Duke may be the overwhelming favorite to win the national title next season, based on Mike Krzyzewski’s unbelievable recruiting as of late, but the Blue Devils have Final Four aspirations this year as well.
The only way that is going to happen, though, is if Duke makes some adjustments going forward before a difficult ACC slate. The Blue Devils are currently 4-1, but lost to the one elite-team they played (Kansas) and struggled with East Carolina.
Read on to see some potential adjustments for the rest of the year.
As of Saturday, Duke ranked an abysmal 270th in the nation in total rebounds per game at 33.6.
The Blue Devils were outrebounded by Davidson and East Carolina, and were hammered on the boards by Kansas to the tune of 39-24. Perry Ellis, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid combined for as many rebounds as Duke’s entire team in that game.
Something has to change for the Blue Devils going forward if the Final Four is going to be the ultimate destination. Perhaps mixing up the big-man rotation a bit could give Coach K some answers. It certainly couldn’t hurt the rebounding efforts.
Josh Hairston is seeing 10 minutes a night, while Alex Murphy checks in at seven and Marshall Plumlee five. Even Amile Jefferson is only playing 16 minutes a game.
Yes, Duke is a small-ball team, but in terms of rebounding, the big-man rotation is not working right now. A shake-up may be in order.
Behind the efforts of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, Duke has been one of the best offensive teams in the nation in the early going. However, defense has been a different story.
Kansas scored at will in the final few minutes, while even East Carolina sliced to the rim with ease, thanks to a lack of a dominant inside presence for the Blue Devils.
As of Saturday, Duke ranked 50th in the nation in pace-adjusted defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy. Considering Coach K’s squad is ranked in the top five in the offensive counterparts of the same rankings, it is clear which end of the ball needs more improvement going forward.
Duke is loaded with versatile and explosive athletes, meaning it is an ideal candidate to run full-court pressure. Perhaps more full-court presses from the Blue Devils will create more turnovers and improve their defensive efficiency numbers.
If commentators (and even opposing coaches) were to pick a third wheel in the Duke offensive attack alongside Parker and Hood before the season, many would have chosen Rasheed Sulaimon.
Despite a fast start against Davidson and Kansas, Sulaimon has cooled off considerably. He shot a mere 4-14 from the field against East Carolina, UNC Asheville and Florida Atlantic and never really looked comfortable in the flow of the offense. He has also only hit one three-pointer since the season opener.
The Blue Devils have been great offensively, but they are even more dangerous when Sulaimon is maximizing his potential next to Parker and Hood. Coach K should run some early plays in the next few games to get Sulaimon back in rhythm.
When shooters see the ball go through the basket early, big games often follow. Duke could use a few big games from arguably its third-best offensive weapon.
It almost sounds like blasphemy with a team as athletic as Duke, but the occasional zone defense could help cover for some of its deficiencies on that end of the ball.
The Blue Devils have struggled stopping teams at an efficient rate in the early going, and may want to switch things up a bit on the defensive end. What’s more, with the versatility and athleticism that Duke has, teams will have difficulty finding open shots against a zone that are often there against slower zone squads.
While the defense has been somewhat concerning, the Blue Devils alarming issue has been on the boards. A zone defense could certainly help improve in that area, as well with more bodies down low and the offense surrounding the perimeter.
It would even allow Coach K to keep Cook on the floor for more minutes, because he has been excellent on offense but occasionally struggles on defense.
Cook’s deficiencies on defense are sometimes an issue, but he has been great for the Blue Devils on offense this year, particularly because of his lack of turnovers from the point guard position.
Cook’s assist-to-turnover ratio thus far is five-to-one, which is incredible considering how often he handles the ball. His decision making is vastly improved from what it was last year, albeit in a particularly small sample size.
Duke’s offense may look even better if it runs some more pick-and-rolls with Cook handling the ball. If Cook’s passing prowess is paired with the abilities of Parker and/or Hood, easy baskets would be the result.
Both Parker and Hood are as good as it can get in terms of options off the pick-and-roll. Each can pop out and hit jump shots from mid-range, or behind the three-point line or attack the rim and finish through contact when they get there.
More pick-and-rolls could very well improve what is already one of the best offenses in the country.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.