The breaths are coming a bit more easier now in Durham. The energy is more jovial. The Cameron Crazies have, indeed, had reason to go crazy. (Folks, go crazy.)
A historic celebration enveloped the rafters Saturday, as coach Mike Krzyzewski recorded his 900th career victory in the Blue Devils' 78-56 victory against Florida State.
Rodney Hood led the way with 18 points off the bench, as Duke dominated despite a frankly dreadful performance at points.
Florida State shot 50 percent. The Blue Devils were happy to register just over half that at a 30.5 percent clip. There were points, especially in the second half, where you could imagine an alternate universe where the Seminoles pulled off the upset.
And yet...a 22-point win.
You didn't even need to watch the game to see where the deficit came: on the boards and at the line. Duke attempted 43 free throws to Florida State's 18 and outrebounded the Seminoles, 47-24. Hood's 18 points came as a result of a 9-of-11 performance at the line. Jabari Parker grabbed an astounding 10 of Duke's 27 offensive rebounds en route to a 14-point, 14-board evening—his second straight double-double.
"Rebounding is something we've really tried to make a focal point these last few weeks," Marshall Plumlee said, via the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). "Alongside our defense, I feel like it's something that's starting to show in recent games so no matter who we play we're hoping to come up with the W on the boards and defensive stops."
It was the fourth straight for Duke, a streak that comes just after the season hit a bit of a crossroads. The Blue Devils opened up 1-2 in the ACC and dropped outside the Associated Press Top 10, both of which were firsts since 2007. They were arguably ranked more out of name value than performance when this streak began.
And now the ship is righted at the perfect time. Duke hits the road for a two-game jaunt from Pittsburgh to Syracuse, otherwise known as the only other ranked ACC teams. Winning a three-game stretch by 78 points will do wonders for the confidence of your team.
Except not everything is as kosher as the final scores make it seem. And by "not as kosher," I mean Jabari Parker is still mightily struggling from the field.
After the nonconference slate saw Parker receive rightful Carmelo Anthony comparisons, the freshman forward has floundered since entering intraconference play. Parker is averaging just 13.7 points on 34.1 percent shooting in conference play, down nearly 10 points and 20 percent from his nonconference averages.
His 14-14 on Saturday came on a 3-of-13 evening from the field, the sixth time in his past eight games he's shot below 40 percent. While we all can play the sample size game and note that only the most historically great college freshmen don't go through these slumps—a totally fair point, by the way—seven games is pretty dang significant when you've only played 20. The understandable fawning over Parker's instant translation to the college game came after exactly 12 games.
This is all stupid and overreactionary and what have you (as all this stuff is), but it's at least fair to wonder why Parker is given leeway while his contemporaries are not.
Julius Randle's numbers go on a slight downtick in SEC play, and suddenly ESPN's Chad Ford and Kevin Pelton are wondering whether Indiana's Noah Vonleh is a better pro prospect. (Verdict: el-oh-el.) Or hands are being wrung about Randle's wingspan or his below-average athleticism.
Andrew Wiggins isn't literally God reincarnated in a basketball uniform, and everyone who rode the "overhyped" bandwagon is dislocating their shoulders patting themselves on the back. Joel Embiid is the new in-vogue Jayhawk. Wiggins is the dude who couldn't hack the hype and has gone from virtual No. 1 lock to merely among the best young players, even though anyone who actually studied Wiggins' game could have told you he was a year or two away.
I'm not saying these criticisms are fair. Just noting that, in comparison, Parker is skating through without a similar level of scrutiny. The reason for that is unclear. Perhaps it's merely a case of a first impression being the best and therefore clouding the perception. Parker's struggles are just that—short-term struggles. Wiggins disappearing for a game or two is indicative of him being unable to handle the hype given to him.
It's all incredibly reductive and inane. Parker, Wiggins, Randle and Embiid are all great prospects, potential multi-time NBA All-Stars and seemingly pretty good locker room guys. The need to incessantly analyze every stroke from their wrists is more a product of our culture than anything. It's not productive analysis to update your "big board" and "mock draft" on a weekly basis like these kids are penny stocks.
But Duke? Yeah, Duke hopes Parker's shooting slump takes a long walk off a short cliff. The Blue Devils will probably march back into the Top 15 after a two-win week, and they have a chance to make a real statement in the next seven days.
The calendar hasn't struck March, so Pitt is a tough out, a better-than-expected unit led by Lamar Patterson, owner of the most beautiful jumper in college basketball. Syracuse is Syracuse. Jim Boeheim's squad plays such an aesthetically displeasing form of basketball it makes you want to cry Knowshon Moreno tears, right until the Orange run off their latest 20-game winning streak.
No matter the four-game winning streak, Duke can't beat either of those teams by hitting less than a third of its shots. Or by allowing a 50 percent conversion rate on the other end. Or by having their best player's only form of effectiveness be taking advantage of the opposition's inability to box out.
Jabari Parker needs to be better. Not for NBA scouts or his draft stock. Not even to prove he can handle the rigors of ACC play. Not for any other reason other than the Blue Devils can't survive against elite opponents without him being at the top of their game.
Coach K won his 900th game. Duke has won four straight games. Cameron Indoor Stadium was rocking with good times. Only Parker can determine whether the mood will be the same the next time the Blue Devils arrive in Durham.
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