It's a widespread expectation that Duke freshman Jabari Parker will be in the NBA next season. What's unlikely is that he anticipated playing an NBA schedule in college.
The postponement of last week's game at North Carolina sent it back to Thursday of this week, where it slots between Tuesday's visit to Georgia Tech and Saturday's home rematch with top-ranked Syracuse. Add in a game against Virginia Tech the following Tuesday, and the Blue Devils are staring down the barrel of a rare stretch with four conference games in eight days.
Ramping up the intensity that many times in such a short time is hard on the legs, and may be even harder on the mind. Coach Mike Krzyzewski said as much during Monday's weekly ACC teleconference.
“You can get ahead of yourself with the build-up that people will give for the Thursday night game and the Saturday game,” he said, as reported by Laura Keeley in the Charlotte Observer. “You can have a tendency of not giving each game its value of emotion, of mental, physical and emotional preparation that’s needed, so that’s why we’re trying to look at it that way.”
The physical fallout of this run of games may be the most pivotal aspect going forward. Duke certainly has the roster to manage minutes carefully, but Coach K has begun to lean more heavily on his starters as the games dwindle to a few.
How he handles this four-game march could easily determine whether Duke plays a leading role or a brief cameo in this season's production of March Madness.
Snow Weakens Legs
As the games get bigger and more intense, a team leans on its stars. That's an age-old basketball truism. How Coach K handles Parker over the next eight days will be crucial, because his workload is already getting cranked up.
Parker's found his legs in pretty impressive fashion since struggling through his first four ACC games, and he's now merely polishing his case for ACC Player of the Year. During a scheduling quirk like this one, however, he should be a fire alarm-type player, one whose glass only gets broken during emergencies.
The Blue Devils will need to get out fast against the less dangerous Techs so Parker can ride the bench the way he strangely didn't against Boston College and Florida State. He played a total of 71 minutes in the games decided by a combined 43 points.
Time management is especially important for a player using the style Parker's been working recently. According to ESPN Stats and Information (see "Research Notes" sidebar), Parker has put up 70 percent of his shots in the paint over his last eight games. That's nearly double the rate he was penetrating in his first four ACC outings.
Boston College coach Steve Donahue wanted to let Parker sit outside and take jumpers, but his players missed the memo. Parker took 16 of his 17 shots inside the arc and made 12 of them en route to a career-high 29 points.
If Parker's trying to get to the rim against a decent group of Georgia Tech bigs and UNC's herd of cattle, he is going to be a sore Devil by the time Syracuse rolls into town, never mind at tournament time.
Spread the Wealth
Duke stomped Wake Forest and Boston College by a combined 41 points. You'd never know it from the substitution patterns Coach K utilized in those games, though.
The 51 minutes that the reserves played against BC was the fewest since Jan. 7, when the bench got only 39 minutes of run in the first meeting with Georgia Tech. Ironically, that game still stands as Parker's career-low minute mark (21).
For the season, Ken Pomeroy credits Duke with 29.7 percent bench minutes, or about 59.4 per game. In actuality, KenPom does not compute those percentages on a game-by-game basis, merely lumping together the remaining minutes after deducting a team's top five players in percentage of minutes played.
Here is the actual breakdown based on Pomeroy's box scores:
|Games||Bench Min/Gm||Bench Min %|
|Non-ACC (13 gms)||64.9||32.5|
Non-conference games alternated between Coach K tightening the bench against tough opponents (25 percent against Kansas, Arizona and Michigan) with experimenting against the overmatched foes (44.1 percent versus Florida Atlantic, UNC Asheville, Eastern Michigan and Elon).
Early ACC games involved losses that provoked bouts of reassessment (Notre Dame and Clemson) and a few blowout wins (NC State, Florida State). The more recent games have seen Duke find its stride behind the surging Parker.
Playing For March
Coach K can propel his team into the No. 1 seed discussion—if it's not already there—with a 4-0 run through this gauntlet, especially if Duke is the first team to knock off Syracuse.
Conversely, he could upset the Blue Devils' apple cart by overworking the likes of Parker, Rodney Hood and Rasheed Sulaimon against Georgia Tech...Again.
Starters Hood, Sulaimon and Quinn Cook sat for a combined eight minutes against the Yellow Jackets last month. Remember that the final margin of that game was 79-57 and that the Devils were up by 16 with less than seven minutes left. One would expect that the coach could spare some minutes for Semi Ojeleye, if not Todd Zafirovski.
In the interest of full disclosure, there's no guarantee that extensive bench minutes guarantee a championship—or even a semifinal appearance. Among Final Four participants since Pomeroy began tracking bench minutes in 2007, only seven have used the reserves more heavily than Duke is this season. Only one became the national champion, denoted by an asterisk in the table.
|Year||Team||Bench Min. %|
(Note: These percentages were derived using Pomeroy's "remainder" method.)
Still, the Blue Devils' injury luck this season has been tremendous. Krzyzewski has not had to deal with losing a single player to injury among his primary 10-man rotation. This is hardly the time to tempt fate.
Extensive use of the bench during these four games will by no means ensure Duke the national title. Injuries can, however, cost it any shot at Dallas.
This eight-day flurry demands a deft hand to keep fresh(er) legs all the way through. Thankfully for Duke fans, hands don't come much defter than Mike Krzyzewski's.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron. Now Playing: the Feb. 17 Poll Dancing Top 25 ballot. See where Duke ranks among the national elite.