With their recent win against Virginia Tech, the Duke Blue Devils have finally started to distance themselves from the rest of the ACC.
How exactly have they done it?
Duke's highly productive trio of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith have certainly carried the Blue Devils' offense. Against the Hokies, Duke's big three scored 63 of the Blue Devils' 67 points.
But Duke's current six-game winning streak hasn't come solely on the backs of their big three.
The much-improved play of senior big man Brian Zoubek has been a major catalyst for the Blue Devils in recent weeks.
Zoubek is averaging 12.6 rebounds per game in Duke's last three victories, nearly double his season average.
His recent play has earned him a return to the Blue Devils' starting lineup, giving Duke one of the most experienced lineups in the ACC, with three seniors and two juniors.
Often criticized by fans for his lack of production in his career at Duke, Zoubek's game certainly has the look of a seasoned veteran this year.
He's currently one of the most efficient rebounders in the entire NCAA.
So what's changed for the seven-footer?
For starters, he's coming off his first full year without injuries in a good while.
At the tail end of his sophomore season, Zoubek missed nine games with a fractured left foot, and he's fought through several other minor injuries throughout his career.
Thanks to the injury drought, Zoubek is averaging more minutes than ever at Duke. Considering this is the first season during his time at Duke in which the Blue Devils have had significant depth in the post, those extra minutes speak volumes about his effectiveness this season.
For the first time in his career at Duke, Zoubek is playing like the 7'1", 260-pound presence that he is.
He holds the ball high after rebounds, keeps his feet planted in the paint, and shoots over 60 percent from the field. He's also a reliable passer from the high post.
Even more important, however, is the energy Zoubek brings to the court. He plays hard every possession, and gives Duke an emotional spark that the younger, and obviously more talented, post players have lacked at times.
Zoubek's recent play may be late-coming in his career, but it certainly isn't too late. If he continues to play at his recent level, the Blue Devils could find themselves getting past the Sweet 16 for the first time in six years.
One thing is for certain. If the senior big man keeps it up and helps the Blue Devils make a deep run in the tournament, growing beards in the offseason should become a standard at Duke.
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