Duke Basketball: Examining the Blue Devils' Weaknesses So Far

Mike KlineAnalyst IJanuary 7, 2011

Duke is the No. 1 team in the country but still has some weaknesses to overcome.
Duke is the No. 1 team in the country but still has some weaknesses to overcome.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

During Duke's 21-point drubbing of UAB Wednesday night, ESPN commentator Mike Patrick made the comment that the Blue Devils were vulnerable.

In typical Patrick fashion, he never elaborated on what he meant, and he made the statement after saying just minutes earlier that Duke was playing as well as he had seen all year.

Not taking too much stock in what Patrick has to say is probably wise, but the statement makes you wonder what he meant and what the actual shortcomings for this team are.

And yes, the Blue Devils do have some.

At the beginning of the year, with Kyrie Irving running the point, the media was raining praise on Duke and how it finally had a true point guard.

The fact is Irving is not an ordinary point guard, and a player of his caliber doesn't come around that often even at Duke. So when he went down, many felt that made Duke vulnerable, because who then was going to be the point guard?

Well, if Mike Krzyzewski has showed anything over the last three to four years, it is that he can win plenty of games without a prototypical point guard.

Nolan Smith drew the assignment as he was recruited as a point guard. The move was seen as a liability and a vulnerability for Duke, though the Blue Devils have won all six games in Irving's absence.

While Irving's absence creates vulnerabilities or weaknesses for Duke, it doesn't do so just because he was the point guard.

So what are the real weaknesses for Duke right now?


On-Ball Pressure Defense

There is no secret that Krzyzewski likes to employ an in-your-face, man-to-man defense that features intense pressure on the opponent's primary ball handler.

Duke really hasn't been able to do that in a number of years. Irving provided that intense pressure and his quickness and agility, something required for the assignment, was second-to-none on the team.

Smith can fill the role to an extent, but the ability to stretch the defensive pressure out to half and even full court has been limited in Irving's absence.


Offensive Improvisation

With Irving at the point, Duke had the ability to break out of a structured offensive set and let the speedy point guard create offensive opportunities for himself and others.

Either driving or kicking, driving and finishing or leading the fast break, Irving was a weapon with the ball.

Without him, the Blue Devils are more deliberate on the offensive end, perhaps even a little more efficient.

Again, Smith has some of those same abilities as Irving, but having two guys like that rather than just one for an opposing defense has created a small weakness, as that defense can now only focus on one guy rather than having to focus on two.


Consistent Big-Man Play

This offseason, Duke was to trade two role players in Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas, whose speciality was rebounding, for Miles and Mason Plumlee, who offered more of an offensive punch.

Both Plumlees are athletic bigs who can run the floor and finish around the basket, but both have struggled to develop signature moves in the post.

The problem so far this year has been the fact that neither of the Plumlees have been consistent, and the two haven't been able to put up solid games at the same time.

Either Miles plays well and Mason seems lost, or vice-versa.

Sophomore Ryan Kelly was too weak for a big man last season, but his improved strength has made him the most consistent big man, though he lacks the Plumlee's athleticism and strength.

If Duke can't get more consistent play from its bigs, the Blue Devils could struggle against teams with more polished or established big men.

Overall, the Blue Devils are not in bad shape and are still the best team in the country, but like Patrick said they have some vulnerabilities.

That being said it will take a good team to knock them off, one that can expose one or more of these weaknesses.