The Path for Duke to Return to the Final Four

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The Path for Duke to Return to the Final Four
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Final Four is an amazing accomplishment for any school, but coach Mike Krzyzewski has set a very high standard for his program, making people wonder what has truly happened to the dominant force that was once called the Duke Blue Devils. Duke’s graduating class failed to reach the Final Four in its four years of competing, an unprecendented lack of accomplishment.  There are some simple reasons for why this happened, but the real issue is how can the team return to its former glory.  

To figure out how Duke can return, one must first understand how it got to the Final Four in its past.  There are some strong consistent threads between all of Duke's Final Four teams.  First, they all had a big man who could score in the post when the offense bogged down.  Starting with Mark Alarie, Danny Ferry, and Christian Laettner, and then more recently with Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer, and Shelden Williams, Duke has always needed a low post threat.  Without one, it becomes to hard to consistently score against top teams, and win the four games necessary to play on the final weekend.

Secondly, each team had a strong point guard who played good to great defense.  Tommy Amaker, and Bobby Hurley were great defenders and distributors.  Quinn Snyder, Jeff Capel, and Will Avery were good distributors and defenders.  Jason Williams was dominant, and Chris Duhon was an excellent defender and distributor.  Essentially, the point guard position was lead by a reliable consistent player who could prevent penetration by the opponent.  Duke has not had such a player since Chris Duhon left and is a primary reason why Shelden Williams and JJ Redick were unable to get back to the Final Four.  Right now, there is not a true point guard on the roster who can provide that level of consistency of play.  Without a true point guard, who can also defend, Duke will have trouble.  However, if John Wall decides to play at Duke, then he should solve this issue.  He has been ranked by some as the best player in the incoming freshman class and possesses the ball handling, vision and overall skill set needed to dominate at the position.  Of course, he has yet to declare his intent.

Thirdly, Duke's prior Final Four teams consisted of a wing player who could score so that teams could not easily double team the post.  Duke's title teams had Grant Hill and Jason Williams, but all of the Final Four teams had a consistent wing player who got them to that point.  Johnny Dawkins, Phil Henderson Trajan Langdon, Mike Dunleavey, Luol Deng and JJ Redick were all able to provide a threat from the wing.

The current roster is full of talented wing players, who can score, but no true post threat and no true point guard.  It is not easy finding a talented low post player.  Duke most notably missed out on Greg Monroe who is now at Georgetown.  Monroe would have been a great fit on Duke.  Now, the team has brought in some talented young big men.  The key is whether or not Coach K will take the time and effort to properly develop them even if it costs the team some games during the season.

Coach K has many strengths and few flaws, but if there has been a flaw in the last four years, it has been a failure to find and develop the low post players.  He cannot let this happen again.  While Zoubek is probably a lost cause because he lacks quickness, the Plumlee brothers are not.  Last year, Duke had two players who had the chance to be a threat in the post: Zoubek and Plumlee.

Zoubek has so little confidence that when he got the ball in the low post, he almost always looked to pass even though he was rarely double-teamed.  It got to the point that during the Villanova game, he received a pass on the right block and immediately passed the ball to Scheyer for a three point shot even though he would have had an uncontested layup if he merely turned and looked at the basket.

Plumlee looked nervous last year, but he played well when he got consistent minutes.  He was especially productive on defense.  His defense on Monroe was a big factor in the Duke victory.  Last year Plumlee shot 47.4% from the field.  He showed willingness and a desire to try to score, which kept teams honest.  What he needed was consistent opportunities in the offense so that he could get past his nerves.  The shame of it all is that Duke fans never got the chance to see if Miles could be a true threat in the post because he rarely got off the bench.

Duke does have two top recruits coming in this year in Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly.  Mason is supposedly better than his brother, but only time will tell as to which one will be more productive next year.  Ryan Kelly is more of a high post player who could develop into Kyle Singler's eventual replacement.  Unfortunately, even though Kelly is 6'9", he does not solve Duke's low post problem.

If John Wall signs, then Duke will have its point guard and with Scheyer, Smith and Singler, Duke has enough perimeter scorers.  The key will be to develop a low post threat.  To do that, Duke needs to decide on a player and force-feed him 8 to 10 shots per game in the post through January.  Whether it is Mason or Miles Plumlee, one of them needs to get comfortable in the low post.  Even if it costs the team 2 or 3 games during the season, Duke needs a reliable post player for March and that will not happen in practice alone.

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