If we are talking about the Duke Blue Devils with the most to prove in the 2014-15 season, we may as well include the program as a whole.
After all, this is one of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball, but it couldn’t even get past Mercer in its first game of the NCAA tournament. It was a March Madness full of upsets, but there wasn’t a more embarrassing loss than Duke’s.
However, the Blue Devils are turning over a new leaf this year with a loaded recruiting class, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some returnees with something to prove. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of them.
Statistically, Quinn Cook had a solid season at Duke last year. He finished with nightly averages of 11.6 points, 4.4 assists and 1.3 steals, while shooting 37 percent from behind the three-point arc. He also averaged less than two turnovers a game, although part of that is because his minutes were down from the previous year.
However, Cook is known as a score-first point guard (his assists were down about one per game last year compared to the season before), and turnovers have been an issue in some individual games. With so much talent on this Duke squad, Cook will have to prove his talents as a game manager and facilitator this season.
What’s more, he lost minutes a year ago because of his inability to play solid perimeter defense. The Blue Devils will be better on the defensive side in 2014-15 with Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Co., so the only way Cook will play significant time is if he proves himself capable of stopping penetration.
Otherwise, Tyus Jones will make sure Cook is placed firmly on the end of the bench.
Rasheed Sulaimon averaged 9.9 points a game behind 41 percent shooting from behind the three-point line last year, but it was a tale of two seasons.
Sulaimon has to prove that he is the player we saw in the second half of the year and not the one who sat the bench early on. He improved his game because he started playing more point guard, but with Jones in the fold, Sulaimon will have to move off the ball again.
If his comments last season, via Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News, are any indication, he doesn’t want to go back to sitting the bench:
I could have come up with a million excuses of why I didn’t play … blamed somebody. The reality of the situation is I put myself in that situation. I had to get back to playing like myself, really. I felt embarrassed, like I let my teammates down, even though we won. I knew I never wanted to feel like that again.
Sulaimon will have a golden opportunity to play significant minutes because the elite recruits of Okafor, Winslow and Jones fill the center, the small forward and the point guard spots. That means the shooting guard position is wide open, and Sulaimon has a chance to be a lethal three-point shooter with double-teams on Okafor and Jones’ penetration.
He has to prove that he can play off the ball again at an effective level though.
Marshall Plumlee faces extra pressure in the Duke program just by having the last name that he does.
He is a fan favorite, although it is natural to wonder if there would be a different level of support for someone who averaged 1.3 points and 2.2 rebounds a game last year if it wasn’t for the Plumlee legacy.
However, Plumlee’s contributions go beyond the box score. He provides solid interior defense and energy off the bench, and at times, he was a better rebounder than his per-game numbers suggest. If Mike Krzyzewski gets that energy and a bit more production from Plumlee, he would be more than pleased.
Look for Plumlee to get some time alongside Okafor, which could open up the lane for more scoring.
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