Duke Basketball: 5 Biggest Questions Coach K Must Answer in 2014
Mike Krzyzewski is without question a legendary coach. He’s led teams to success over four decades. Even as college basketball has changed—conference expansion, one-and-done players, etc.—he has continued to compete for championships.
Still, each season presents different challenges. This year will be no different and Coach K will need to navigate the unique circumstances that the 2013-14 roster presents.
He will need to rely on his years of experience to answer these five questions in order to push the Blue Devils toward a title.
Can He Manage a Deep Bench?
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Let’s be realistic. Mike Krzyzewski does not use a lot of players.
During the nonconference schedule, the Blue Devils might rotate nine or so guys on and off the floor. Once the ACC matchups start, however, Coach K shortens his bench to a seven- or eight-man rotation.
The theoretical benefit of a small rotation is that it builds familiarity and develops players through huge amounts of game-time experience. In short, each player has a role and the coaching staff knows exactly what it's getting from players it has seen so much of on the court.
The players in the rotation probably enjoy all the playing time they get. On the other end of the spectrum, the players on the outside looking in probably don’t appreciate their limited use.
With a roster full of players deserving of minutes, it’ll be difficult to keep everyone happy. A rift between the guys at the end of the bench and the ones on the court could be toxic. These are competitive people and they want to be on the court.
Dividing up a finite amount of minutes will be difficult—even more so if Coach K continues to use a short bench.
Can He Keep Players from Leaving?
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In keeping with the problem—albeit a good one—of having too many quality players, Coach K will need to ensure that there isn’t a mass exodus.
Duke, like any big basketball program, has a fairly long list of players that have transferred out. The huge influx of talent means scarce minutes are available to players who aren’t superstars.
On other teams, these end-of-the-bench Blue Devils would be key figures. At Duke, however, they’re way down on the depth chart.
It’s tough to fault a guy for leaving in order to play a bigger role on another team. Making space for those guys in this season and next year would go a long way to ensuring that people aren’t temped to pursue greener pastures.
Again, Coach K probably isn’t going to suddenly employ a 10-man rotation. Therefore, it’ll be important to assure the players seeing limited minutes that their time will come. That’s a tough sell, but Coach K is capable of getting a long-term commitment.
Gaining that sort of assurance from the superstars would also come in handy.
Even though Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker are likely gone after the upcoming season, ensuring that Rasheed Sulaimon stays would keep Duke among the country’s best teams and add some roster stability in an era of massive roster turnover.
There will obviously be some roster changes following the season, but if Coach K can mitigate the migration to the NBA or other college teams, then Duke’s roster stability will keep the program on top.
Can He Control One-and-Done Players?
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With so many guys on the Blue Devils’ roster on a path to the NBA, an effort will need to be made to keep them focused on the task at hand. All that individual talent must be funneled into a unified team effort.
As the talent increases, so too do the difficulties of these tasks.
Keeping 18- and 19-year-olds destined for the NBA focused can’t be easy. All sports networks will cover how coveted these athletes are by prospective NBA teams. It’ll be difficult to sequester players from all the hype that surrounds their impending professional careers. Such sensationalism can prove to be a distraction for a budding superstar.
Convincing future NBA players to put aside their personal game and play for the benefit of the team could be even tougher. With so much focus on stats, selfish play possibly pumps up a player’s draft stock.
Doing what’s best for the team might be contrary to what’s best for an individual’s scouting report.
If Duke’s soon-to-be NBA talents don’t mesh into a cohesive team or fail to fully commit to their development, the Blue Devils will disappoint in 2013-14.
While this hasn’t been a problem under Coach K, the program hasn’t seen this many NBA-ready players on one roster in a long time.
It’ll require a lot of attention from the coaching staff to ensure that the talent of the players on the team doesn’t go to waste.
Can He Handle the Big East Influx?
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The ACC added Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame.
For years, the ACC universe has revolved around North Carolina’s research triangle. Duke and UNC dominated the conference. From 1997 to 2011, there was only one year when a team other than Duke won the ACC tournament.
Recent history has seen a bit of a shift, as Florida State won in 2012 and Miami won last season.
Going forward, Coach K will need to show that he can handle the new kids on the block. With Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame coming in for this season and Louisville set to arrive in 2014, the ACC is going to look substantially different.
The Big East teams are different entities. They’re used to a more physical style of play and familiar with a schedule that is forced to accommodate a conference with a lot of teams.
From here on out, the ACC will see fewer and fewer schedules that allow teams to play each other twice. The more teams that have one and only one shot to upset Duke, the more intense those matchups get.
The added competition and the increased pressure of trying to kick aside teams in a single regular-season matchup will make this conference season much tougher than normal. The additional teams will make conference play even more grueling.
Duke will need a monster effort to get through this new incarnation of the ACC.
Can He Compete With Kentucky?
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There are a handful of elite teams in the country. Duke is one of them, but Kentucky boasts one of the most lauded recruiting classes of recent memory.
Success at Duke under Coach K has been measured by whether or not the team contended for a title. The Blue Devils should fully expect to be in the championship mix this season, but they’ll need to keep pace with Kentucky.
If the Wildcats march through a weak SEC and put on displays of athleticism that dominate ESPN highlight reels, then Kentucky’s confidence will grow while Duke’s suffers.
As I just mentioned, the ACC is going to be a tough road to hoe. The SEC, on the other hand, will be phenomenally feeble.
The result will be a Blue Devil resume that is likely to bare some scars while the Wildcats rack up blowout wins.
The dichotomy of those two teams will be a narrative that plays out for the full season. There will be some other teams that capture the national spotlight, but given Duke and Kentucky’s history, fans and pundits alike will be eager to compare the Blue Devils and Wildcats.
Duke won’t meet Kentucky unless it’s in the NCAA tournament.
However, every game up until that potential meeting will be examined and analyzed with the expectation that a Blue Devil-versus-Wildcats championship is an eventuality.