Duke lost to Kansas, 83–94, so let’s all take a step back from the ledge and figure out just how it happened. Befitting an academic institution like Duke, here are the player grades for the game.
Jabari Parker: A
All game, but particularly in the first half, he was unstoppable. Jabari Parker scored 27 points and added nine rebounds. Only late-game foul trouble slowed his production. He was Duke’s most reliable scoring option all night and showcased his ability to score from anywhere on the court.
The only knock against the freshman superstar is his defense. Matched up against bigger post players, Parker wants to front up his defensive responsibility. Fronting the post is fine, but it requires that someone slides over to give weak-side help. It also necessitates better ball pressure to prevent an entry pass over the top of Parker.
The Blue Devils did a terrible job of weak-side rotation, and that was one of the major reasons for the loss. This wasn’t entirely Parker’s fault, but he and his teammates need to improve their defensive communication and understanding in order to close down space.
Rodney Hood: B
Rodney Hood had five assists and did a beautiful job of driving and dishing. He also did a decent job guarding Wiggins. Unfortunately, he fell into the trap of just watching Parker do his thing. The entire Duke team was guilty of ball-watching when Parker was lighting up the scoreboard, but Hood in particular needs to make sure that he inserts himself into the offense.
Hood finished with 11 points, but he only took eight shots. As good as Parker is, he needs running mates. While Parker held up his end of the bargain and Rasheed Sulaimon showed that he’s not afraid to find his own offense, Hood disappeared for long stretches. It wasn’t a bad game for Hood, but due to his ability to create his own shot and shots for others, he needed to be more assertive on the offensive end.
Amile Jefferson: A
No one will benefit more from all the drives to the hoop than Amile Jefferson. He did well to finish on all the inside dishes he received and even made some great drives to the basket from the free-throw line. It all added up to 17 points for the sophomore.
The complaint is that he only grabbed two rebounds. As a team, Duke was out-rebounded 24-39, and Jefferson didn’t do much to slow the Jayhawks’ domination of the boards. There were times when he was in good position and the ball simply caromed out to a Kansas player, but it’d be good to see more aggression from Amile in terms of going for boards. Defensively he did fine, but there's obviously room for improvement.
Tyler Thornton: B
As usual, Tyler Thornton doesn’t have a great stat line. However, as usual, he did a great job of playing within himself. Thornton started over Sulaimon again but only got 20 minutes of playing time and eventually fouled out. He made his only shot, which was a three, and Thornton managed two assists, two steals and four rebounds.
Though he did a little bit of everything, even Duke’s defensive stopper couldn’t get a handle on Wayne Selden. The Kansas point guard kept getting penetration and causing defensive switches that the Blue Devils didn’t handle well. Obviously, Duke’s subpar defensive effort wasn’t all Thornton’s fault, but he certainly didn’t distinguish himself in a game mostly bereft of good defense.
Quinn Cook: D
He had a couple of great offensive cuts to the basket, but overall, Cook’s game was disappointing. Cook was 0-of-3 from three and forced one or two of those deep shots as well as forcing a couple of bad shots off drives late in the game. Beyond that, Cook couldn’t even make the first pass to a player after crossing half court.
Repeatedly, Cook called a play and then made a pass to a player flashing toward him that got tipped or intercepted. It’s a simple pass to start the offensive set, and though that can’t be entirely Cook’s fault, it screws with the timing of the play and is indicative of a lax approach. Cook also failed to make defensive switches in a timely manner on multiple occasions.
The Blue Devils need Cook to tighten up his game and learn how to lead the offense without forcing himself into bad shots. They also need him to start applying better ball pressure and staying in front of his man.
Rasheed Sulaimon: A
Once again he came off the bench, but Sulaimon managed to find his stride. While Hood made a bad habit of taking a backseat to Parker, Sulaimon played in tandem with Parker and found his own space.
In the second half, Sulaimon drove to the basket to great effect and added a second scoring element to Duke’s attack. His 1-of-3 three-point shooting wasn’t ideal, but overall Sulaimon showed that he can contribute to Duke’s offense. Defensively he, like other Duke players, had his lapses. Much of that can be attributed to not wanting to switch away from Wiggins.
Ultimately, Sulaimon didn’t get badly beat off the dribble and wasn’t exposed on switches, which should put pressure on the starting spots of Cook and Thornton.
Josh Hairston: B
He didn’t do much, but he doesn’t need to do much. Against Davidson, Josh Hairston jacked up unbelievably ill-advised threes. In this game, he managed to keep his desire to shoot in check. He banged around inside and got a nice bucket for his only two points of the game.
Hairston’s defense was decent, and the officials robbed him of at least one charge call. Like Jefferson, he needs to be more aggressive on the boards. Hairston had zero rebounds against Kansas, so the only way to go is up. Overall, it was good to see him settle into his role as a defensive glue guy and inside enforcer.
Alex Murphy, Marshall Plumlee and Matt Jones didn’t play enough to receive grades.
Team GPA: 3.14
It seems high—especially considering the GPA in the Davidson game was lower—but Duke actually played well against Kansas. First of all, the 11-point margin of defeat is truly misleading. The game was tight throughout, and in fact, the Blue Devils have to consider this a winnable game that they let slip away.
The weak-side defense that I mentioned throughout the player grades is certainly a problem, and the free-throw shooting was absolutely atrocious. But there are two things to keep in mind. One, it’s early enough for Coach K to find solutions. And two, this looked a lot like the Louisville game in the Elite Eight last year only this time Duke was in a much better position to win.
The game that knocked Duke out of the tournament was one at a frenetic pace against an offense that had elite guards and an inside scoring threat. Duke couldn’t keep pace with Louisville’s offense and succumbed to poor shooting. As a result, the Blue Devils fell one game short of the Final Four.
In this game, Duke lost but it certainly had the horses to keep up with an explosive offense. As the season goes on and the Blue Devils improve on defense, Duke can be certain that it won’t be run out of the gym the way Louisville did it a year ago.
So this was a loss, but a loss that showed that Duke can compete with anyone based on raw talent. If the problem areas that Kansas exposed get fixed, then Duke can grow into one of the most complete teams in the country.
Michigan State: +A
So much for Calipari talking about an undefeated season.
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