Duke Basketball: 5 Biggest Concerns with the Blue Devils' 2013-14 Roster
It's never too early to make predictions. Just three weeks removed from the crowning of a brand new college basketball national champion, the process of looking ahead to next season has begun.
Who's the No. 1 team in the country? What is the preseason Top 25? Which teams are labeled as championship contenders?
The Duke Blue Devils will enter next season as one of the premier teams in the country with a talent-rich squad fully capable of reaching the 2014 Final Four.
However, like all teams, the Blue Devils will be faced with a number of questions that must be answered in order for them to succeed at the highest level.
In the following five slides, we will take a look at the five most critical concerns for Mike Krzyzewski's Duke basketball team in the 2013-14 season.
1. Frontcourt Depth
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Three weeks into the offseason, fans and pundits have started to look ahead to the 2013-14 college basketball season.
For the Duke Blue Devils, they're expected to be a capable championship contender and a consensus top-five team.
They'll possess scoring, superior athletes, versatility and a deep bench. However, through all of the positives comes one very crucial negative, and that is its depth at the 5.
As it stands, Duke will enter next season with sophomores Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee and senior Josh Hairston as its reliable options up front.
And with the upcoming season still nearly six months away, the Blue Devils have already been struck with bad luck.
The 6'11" Plumlee underwent surgery to repair an injured left foot which will force him to miss 12-16 weeks. He originally suffered the injury shortly before the beginning of last season and had to miss the first nine games for the Blue Devils.
Duke's long-term success could be determined by the recovery of Plumlee, as Jefferson and Hairston will juggle the minutes between them while Plumlee will begin rehabilitation.
In any case, of the three, Jefferson looks the most promising.
In limited minutes, the 6'8" sophomore showed great ability to contribute offensively while becoming a pesky defender and an effortless rebounder. He also plays with a special sense of passion and pride for the name on the front of the jersey that is unmatched.
There is also the off chance that Duke can greatly improve its main weakness with the addition of Tarik Black, a transfer from the Memphis Tigers.
Black, listed at 6'9" and 262 pounds, is currently deciding between the Blue Devils, Kansas, Minnesota and Ohio State for his final year of eligibility.
By announcing for Duke, Black would open himself up to a realistic chance to provide pivotal minutes while making an immediate impact towards the Blue Devils' ultimate goal of their fifth national championship.
2. Starting Backcourt Consistency
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On paper, Duke covets one of the best backcourts in the country next season led by junior point guard Quinn Cook and sophomore shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon.
Both players were exceptional last season for the Blue Devils in their run to an Elite Eight berth in the NCAA tournament.
Cook made a tremendous leap forward in his development in his second season at Duke, as he logged the third-most minutes for the Blue Devils while averaging 11.7 points and 5.3 assists per game. Sulaimon finished his first season as one of the best freshmen in the country.
Nevertheless, both players experienced their share of inconsistencies throughout the season.
For Cook, his season ended horribly as he connected on a measly 26 percent of his shot attempts in Duke's final five games.
Sulaimon capped off his year with arguably his worst performance of the season in Duke's Elite Eight matchup against the eventual national champions, Louisville. The 6'4" guard was 1-of-10 from the floor with three points and five fouls.
Next season, though, Cook and Sulaimon will see a drastic increase in their individual roles for the Blue Devils.
In what is shaping up to be another parity-filled season in the landscape of college basketball in 2013-14, Duke's starting backcourt can elevate the Blue Devils to great heights with a constant desire to be consistent with each game.
3. Minute Distribution at the Wing
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Whenever a team has an array of talent on its roster, the distribution of minutes among those players can become a concern, but it's a good problem to have.
As it's been discussed, Duke will be a deeper squad than in years past—especially on the wing.
One of the more interesting debates revolving around next season's Blue Devils is how will Mike Krzyzewski handle the minutes between an influx of elite forwards and talented shooting guards?
First off, the likely scenarios involving the starting lineup will see Rasheed Sulaimon starting the season at shooting guard, Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood at small forward and incoming freshman Jabari Parker at power forward—which many consider to be his natural playing position.
Then the questions arise.
What kind of impact will fifth-year senior Andre Dawkins make after removing himself from the game last season?
Will incoming freshman Semi Ojeleye become a vital contributor, or is sophomore Alex Murphy ready to show his abilities?
Can fellow freshman and deadly sharpshooter Matt Jones provide instant production off the bench in limited playing time?
Many will refer to this situation as a logjam. Additionally, many will feel that this is a slight concern for a promising national title-caliber squad.
Ultimately, however, it's a great problem to have—a problem that will likely turn into a great situation for the Blue Devils.
4. Team Chemistry
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When comparing the last two seasons for Duke, the biggest difference between the two teams was chemistry.
During the 2011-12 season, Duke was not a tight-knit unit. And of course, all signs to that was pointed directly to its star freshman Austin Rivers, a player who was labeled as me-first before team-first.
Fast forward one year later, and without Rivers, who departed for the NBA, from the very first game of the season, you could tell the team chemistry was well intact.
Led by the senior trio of Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, Duke played each game together—something that it desperately lacked a year prior, leading to its demise in the second round of the 2012 NCAA tournament.
As we approach the 2013-14 season, Duke will be without a significant piece of its team chemistry as the college careers of Curry, Kelly and Plumlee are finished.
However, what each player left behind as a whole could end up being the most vital contribution. It's all up to the next season's team, though, to see if that statement becomes a fact.
Is chemistry a concern? Yes. It's a concern for any team in the country each year.
Although for Duke, this concern will be short-lived.
Mike Krzyzewski has at his disposal a collection of team-first players all with one common goal in mind.
Claiming a national championship.
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As mentioned in the previous slide, Duke lost a majority of its team chemistry with the departures of the graduating senior class. In addition to, and more importantly, it also lost its three primary leaders.
The leadership that Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee provided cannot be duplicated. All three were terrific student-athletes during their stay in Durham, with one national championship to their credit in 2010.
As those three players make their exit out of Duke, they will in turn pass the torch to the next set of Blue Devils who will assume a leadership role.
Highly touted incoming freshman Jabari Parker will become one of the new leaders for Duke in the 2013-14 season. That is a fact. The do-it-all forward will enter his first season with an abundance of responsibilities placed on his shoulders with the lofty expectations to succeed from the beginning.
No small task, especially for a freshman.
Joining Parker, however, is where the concern sets in.
Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton will enter their senior seasons at Duke, but both have spent their entire college careers as nothing more than adequate role players.
Fifth-year senior Andre Dawkins has provided the Blue Devils with memorable moments throughout the course of his career, though; he is capable of getting inside his own head when shots aren't falling.
It's likely that third-year point guard Quinn Cook will step up and take the reins of this team and steer them in the right direction. Showing great emotion and tenacity, Cook is a fighter who performs to his fullest, night in and night out.
Another possible candidate is sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon, who expressed his emotion and passion in the Duke locker room following the Blue Devils' season-ending loss to Louisville in the Elite Eight.
In any case, no matter how talented or how deep Duke will be next season, without the proper leadership, the Blue Devils will come up short in its quest to reach the 2014 Final Four in North Texas.