Duke Basketball: Strengths and Weaknesses for Next Year's Team
There are many aspects that determine whether a college basketball team will have a successful season or falter. Talent level, coaching and team chemistry all come to mind as determining factors of how a season will go. Inevitably, almost all teams enter the season knowing that their roster gives them certain advantages while also realizing which aspects of the game will be tough for the team.
In the modern era of endless sports news, we now have more information about incoming players than ever before. With all this information at hand we can often predict with decent accuracy how a team will perform and what will cause them to win or lose before the season begins.
Last season, Kentucky’s overall talent advantage made up for inexperience, as the Wildcats ended their up-and-down regular season with an appearance in the championship game.
Duke was a team that had shooting and scoring production all over its roster last year, but a lack of frontcourt depth and poor defense cost Duke dearly in its loss to Mercer in the NCAA tournament.
College basketball teams can look completely different from year to year in the one-and-done era. This can lead to a team that was lacking in a certain facet of the game one season to dominating in that same facet the next. Next season, Duke will likely do just that. Here are the strengths and weaknesses of the Blue Devils’ roster for 2014-2015.
Strength: Guard Depth
Andre Dawkins and Tyler Thornton have both exhausted their college eligibility. To some teams, losing two guards from the rotation could be troublesome, but Duke still has a plethora of talent in its backcourt.
Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook will be back, and rising sophomore Matt Jones showed promise during his freshman year. Duke also brings in five-star recruits Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen. The younger Jones will have a chance to make an immediate impact on the team. Allen is not quite as high of a prospect but has turned a lot of heads lately with his athleticism and could see playing time as well.
Coach K will face a challenge in deciding how best to manage the playing time for all these talented players, but he will have lots of options.
Cook and Tyus Jones are both point guards but are savvy enough to play together. Sulaimon spent time at shooting guard and point guard this past season, but he often played as the tallest in a three-guard lineup during his freshman year, when he started alongside Cook and Seth Curry.
Duke has played a lot of small lineups in recent history, and Coach K has a knack for finding ways to keep his best players on the floor. With so many talented players, everyone will be able to play as hard as they can and not have to worry about foul trouble. Look for Duke’s guards to be the backbone of the team next season.
Weakness: Freshman-heavy Roster
John Calipari has officially dispelled the myth that young teams are incapable of success in March. Unfortunately for Duke, Calipari seems to be the only person who knows how to achieve such success.
Duke has been winning on the recruiting trail in the past few years, but the best recruits to come to Durham have failed to make deep runs into the NCAA tournament.
Kyrie Irving returned, after missing almost the entire season, just in time to play in Duke’s loss to Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen. While that loss was disappointing, Irving got farther than Austin Rivers and Jabari Parker, who both lost their only tournament game.
Next season Duke brings in four talented freshmen and another potential one-year player in top-overall recruit Jahlil Okafor. The other players in the class: Allen, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow could all be part of the rotation.
These players will enter the season with plenty of expectations, and will be expected to reverse the recent curse of March failure for Duke. Only time will tell whether or not these players can gel with the veterans in a way Rivers and Parker never quite could.
Last year Duke was doomed by its lack of size. Parker and Amile Jefferson played tough all season, but both were forced to play out of position all year, and Marshall Plumlee was unable to crack the regular rotation.
Next year Duke will have Okafor, a true center, anchoring the paint and causing a trickle-down effect that should help Duke dominate on the inside.
Jefferson will move to his natural position of power forward, and he will benefit from having learned how to bang with bigger players. Plumlee should see more minutes as a backup to Okafor, a role he is capable of filling admirably.
With three capable players who operate almost entirely in the paint, Duke will flip the script on the teams who were able to bully the Devils down-low last season.
Weakness: Small Forward
Duke’s inside play will go from weakness to strength, but the small forward position could be on the opposite trajectory for next season. Last year, Duke had Rodney Hood starting at the three, and Jabari Parker is a natural small forward, despite being forced to play power forward last year.
Duke will start next season with no experienced players at the position.
Semi Ojeleye did not receive much playing time last year behind the dynamic duo of Hood and Parker, and Alex Murphy transferred to Florida mid-season once he realized that he had little chance of playing big minutes. Duke could make up for its lack of tall wing players by utilizing small, quicker lineups that feature Sulaimon or Matt Jones at small forward.
Ojeleye is a promising player, but Duke’s best chance for production at the position lies in the potential of incoming recruit Winslow. He is known as a tough defender, smart player and great teammate.
Jones and Okafor are the gems of the class, but Winslow is the type of glue guy all teams need to be successful. If Winslow is able to make an impact from the start, Duke could be truly dominant next season. If not, look for a lot of three guard lineups for the Devils.
One of the most frustrating traits of Duke’s recent players has been the on- and off-court selfishness of the team.
Rivers clashed with his teammates and went as far as to nickname himself “Sub-Zero” in his lone season in Durham. Parker and Hood were great teammates, but also froze the ball and forced isolation on a lot of possessions. Next year, Duke should not have either of those problems.
Cook has led the team in assists each of the past two seasons, Tyus Jones has a reputation as an elite set-up guy and Sulaimon showed his own ability to distribute in ACC play last season. In addition, Jefferson has a great team-first attitude and does not care much about getting the ball, and Matt Jones and Plumlee handled their uneven playing time with great poise.
Next year, Duke will have a team that passes the ball well on the court and players that get along with each other off it. The players will have no problem running the offense through Okafor, which will lead to better scoring opportunities for everyone. The last time Duke had a team of players that loved each other off the court and understood their role on it was 2010, and we all know how that ended.