Unanswered Questions for the Duke Blue Devils

Justin McTeerCorrespondent IDecember 10, 2009

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 25:  Kyle Singler #12 of the Duke Blue Devils drives to the basket against Derek Glasser #12 of the Arizona State Sun Devils at Madison Square Garden on November 25, 2009 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

After their first month of play, the Duke Blue Devils find themselves in a familiar situation—they are a top 10 team that's just outside of the top tier of teams in college basketball.

When the Blue Devils defeated No. 14 Connecticut with relative ease, they certainly looked like one of the top teams in the nation.  

But when they struggled against Arizona State and lost to Wisconsin, Duke showed obvious flaws.

Eight games into the season, and in the midst of a ten day game break ending next Wednesday, the Blue Devils are a potentially elite team with a host of unanswered questions.

Who will emerge as the Blue Devils' go-to scorer?

Last season, Gerald Henderson stepped up as the go-to player for the Blue Devils.

His athleticism and scoring ability made him the player the Blue Devils went to in crunch time, and Henderson delivered.

This season, Duke is still looking for that player.

It's not like the Blue Devils don't have choices—Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, and Nolan Smith are all more than capable scorers.

But none of them have been able to show the consistency that Henderson displayed last season, or that J.J. Redick displayed a few years ago.

In Duke's loss to Wisconsin, both Singler and Smith attempted to make late games plays to put Duke in a position to win, but both fell short.

So far this season, Singler is shooting 41.9 percent from the field, followed by Scheyer at 40.4 percent and Smith at 39.6 percent.

If Duke hopes to break into the top tier of NCAA contenders, one of those players will need to develop the consistency needed to make big shots when the Blue Devils need to score.

What will give the Blue Devils an edge on defense?

When Henderson left for the NBA and Elliot Williams transfered to Memphis after last season, the Blue Devils lost their two best perimeter defenders.

As a result, Duke's defense has struggled this season.

Opposing guards have been able to penetrate with relative ease, and Duke's bigs haven't shown the foot speed to recover on hedges, perimeter traps, and double-teams, leading to defensive breakdowns that have allowed a high volume of easy baskets for opponents.

Against Connecticut, Duke played a more conservative brand of defense.

Instead of looking to pressure the Huskies and get steals in the open court, Duke packed in their defense and forced Connecticut to shoot contested jump shots.

The Blue Devils may not have gotten the transition points they are used to, but they won as a result of their defense.

If Duke wants to be one of the NCAA's elite teams this season, a more conservative defensive approach, and perhaps a fair amount of zone defense, could be necessary.

Which one of Duke's big men will step up?

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made a big deal about Duke's size prior to the season.

The Blue Devils have four players 6'10" and above, making this the biggest Duke team under Krzyzewski.

However, in the Blue Devils' last two games against Wisconsin and St. John's, Krzyzewski has opted to go with a smaller lineup at game's end, benching all of his big men in favor of a lineup that looks more like last season's Blue Devil team.

Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas are arguably having their best years at Duke, but if the Blue Devils hope to contend with the frontcourts in the ACC, they will need serious contributions from Duke's most athletic big men, Miles and Mason Plumlee.

Against St. John's, both started the game but played less than 10 minutes apiece.

As Duke's best shot blockers and above-the-rim athletes, the Blue Devils will need the Plumlee brothers to play significant roles on both sides of the court if they hope to finish the season with momentum on their side.

The season is still young, and the Blue Devils have shown flashes of greatness in their early games.

However, if they hope to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2004, they are going to have to find an answer to the questions currently keeping them from being in the top tier of college basketball.


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