March may be right around the corner, but the Duke Blue Devils are experiencing some college basketball madness of their own right now.
Following the cancellation of the rivalry game against North Carolina on Feb. 12, Mike Krzyzewski's squad is in the beginning stages of an eight-day stretch that includes four games, two of which come less than 48 hours apart against the Tar Heels and No. 1-ranked Syracuse Orange.
Fortunately for the Blue Devils, they are so deep with so many weapons that they should be able to handle it. The real question is whether first-year superstar Jabari Parker, who is less than a year removed from making prom plans, will hit the proverbial freshman wall during the stretch or in the immediate aftermath.
With the production of Parker and all of his players in mind, Krzyzewski discussed the quirks of the ACC schedule with reporters recently in comments that were passed along by Laura Keeley of The News & Observer:
Expansion, and the newness of Monday, Tuesday, Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday games creates an uneven structure for all this kids that you have to be careful about. So there can be a variance in performance as a result of that type of, kind of illogical thing.
As for Parker, there is a chance that he has already fought through his version of the freshman wall.
In a five-game stretch against Elon, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia, Parker averaged just more than 10 points a night behind 32 percent shooting from the field and 24 percent shooting from behind the three-point line.
The Blue Devils lost to both Notre Dame and Clemson and barely escaped the game with Virginia thanks to a Rasheed Sulaimon three-pointer. Parker even spent the final few minutes of the loss to the Fighting Irish on the bench.
However, Parker burst through the struggles in the next two games with 40 points and 22 rebounds. Duke has only lost one time since, and that came in an incredible overtime battle in the Carrier Dome against the Orange.
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman felt at the time that Parker certainly was past the freshman wall:
If we are to assume that there is only one wall per freshman season, then Parker has nothing to worry about. However, he hasn’t faced a stretch like the one Duke is currently entrenched in, and the most demanding and important part of the season is waiting just on the other side of these four games.
Parker certainly got off to a quick start in the first of the four games against Georgia Tech with 16 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks and a steal.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment and discuss just why Parker could run into another freshman wall outside of simply stating that he could get tired because of the grueling schedule.
His usage percentage (via Sports-Reference.com) is second-highest in the entire ACC, which is demanding of anyone, let alone a freshman. He is also becoming less dependent on his outside shot and more willing to post up and bang around down low.
That has done wonders for his offensive production and the Duke attack as a whole, but it’s also going to be slightly more taxing in the long run.
Throw in the fact that two of the most physical teams in the ACC (Syracuse and North Carolina) that won’t be afraid to challenge Parker as he drives to the rim await in three of the final five regular-season games, and Parker has his work cut out for him.
While there is certainly something to be said about those reasons, Parker is going to be just fine.
He is only 18 years old, and his incredible athleticism and versatility will allow him to attack offensively in so many ways. That means if the post up isn’t working, Parker can go outside, or vice versa.
Furthermore, there are so many talented teammates surrounding Parker that opposing defenses can’t really double him without getting burned by somebody else.
With a coach like Krzyzewski, this stretch of games will be treated more like an opportunity than a challenge. The back-to-back against North Carolina and Syracuse is a mirror image of something the Blue Devils could face in the NCAA tournament. At some point this year, Duke is going to have to beat two impressive teams in three days if it hopes to accomplish its goals.
At the end of the day, Parker is simply too talented to be adversely affected by a difficult stretch on the schedule.
Plus, he will be spending the majority of his adult life playing more grueling competition in shorter stretches in the NBA. Parker will continue to be the superstar he has been for the majority of his freshman year.
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