A lot of people pick on Mike Brey because of his lack of postseason success. Regardless of his tournament record, the fact is that Brey can flat-out coach.
The disparity of talent between Duke and Notre Dame was heavily tipped in favor of the Blue Devils. Yet Brey and the Fighting Irish had a game plan that repeatedly plunged a knife into the weak spots of Duke’s armor. In the end, Notre Dame opened its newly minted ACC era with a win over the Blue Devils because Brey outcoached his former mentor.
The grades for Duke’s 77–79 loss to Notre Dame are indicative of the narrative that will plague the Blue Devils all year. If Duke intends to contend for a title, there will have to be a serious plot twist in the form of better defense and post play. Otherwise, these grades could go on the Blue Devils’ permanent record.
Jabari Parker: F
It turns out he’s only human. The nation’s best college player looked utterly abysmal playing down the road from his hometown of Chicago. Jabari Parker was 2-of-10 with two turnovers and found himself firmly planted on the bench at the end of the game.
It’s understandable to have a bad shooting night, but great players find other ways to contribute. In his youth, Parker instead ended up forcing bad shots from outside and failing to establish any sort of interior presence even though that was obviously something Duke desperately needed.
Beyond that, Parker continues to look totally lost on defense. To be fair, he isn’t a true post player so his struggles against opposing centers are expected. But his confusion on defensive switches is so atrocious that it makes Quinn Cook’s switches look good by comparison.
Bottom line, Parker isn’t a complete player yet. He’s still learning, so it’s not the end of the world by any stretch, but if Parker had given Duke just a percentage of the greatness he’s capable of, then the Blue Devils could’ve come away with a win.
Rodney Hood: A
If there was one player who looked like he could save Duke’s bacon, it was Rodney Hood. The man who eschews starting the second half in favor of a bathroom break led all scorers with 27 points.
After a run of games with subpar shooting, Hood found his touch in South Bend. He had a season-high five three-pointers and used his ability to cut to the rim to draw fouls. Hood was consistently the Blue Devils’ best offensive option.
It was unfortunate that Hood effectively ended the game by driving to the hoop only to turn it over with a pass to no one in particular. He also didn’t cover himself in glory on defense, but those detractions were few and far between.
So long as he avoids settling for threes, Hood's outside shot and ability to slash into the lane make him a superior offensive talent.
Quinn Cook: B+
He still requires help on defense, and he still takes ill-advised threes early in the shot clock. However, you’ve got admit that he isn’t afraid to attack an opponent and answer the bell in high-pressure situations. You just have to take the good with the bad when it comes to Cook.
His 22 points were invaluable, and he, like Hood, was perfect from the free-throw line. On an afternoon where Duke’s offense sputtered, Cook and Hood combined to keep putting points on the board.
However, Cook’s meager four assists illustrate that Duke needs more than simple scoring from the point guard. The Blue Devils never got anything close to consistency on offense. Instead, Duke lived and died by the three.
Ultimately, Cook can’t just shoot the ball well; he has to help his teammates get into the offense as well.
Josh Hairston: C
Josh Hairston managed to produce an amazingly sparse stat line despite starting and playing nine minutes. He made an elbow jumper and then didn’t take another shot all game. That's perfectly acceptable because Duke doesn’t count of Hairston for offense, but his zero rebounds are troubling.
Hairston didn’t have a single rebound and got burned a couple of times on defense. Quite simply, he was overmatched against Notre Dame’s bigger and stronger post players.
To his credit, Hairston didn’t try to force anything offensively and gave up a couple of good fouls. Still, it’s worrying that he was almost entirely invisible against the brawn of true power forwards and centers.
Tyler Thornton: D
As per usual, Tyler Thornton came up with a couple of steals. What was atypical of this game was the fact that Thornton negated his two steals with two turnovers and some weak defensive possessions.
The whole point of playing Thornton is to use him to pressure the ball and compensate for the defensive liability known as Quinn Cook. And yet, Duke’s defense didn't force many turnovers and the ball pressure wasn’t enough to prevent entry passes to Notre Dame’s post players. That being the case, it’s hard to argue that Thornton left any meaningful imprint on this game.
Rasheed Sulaimon: C
It’s becoming evident that the coaching staff would prefer to play Rasheed Sulaimon when Parker isn’t on the court. For whatever reason, Sulaimon is struggling to fit in with all the offensive weapons around him. He finished with six points, three of which came from the free-throw line.
Against the Irish, Sulaimon once again retreated to the shadows rather than step into the forefront. Late in the game the sophomore seemed slightly more assertive, but it was too little too late. He drove the lane well and drew fouls, but for the most part, Sulaimon continued to lack consistency.
Worst of all, Sulaimon undid some really admirable on-the-ball defense with some loose off-the-ball defense. Too often he was trailing his player on a curl. As skilled as Sulaimon is, his lapses in concentration and inconsistency are undermining his ability.
Amile Jefferson: B+
There were a couple of miscues in the paint from Amile Jefferson, but overall he did what was expect of him. Jefferson’s nine rebounds and one block was the only thing that came close to resembling post play by someone in a Blue Devils uniform.
Obviously, he didn’t do anything to stem the tide of points in the paint that helped Notre Dame shoot 52.6 percent from the field. Of course, that can’t fall entirely on Jefferson’s shoulders. Duke needs to make a team effort in terms of interior defense and rebounding. Against the Irish, that didn’t happen.
Even though Jefferson played pretty well, it wasn’t nearly enough to correct a glaring weakness plaguing the Blue Devils.
Andre Dawkins: C
Although he’s improved on defense, Andre Dawkins didn’t look good against the Irish. He picked up four fouls and was repeatedly burned on cuts to the basket.
Offensively, Dawkins took five three-pointers and made two. It seemed like Notre Dame’s zone would’ve been a welcome sight to Dawkins, but he struggled to get open looks in the half-court offense. As a team, Duke didn’t run its sets with any real conviction, and as a result, Dawkins’ three-point threat was lost in the shuffle.
Marshall Plumlee played four minutes, which wasn’t enough to get a grade.
Team GPA: 2.21
Not a good overall grade, which should be expected. The negative view of the game is pretty easy to come by. Duke still can’t play defense and doesn’t have anyone in the post to prevent easy baskets or score from high-percentage shots. The Blue Devils stayed in the game thanks to great three-point shooting, but an inability to score when the outside shooting went cold doomed Duke to a loss.
A more positive take would point out that Parker played 24 minutes and at no point looked like the dominate player he is. If Parker had put together just an average outing instead of an awful one, Duke would’ve been in much better shape.
Overall, Duke fans should get used to these types of loses. The Blue Devils are outstanding in some areas of the game and appalling in others. Each game will be a contest to see if an opponent can exploit Duke’s weaknesses and if the Blue Devils can overcome their inadequacies with offense and athleticism.
That could make for some frustrating loses just as easily as it could result in some remarkable wins.