Duke has a good basketball team, and at times, it is very good.
Currently it find itself ranked No. 6 in the country, 23-4 (11-2 ACC) and looking like a No. 2 seed, at least, in this year's NCAA tournament.
However, I can see why it is easy for some to still doubt this group of Blue Devils, while at the same time believe them capable of making a run at this year's Final Four.
This team has a lot of strengths, but it has its fair share of weakness.
Singler, Scheyer, Smith
The three Ses, the Firm, whatever the nickname of choice for the combination of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, and Kyle Singler have established themselves as the premier trio in college basketball.
The triumvirate averages about 53 points per game. That is second in the nation among any team's top three scorers.
Add in the fact that all three are good ball handlers, can shoot, and pass, and you have three valuable weapons.
This Duke team will likely go as far as these three can take them.
The Rise of Zoubek
The much maligned Brian Zoubek hasn't been more than a punch line and a name on Duke's injury report since his arrival in Durham four years ago.
Zoubek scored in double figures in his first game, but it was really all down hill from there.
Aside from some all too brief glimpses he never materialized as a key contributor; that is, until now.
Zoubek has become a rebounding equivalent of a black hole. His play has been crucial to Duke's recent winning streak. First, it was his inspiring play at Miami and he showed again Sunday against Virginia Tech.
Needless to say Zoubek's presence has been both eye opening and pleasing for most Duke fans.
For a more thorough look at Zoubek's progress check out fellow feature columnist Justin McTeer's article on the big guy.
You don't spell D-U-K-E without the D, and the Blue Devils have made sure that aspect of this team is solid.
They haven't always brought the defensive intensity (see first half of Miami and each of Duke's four loses), but they have brought it more times than not.
As long as the Blue Devils can play solid defense, they have a chance to be in any game against any team.
Duke has done surprising well against more athletic teams this year, at times. It will take that kind of effort come NCAA tournament time for it to make a push.
Where in the World is Miles Plumlee?
The elder Plumlee has essentially disappeared without a trace following his breakout performance against Wake Forest earlier in January.
Plumlee has gone from starting and averaging 20 or more minutes to coming off the bench and playing 10 or fewer minutes.
When he is in games, he appears lost on offense and he can't stay out of foul trouble. He has basically become the new version of Zoubek. Referees basically spot him two fouls before he even enters the game.
If Plumlee can't find some measure of his early-season play his playing time will stay relatively low, and that isn't good for Duke.
Mason Plumlee's Stunted Development
The younger Plumlee hasn't fared much better than his older brother of late. Mason has been plagued by early foul trouble and inconsistent play.
He spends a lot of time reaching and hasn't developed a go-to move in the post.
Mason is clearly Duke's most gifted post player and the Blue Devils will need him to play reasonably well to have any real chance of making noise in March.
Following his early season injury, many thought Mason Plumlee would step up and be the catalyst for Duke. That hasn't happened yet, and may not this year.
He has shown glimpses of what he can do but hasn't put it together. If he does then the Blue Devils will be all the better for it.
Andre Dawkins Shot
This in no way is to disrespect Dawkins as he has had as rough a freshman season as anyone could have, but he has lost his touch.
After a hot start shooting the ball, Dawkins has fallen off following the tragic death of his sister. His difficulties have been well documented and his playing time has gone down significantly.
It is understandable for his head not to be in the game, and thus, his shot not falling. If there is any bright side, it is that, at least in the first half of recent games, he is registering significant minutes, he just isn't hitting his shots. He was 0-5 against Virginia Tech.
Dawkins has a beautiful shot, and if it starts falling his playing time will likely go up as he becomes more of an offensive threat.
While Duke relies on the potency of its big three offensively, it hasn't been able to get much from its bench.
One reason is there aren't many players who play significant minutes off the bench, and secondly, those who do haven't proven to be offensive spark plugs.
Aside from the early season performance of Dawkins, and the occasionally flashes of Mason Plumlee, Duke hasn't had much scoring from the bench.
Sunday night against Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils' bench scored one point. I felt like Bob Uecker's character from Major League reading the box scores to find out the Indian's registered only one hit.
"Are you kidding me? One point!"
It is great Duke has three offensive weapons, but the Blue Devils' bench has got to contribute something on the score board.
Against the Hokies, along with the one point from Miles Plumlee, the bench had three rebounds and four fouls.
That isn't going to cut it come March. Someone will need to step up and provide a spark off the bench.
Big Three, Bigger Minutes
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Duke's best three players are playing the bulk of the minutes. Against the Hokies, Singler and Scheyer both played all 40 minutes and Smith played 39.
Those guys are at serious risk of late-season fatigue regardless of how in shape they are. Perhaps it won't make a difference, but the likelihood that it will is high.
The lack of bench production in terms of minutes and output is what makes the number of minutes logged so concerning.
The Blue Devils simply don't have the skill on the bench to replace a Singer, Scheyer, or Smith for very long, if at all.
Many will rightfully see this as a major concern for Duke in March, and only time will tell if the amount of time will catch up to the Blue Devil trio.
Duke has talent, and because of that, it has a chance in the NCAA Tournament. But it, as it always does, will take a favorable draw and a lot of luck.
If Duke can either compensate or improve some of the bad, it could help soften the blow of the ugly.
The only question is will time run out on the Blue Devils like it has the last three seasons?
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