot injury that caused him to miss 13 games, Kelly was off to a fantastic start to his senior year. Once he returned from the injury, Kelly has stepped right back into the lineup for the Blue Devils and continued to play at a high level.

    Kelly is a dangerous offensive weapon with his ability to knock down perimeter shots and back down smaller defenders in the paint while also being one of Duke's most effective defenders.

    Aside from the injury, this has been a great final season to an exceptional career for the 6'11" forward from Raleigh, NC.

Mason Plumlee: A

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    When Ryan Kelly is healthy and can provide offensive spacing, it provides Mason Plumlee the opportunity to be one of the most dominant post players in college basketball.

    Even when Kelly went down with an injury, Plumlee teamed with Seth Curry to help carry the Blue Devils and keep them near the top of the ACC standings.

    He had some difficult games on the road against Maryland and Virginia, but Plumlee's work over the course of the season has been outstanding, which he punctuated with a dominant performance against North Carolina.

    Plumlee has averaged 17.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game this season while playing like an All-American. And if he keeps up his great play, he could finish his career as a two-time national champion.

Seth Curry: A+

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    According to Mike Krzyzewski, Seth Curry, Duke's most explosive scorer, almost didn't even play this season.

    "In the middle of September we were told that he might not be able to play this year." Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Basketball Report

    Fortunately for the Blue Devils, Curry has battled through his leg injury and put together a remarkable senior season, averaging over 17 points per game. With his incredible first half against North Carolina, Curry likely secured a spot on the All-ACC First Team.

    The senior sharpshooter from Charlotte, NC., is one of the best scorers in the country and appears to be ready to shoot his team to the Final Four.