Duke Basketball: Have the Blue Devils Plateaued and Can They Get Better?

Mike KlineAnalyst IMarch 6, 2011

Duke's loss to North Carolina is a sign of the Blue Devil's slump.
Duke's loss to North Carolina is a sign of the Blue Devil's slump.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Make no mistake about it, Duke is slumping heading into the postseason.

Unlike the 2010 team that seemed to be surging toward the end of the season, this year's version of the Blue Devils appear to have plateaued.

It isn't just the fact that Duke lost decidedly to its arch-rival who was supposed to be a team on the rebound. The Blue Devils have lost two of their last three games and haven't played well in a couple weeks.

So what is wrong with the Blue Devils?

For starters, one of their best players is slumping. It isn't that Kyle Singler is playing poorly, though. No one plays harder or does more things well than he does. But he isn't shooting well or scoring effectively as of late.

The reasons for that are anything from solid defense to poor shot selection. If Singler can't turn around his shooting woes it could be a short postseason for the Blue Devils.

Another factor not often mentioned is the play of Nolan Smith.

It isn't easy to find much wrong with the team's best player, but there are little things that are affecting the team as a whole.

Much like when Duke circa 2006 did "J.J. watching", this year's teams are doing a lot of Nolan watching, especially lately.

When Duke needs a basket they often are relying on Smith to do it alone.

He has gotten help from Seth Curry and Singler but for the most part he has taken the burden of being the go-to guy.

This causes his teammates at times to stand around and watch and not get involved. It also causes Smith to get tunnel vision and not distribute the ball consistently to open Duke shooters or big men, forcing bad shots.

Unlike earlier in the season when Duke demonstrated more offensive balance, Duke has become increasingly dependent on Smith's scoring 20 or more points.

Granted, the early part of the season the Blue Devils had Kyrie Irving playing the point and had Andre Dawkins playing effectively.

Irving, who has been hurt, is likely done for the year, though some fans are holding out hope he can still play despite the likelihood of that being less and less possible.

Dawkins has simply vanished as his shots aren't falling and his, at times, poor defensive execution, has lead to a decrease in his confidence and playing time.

To make matters worse, Duke hasn't been playing Duke-like defense. North Carolina torched the Blue Devils scoring more than 50 points and shooting better than 58 percent in the first half alone.

It wouldn't matter much who Duke plays in the postseason—if opponents shoot that well against Duke's defense then the Blue Devils will have a hard time winning.


Still Hope if Things Start Clicking

Curry has come on strong as a scorer and a defender and that does give Duke reason to be hopeful.

Mason Plumlee has continued to show glimpses both as a stellar rebounder and a potential offensive threat in the post. If he can become more consistent with that it's all the better for Duke. The only problem is time is running out.

Ryan Kelly has played well in spurts but his shot has stopped falling. Miles Plumlee has been inconsistent as well often getting in foul trouble with his younger brother.

Duke is a perimeter oriented team, but if their perimeter players and post players with perimeter ability don't start clicking in a hurry, 2011 will just go down as another good year for Duke.