Duke Basketball: 5 Biggest Challenges Blue Devils Will Face in 2014

Chad Lykins@@CLykinsBlogFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2013

Duke Basketball: 5 Biggest Challenges Blue Devils Will Face in 2014

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    With the 2012-13 college basketball season in the books, the countdown to next season has begun.

    For the Duke Blue Devils, they will be preparing for one of the more anticipated seasons in program history, as they are already pegged as one of the top championship contenders in the country.

    It will be a completely different look for Mike Krzyzewski's Duke basketball team next season, as they will become deeper, more talented and equally as athletic than ever before.

    But, like all teams, the Blue Devils will be faced with a number of challenges that they must overcome in order to reach the 2014 Final Four in Arlington, Texas.

1. Questionable Frontcourt

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    Boasting a formidable group of perimeter players, Duke's biggest challenge in the 2014 season will be dealing with a lack of depth in its frontcourt.

    Mason Plumlee, the Pete Newell Big Man of the Year recipient, is gone. So is stretch-4 power forward Ryan Kelly.

    Both are tremendous players in their own right.

    Returning to the team next season will be undersized senior Josh Hairston, sporadic sophomore Amile Jefferson and the slowly developing Marshall Plumlee.

    When speaking of Jefferson, the wiry 6'8" forward showed glimpses of success during his freshman season that, in turn, will likely allow him to occupy the 5 for Duke next season. Although, he will need to spend a great deal of time working solely on his strength in the offseason to compete with opposing big men.

    Of course, when examining Plumlee, he looks like the perfect fit with his 6'11" frame. However, his progression took a turn for the worse at the beginning of this season after suffering a stress fracture in his left foot.

    Despite standing 6'7", Hairston has spent his entire college career playing at either the 4 or the 5. His contributions in his senior season will be critical, as he will provide the Blue Devils with toughness on the inside, though, it will need to be consistent throughout the year.

    Those three players will be accompanied by incoming freshman Jabari Parker, though recruited as a small forward, possesses the ability to play multiple positions on the floor and will likely earn the starting power forward position for Duke.

    It's also worth noting that, according to Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports, Duke has expressed serious interest in Memphis Tigers forward Tarik Black (h/t Bobby Colton of The Chronicle). The 6'9", 262-pound forward is graduating this semester and intends to transfer for his final college basketball season.

    His addition would most certainly lessen the blow in the frontcourt for Duke in its quest for a fifth national championship.

2. Rebounding

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    Contrary to popular belief, rebounding, or the lack thereof, was not the sole reason that saw Duke drop six games this season. It was more from cold shooting nights and what is mentioned in the ensuing slide that contributed to those six losses for the Blue Devils.

    Nevertheless, the art of rebounding the basketball became one of the most glaring weaknesses for the Blue Devils throughout the course of the season.

    At season's end, Duke ranked 213th in the country in rebounding, compiling nearly 34 rebounds per game.

    Mason Plumlee led the way with 10.2 rebounds per game, but was the only player for the Blue Devils to average more than six. 

    Looking ahead to next season, it will be one of the more interesting facets of the game to watch for Duke.

    As mentioned in the previous slide, there lies a bevy of uncertainty regarding the frontcourt for Duke. In relation, that will automatically transition into how successful the Blue Devils can perform on the glass. 

    Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee are all capable of averaging over five rebounds per game. 

    However, if Jabari Parker isn't leading this team in rebounding in 2014, then color me as surprised. 

    Parker has a knack of hitting the boards and almost always corralling a missed shot.

    Possessing great size and even better instincts, the 6'8" forward should easily average nearly eight rebounds or more per game for a Duke team that will strive to improve on its dreadful rebounding numbers from this season.

3. Perimeter Defense

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    The inability to guard dribble penetration from the perimeter had been Duke's undoing in a number of its losses this season. 

    • at Miami, 90-63 loss—Shane Larkin and Durand Scott combine for 43 points.
    • vs. Maryland, 83-74 loss—Dez Wells scores a career-high 30 points.
    • vs. Louisville, 85-63 loss—Peyton Siva and Russ Smith combine for 39 points.

    Time after time, the Blue Devils found it nearly impossible to stop quicker and athletic guards from getting to the basket. 

    When Quinn Cook or Rasheed Sulaimon looked more than capable of becoming defensive stoppers, they would quickly come to the realization that they would just be a step slow. 

    But, help is on the way.

    Next season, Mike Krzyzewski will enjoy having an influx of vastly superior talents that will quickly propel the Blue Devils as one of the better defensive teams in the country. 

    Cook and Sulaimon will be joined by the ultra-athletic Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and incoming freshmen Jabari Parker and Semi Ojeleye. Not to mention, Alex Murphy will be much improved in his sophomore season.  

    With a highly energetic group determined to erase the stinging defeat in the Elite Eight to the Louisville Cardinals—the eventual national champions—the Blue Devils will have a great chance to advance past this season's end and into next year's Final Four in North Texas.

4. What to Expect from Andre Dawkins

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    In the shadows of the 2012-13 season for Duke, fans and media alike often wondered about the growing speculation of Andre Dawkins and his playing future.

    Dawkins, a 6'4" shooting guard, made the decision to remove himself from the game of basketball following his junior season at Duke and take a redshirt this season. The reason stemmed from the tragic death of his younger sister, Lacey Dawkins, in December of 2009—his first year in Durham. 

    As the life of any student-athlete can become overwhelming, for Dawkins, he has understandably suffered through excruciatingly tough times.

    While opting to step away from the sport, Dawkins had finally found the appropriate time to deal with his enduring grief

    With doubt creeping up among many circles that Dawkins would not return to Duke, the Chesapeake, Va., native tweeted his intentions to the masses last week, which automatically became a joyous decision for the Blue Devils going forward.

    Excited to say that I will be a part of the 2013-2014 Duke Men's Basketball Team. Thanks to everyone for the support throughout the year

    — Andre Dawkins (@dre_day20) April 11, 2013

    As a junior at Duke, Dawkins averaged 8.4 points and 2.1 rebounds per game in just over 22 minutes of action per contest, while shooting 40 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc. However, in the season's final six games, he averaged a woeful 1.3 points on 13 percent shooting and 12 percent from three-point land.

    Nevertheless, Dawkins is widely considered as one of the most lethal three-point marksmen in the country. And with his return, it will be a tremendous re-addition to what will be one of the most explosive offenses in the country in 2014.

5. Replacing the Seniors

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    The most difficult challenge of them all, will be replacing three of the finest players in Duke basketball history. 

    Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee ended their college careers with an astounding 317 combined wins. All three were also a part of Duke's fourth national championship in 2010. 

    Together, they exemplified what it means to be a Duke basketball player. 

    They won and lost with class. 

    They gave their all to Mike Krzyzewski, his coaching staff and to the Duke program.

    Over the course of their careers, they developed not only into great basketball players but into exceptional young men.

    As the 2014 season approaches, and with the departing seniors having said their final goodbyes to the Cameron Crazies, roles will be left to fill.

    In my last article, I listed the three players from next year's team that will likely fill those roles.

    But the memories that Curry, Kelly and Plumlee gave us throughout the course of their respective careers will continue to live on forever in Duke lore.