The Duke basketball team is off to a solid 9-2 start to the 2013-14 campaign and has victories over UCLA and Michigan under its belt. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad has looked vulnerable at times, but it is still on the short list of contenders for a Final Four appearance.
While the impressive record is certainly no surprise, there have been some proceedings that were not expected before the year tipped off. Read on for details about some preseason misconceptions we had about the Blue Devils and why they have been proved wrong.
Quinn Cook has always been a point guard who looks to score, but coming into the season, his role was to be the distributor on a squad that included potential superstars Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.
Cook’s decision making has been suspect at times throughout his career, which is one of the reasons there were question marks about his ability to be a “true” point guard. However, he has answered those questions in dramatic fashion on the offensive end.
Cook boasts a 3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, has been wiser with his shot selection and has played the best basketball of his career. He is shooting just shy of 50 percent from the field, which is a testament to improved shot selection, and is still finding a way to score 14.6 points a night on the floor with Parker and Hood.
If Cook continues to play at this level, Duke’s offense could be the best in the nation by March.
In the News & Observer’s season preview for the Blue Devils, Rasheed Sulaimon was listed as a starter and even favorably discussed his NBA potential.
So much for that.
Sulaimon averaged just shy of 12 points a game as a freshman, and many expected him to make a notable leap in his second year, especially playing alongside Parker and Hood. The thinking was that opposing defenses would be so focused on stopping Parker and Hood that Sulaimon would have plenty of open looks all season.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, that has not been the case thus far. Sulaimon never saw the floor in the important win against Michigan and only played five minutes against Gardner-Webb. He appeared buried on the bench and was nowhere near filling in the role as the third scorer.
However, he played well against UCLA and made two critical three-pointers, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
If you listened to the hype surrounding Andrew Wiggins before the season began, you would have thought he was a hybrid mix of Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Wiggins has played well for Kansas, but he has fallen well short of the hyperbolic expectations that were placed on his teenage shoulders before he ever played a college basketball game. Parker, on the other hand, has stuffed the stat sheet better than almost anyone at the college level and has played his way into discussions for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
In fact, CBS Sports’ Zach Harper recently listed Parker as the top pick in his mock draft, ahead of Wiggins, who was once thought to be the surefire next No. 1 pick. All the talk about “Riggin’ for Wiggins” before the season began may have been for naught.
Parker is averaging 22.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 combined blocks and steals a game. He has been better than advertised for Duke and could take home National Player of the Year honors come March.
Coming into the season, the list of talent at the guard and forward positions for Duke was borderline unfair.
Cook, Parker, Sulaimon, Hood and even Andre Dawkins all screamed up-tempo and versatility, which didn’t leave a lot of room for returning senior Tyler Thornton. However, with the Blue Devils desperately looking for a boost on defense after the initial few games, Krzyzewski turned to Thornton.
It has paid dividends.
Thornton is averaging 21.5 minutes a game and has stabilized a defense that was downright awful in the early going. The Blue Devils performed much better on the defensive end of the court against Michigan and UCLA, and Thornton’s ability to lock down opposing ball-handlers is a primary reason why.
Look for Thornton to continue receiving serious playing time during the ACC slate with a premium on solid defending.
Parker was the headliner in Coach K’s 2013 recruiting class and for good reason, but Semi Ojeleye was yet another 5-star stud (per 247 Sports) who was supposed to make an immediate impact for the Blue Devils.
Ojeleye is the type of athletic and versatile forward that makes Parker and Hood so dangerous, but he has not made his presence felt in the early going. He is averaging less than seven minutes a game thus far and is scoring fewer than three points a night.
There has just been too much talent on Duke’s roster for Ojeleye to crack the rotation on a consistent basis. He will be given more opportunities in the future, but he needs to take better advantage of them if he wants to play serious minutes during the ACC portion of the schedule.
Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.