Duke Basketball: Keys to a Successful Postseason
Duke basketball starts its postseason Friday at 9 p.m. ET in Greensboro. The Devils have had an up-and-down season so far. Duke has a number of impressive victories but also a few questionable losses, such as last week’s game against Wake Forest.
Despite some inconsistent play, Duke was able to earn the No. 3 seed in the ACC tournament and is currently projected as a No. 2 seed in the big dance by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
Duke has the talent to make a deep run in March, but it will have to avoid some of the bad habits that led to losses during the regular season. Here are five key factors to Duke having a successful postseason run.
Avoid Relying on Three-Pointers
Duke is famous for being a live-and-die-by-the-three-pointer team, and this year has been no different.
Duke has been able to swing a few games by making three-pointers; Andre Dawkins had three consecutive triples to put Pittsburgh away in Duke’s 80-65 victory on January 27. But Duke has also shot itself out of a few games, including going 5-of-22 as a team in its February 20 loss to UNC.
Unlike Duke teams of the past, this year’s squad has enough athletic players to not have to rely on long-range shots every game. Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Rasheed Sulaimon are all athletic enough to get in the lane and score easy buckets or draw fouls.
Duke’s victory over UNC last Saturday provided the blueprint for a game in which it did not light it up from the perimeter but still easily won.
Despite shooting just 8-of-23 from deep, Duke won the game by driving aggressively and getting to the free-throw line. The Devils shot 27-of-31 from the charity stripe, while UNC attempted only 19 free throws in the game. Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker were especially aggressive. The duo combined for 54 points, many of which came in the paint after beating their defenders off the dribble.
Duke has the ability to get hot from deep, but if it goes on a cold spell, it now know hows to continue scoring and give itself a chance to win.
Get Quinn Cook Rolling
Cook has been in a prolonged shooting slump during the stretch run of ACC play, but even worse, he hasn’t been making plays for his teammates. Cook had six assists last Saturday against UNC, which was the first time he had at least five since February 1 against Syracuse.
During that eight-game stretch, Rasheed Sulaimon and Tyler Thornton both proved that they are capable of handling the ball and setting up teammates. However, Thornton’s aggressive defense makes him prone to foul trouble, and Sulaimon is a natural shooting guard. Any team is at its best with a pure point guard leading the way, and Duke is no different.
If Cook can forget about his trigger-happy ways (he’s already attempted more threes than he did last year), Duke has a much better chance of getting to the Final Four. When Cook is getting in the lane, using his beautiful spin move and dropping dimes, he is extremely valuable. But when he is content to hang around the perimeter and take bad shots, he brings almost nothing to the table, and Duke is much worse off for it.
With such a small team, Duke is destined to have to scrap on the glass and give up a few easy layups. The best way to make up for this is to force the other team into turnovers, especially live-ball turnovers that lead to easy baskets.
Duke ranks just 66th in the country in steals, with 7.13 per game. It will need to improve on that in the postseason.
When the Devils have been able to force turnovers this year, the results have been stellar. Duke forced N.C. State into 21 turnovers (15 in the first half) on January 18 and won the game 95-60. Duke doubled its season average with 14 steals in that one and blew the Wolfpack out, despite allowing them to shoot at 48.1 percent.
When Duke forces turnovers, it is almost unbeatable, but it has to force those turnovers in order to counteract its pre-existing deficiencies.
Feed the Ball Inside
When Jabari Parker decided to work out of the low post, he re-established himself as one of the best players in the country. Parker leads the ACC with 9 rebounds per game and has recorded six consecutive double-doubles. Parker playing in the post also allowed for more perimeter touches for Rasheed Sulaimon, who has busted out of his own early-season slump.
Parker is not the only person who Duke should be passing the ball to in the paint. Amile Jefferson is shooting 65 percent on limited opportunities, according to ESPN. Jefferson has shown a knack for using his length to make solid post moves and is also a skilled passer out of the post.
Rodney Hood rarely gets the ball down low, but he has shown he has the moves to deserve more touches. Hood’s mid-range game is so good that he can shoot a turnaround jumper anywhere from the post and knock it down. Hood has also been an absolute killer in the high post against the 2-3 zone. If Duke faces such a zone in the postseason, Hood will need to flash to the elbow constantly.
When Duke gets the ball down low, it scores, shifts the defense to allow open outside shots and, most importantly, gets the opposing forwards in foul trouble. The last one is imperative, as Duke is such a vertically challenged team.
If All Else Fails, Let Parker and Hood Take Over
Duke achieved its own ideal box score in the win against UNC. Hood and Parker are tantalizing talents who should be given the ball regularly. Once those two get going, Sulaimon, Cook and Andre Dawkins can all chip in on scoring.
When Duke lost to UNC, the Blue Devils seemed to forget about their two stars for about 10 minutes in the second half. Cook is a good player and Sulaimon has hit in some clutch shots this year, but Parker and Hood need the ball in their hands during crunch time.
If Duke finds itself in a close game with the clock ticking down, team members should know to give the ball to Parker and Hood and set themselves up as backup options. In 2010, Duke rode its three best scorers to the national championship. If this team can commit to giving Parker and Hood as many touches as possible, it just may do the same.