Duke Basketball: Highs and Lows of Blue Devils' Season So Far

David Aldridge@davidmaldridgeFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2014

Duke Basketball: Highs and Lows of Blue Devils' Season So Far

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    To say it’s been a roller coaster for the Duke basketball program this season would be an understatement.

    At times, the Blue Devils have shown the potential to be a legitimate national championship contender. At other times, Duke looks like a team that would be lucky to receive an invitation to the NIT.

    Some fans are still hopeful this group will put the pieces together and play its best basketball down the stretch, while others are already waving the white flag and thinking about the possibilities of next year.

    Let’s look at some of the highs and lows of the season so far.

Low: 1-Point Win at Home Against Vermont

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    While it counted as a win in the record for Duke, there was nothing that felt like the Blue Devils were victorious against Vermont.

    Duke was atrocious defensively and on the glass, and nearly gave up a game-winning layup, but the Blue Devils were fortunate time expired before the ball went through the hoop. The buzzer sounded, and Duke exhaled with a 91-90 victory.

    It wasn’t a case of playing an opponent that happened to be playing really well and caught Duke at the right time. Vermont entered on a three-game losing streak, which included losses to Bryant University, Providence and Wagner.

    This was the first in a series of steps that exposed what a poor defensive team Mike Krzyzewski has this season, and it’s still a work in progress to get this corrected.

High: Jabari Parker’s 1st Half Against Kansas

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    Though Duke ultimately lost to Kansas, college basketball fans got a glimpse of the incredible talent of Jabari Parker with his first-half performance against the Jayhawks.

    On a night when a number of bright young stars were on display at the United Center for the Champions Classic, Parker was the freshman star that shined the brightest.

    He finished the game with 27 points and nine rebounds, but it was a stretch during the first half where he scored 12 of 14 points for Duke in a dazzling display of the tremendous versatility in his game.

    It was this stretch of play when the nation recognized the Blue Devils had a superstar in Jabari Parker.

Low: Loss at Notre Dame

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    Duke opened ACC play with what looked to be an easy victory on the road over Notre Dame.

    The Fighting Irish were coming off an unimpressive overtime win against Canisius and would be playing without leading scorer Jerian Grant, who was dismissed from the university due to academics.

    With the students still being away on holiday break, Duke wouldn’t even have to face the typical atmosphere that has made the Joyce Center such a difficult place to play over the years.

    However, Notre Dame controlled the paint and attacked the Blue Devils, and eventually used a 20-4 run down the stretch to secure the upset.

    Despite being significantly more talented, Duke allowed Notre Dame to dictate the pace, and the Fighting Irish played harder and deserved the victory.

High: Beating Michigan at Home

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    After coming off a loss to Arizona at Madison Square Garden, Duke faced a dangerous Michigan squad in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

    The Blue Devils received great contributions from Marshall Plumlee and Andre Dawkins off the bench and completely shut down Nik Stauskas, who entered the game as the leading scorer for the Wolverines.

    It was also one of Duke’s best defensive performances of the season. The Blue Devils forced Michigan to miss 17 of its first 21 shots, which put the Wolverines in a hole they were never able to get out of.

    Duke used a terrific all-around team effort to knock off the national runner-up from last season.

Low: 2nd Half Against Clemson

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    After building a 37-31 lead at halftime, Duke fell apart in the second half on the road against Clemson, which was similar to what had happened the previous weekend at Notre Dame.

    The Blue Devils again encountered defensive struggles, while Clemson was led by K.J. McDaniels and Jaron Blossongame, who had their way on both ends of the floor.

    Jabari Parker was a non-factor when his team needed him most, and the Blue Devils lacked the fight we’ve come to expect from a program run by Mike Krzyzewski.

    Once Duke’s offense went cold, its defense clearly wasn’t good enough to keep things close, as the Tigers pulled away in the game’s final minutes.

High: Rasheed Sulaimon’s 3-Pointer Against Virginia

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    It’s been a tumultuous season for Rasheed Sulaimon.

    The sophomore shooting guard has found himself on the bench repeatedly and been challenged by the coaching staff to improve his play, as he’s struggled with consistency and finding his place on this year’s team.

    However, Sulaimon found his rhythm in a huge game against Virginia, leading the Blue Devils with 21 points, including a three-pointer that gave them the lead with 18.8 seconds remaining.

    For a guy who’s received so much criticism this season, it was great to see Sulaimon come through in a clutch moment for his team.