Duke Basketball: Blue Devils' Biggest Goals for Nonconference Play

David Aldridge@davidmaldridgeFeatured ColumnistNovember 27, 2013

Duke Basketball: Blue Devils' Biggest Goals for Nonconference Play

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    The 2013-14 season for the Duke Blue Devils is off to an interesting start.

    Duke is 5-1 and ranked sixth in the the AP Top 25, but the Blue Devils are coming off two very unimpressive home wins over East Carolina and Vermont.

    Were it not for a few key plays, Duke is a team that could easily be 3-3 right now. It’s clear Mike Krzyzewski and his players have a long way to go before reaching their full potential.

    However, if the Blue Devils can meet the following goals in nonconference play, they should be ready to compete for another ACC championship.

Gain Experience for the New Lineup

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    It’s important to remember that last season’s team was built around Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, three experienced seniors.

    This season’s team is built around Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, two new faces who are still adjusting to playing for Duke.

    Not only is it an adjustment for Parker and Hood, it’s also an adjustment for the supporting cast around them, a cast doing its best to play in a way that complements the team’s two primary scorers.

    This is a squad that’s still learning to play together and going through some growing pains, which is hopefully something Duke can develop during the nonconference portion of the season.

Communicate Better Defensively

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    As good as the offense has been this season, the defense for the Blue Devils has been equally bad.

    According to StatSheet.com, Duke is allowing opponents to shoot over 45 percent from the field.

    The defense was disastrous in Duke’s last game against Vermont, in which the Catamounts shot over 64 percent and nearly came away with one of the biggest upsets in the history of Cameron Indoor Stadium.

    Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke players have alluded to one of the biggest problems on defense being the team’s lack of communication, which has led to easy, uncontested baskets for opponents.

    For this to become a dominant team, the players must learn to communicate better and fill the gaps in the defense.

Establish Roles for Players off the Bench

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    This should be one of the deepest teams Mike Krzyzewski has ever had at Duke, but much of that depth will depend on the bench players proving they can contribute in meaningful areas when on the court.

    While there is an impressive collection of talent on the Duke bench, the key is for that talent to fit in a way that meets needs for the Blue Devils.

    Although Alex Murphy, Andre Dawkins, Semi Ojeleye and Matt Jones all had reputations as great scorers coming out of high school, they now find themselves in positions where Duke doesn’t need more scoring.

    However, if they can provide strong defense and rebounding, Coach K will have to find places for them in the rotation.

Place a Greater Emphasis on Rebounding

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    Whether it’s guys coming off the bench or the players currently in the starting lineup, Duke needs to improve its rebounding.

    The Blue Devils are currently ranked 283rd in the country at 33 rebounds per game, and it’s a major weakness for a team that’s struggled to come up with key stops.

    Amile Jefferson hasn’t been the strong presence Duke needs him to be in the post, but he’ll also need help from everyone around him.

    It could also be that Mike Krzyzewski needs to try going with a bigger lineup and give Alex Murphy, Marshall Plumlee and Semi Ojeleye opportunities to provide a stronger presence on the glass.

Adjust to the New Style of Play

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    With the way this year’s team is constructed, Mike Krzyzewski talked in the preseason about how the Blue Devils would use a faster style of play that was built around Duke’s athleticism and speed.

    Offensively, it’s been a wonderful fit for a team with so many players who can score from anywhere on the court. Defensively, it’s still a work in progress.

    One of the challenges in this new style of play is that players can get lost defensively and in rebounding because the emphasis is on being aggressive and making plays in transition.

    This team still needs to find the proper balance of remaining aggressive on offense while not sacrificing the quality of the defense.