Duke Basketball: Blue Devils' 5 Keys to Winning the ACC

David AldridgeFeatured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2014

Duke Basketball: Blue Devils' 5 Keys to Winning the ACC

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    Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

    It’s become the standard for the Duke basketball program that the Blue Devils are expected to compete for an ACC title every year.

    This season is no different.

    The Blue Devils were selected by the media in the preseason as the favorite to win the conference, and this appears to be another roster for Mike Krzyzewski that’s capable of winning a conference crown.

    However, Duke has also shown some weaknesses and will face tough competition in the ACC. Let’s look at five keys for the team to win the league.

5. Figuring out Syracuse’s 2-3 Zone

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    Syracuse appears to be the biggest obstacle standing in the way of an ACC Championship for Duke.

    The Orange have two of the best players in the country in Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair, and they have the length and physical approach that could create problems for Duke’s offense.

    It will be critical for the Blue Devils to figure out ways to effectively attack Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense.

    Teams struggle against the Syracuse zone when they aren’t familiar with it, and Mike Krzyzewski will have to get his team to make the quick transition against this new conference foe.

4. Consistent Play from Quinn Cook

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    When Duke has struggled this season, it’s in part because Quinn Cook has struggled.

    Whether it’s because he’s unable to slow down the opposing point guard on defense or he makes careless mistakes on offense, Duke’s junior point guard is often the team’s biggest X-factor against good teams.

    Cook has improved his defense over the past three games and has become more comfortable in his role as the distributor for the Duke offense, which will be key for the Blue Devils to have success in conference play.

    His strong play also helps take pressure off Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.

3. No Freshman Wall for Jabari Parker

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    Without question, Jabari Parker is the most important player for Duke this season. He’s a leading candidate for National Player of the Year and has shown he can do everything for the Blue Devils.

    It’s clear the team will rely heavily on him down the stretch in close games, and it will be interesting to see how his body holds up over the course of a full college basketball season.

    He hasn’t experienced many of the challenges most freshmen experience, but it’s critical for Duke that Parker avoids any type of freshman wall as the season progresses.

    The superstar forward has been incredible through the first part of his college career. Now, Duke needs him to continue to be spectacular in the games that matter most.

2. Shooting Guard Production

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    Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

    Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker have combined to give Duke one of the most dynamic duos in the country.

    However, when the Blue Devils are forced to depend entirely on these two players, it’s difficult to have enough offensive production to beat quality teams.

    If the shooting guards can provide consistent offense, it provides tremendous depth and balance. Andre Dawkins is having a fantastic season and offers terrific outside shooting, while Rasheed Sulaimon is coming on strong after a slow start and has great driving ability.

    Dawkins and Sulaimon make Duke such a difficult team to defend with their unique skills.

1. Perimeter Defense

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    Duke struggled with stopping Kansas’ guards in its first loss of the season. The problem reared its head again when Arizona took down the Blue Devils in Madison Square Garden.

    Teams that have success against Duke are able to break down the Blue Devils’ pressure defense by penetrating into the lane and creating mismatches with defensive rotations.

    The dribble penetration also exposes Duke’s lack of size and strong defenders in the paint.

    Mike Krzyzewski’s defense is always built around extending passing lanes by putting pressure on the perimeter. When his squads are unable to execute this approach, it becomes very problematic.