In a season full of promise for Duke Basketball, things have not been going too well for the Blue Devils. After losing to Notre Dame and Clemson, the Blue Devils were dangerously close to losing three out of their first four games in the ACC against Virginia on Monday night. Thankfully, a crisis was adverted thanks to the late game heroics of fellow sophomores Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson, but coach Mike Krzyzewski’s concerns should be far from over.
The Blue Devils are clearly a different team away from their sanctuary of Cameron Indoor Stadium than they are at home, having lost both of their true road games this season. This is nothing new to Duke fans who are used to their team cruise through their non-conference schedule and then lose a couple of their first conference road games to seemingly weaker opponents. Sadly, Duke’s problems on the road have also resulted in something else; other teams are learning the Blue Devils’ weaknesses and are exposing them.
Taking a look at Duke’s first four conference games, one thing is for certain: this team is in desperate need of a rim protector. Teams that have a dominant post player are almost guaranteed to use this to their advantage and pound the ball inside for easy baskets or get fouled until Duke proves that they can stop them. No offense to the defensive abilities of Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson, but they simply are not big enough to stop a talented 7-footer.
This issue was somewhat evident early in the Year when Kansas and Arizona both used this advantage to handily defeat Duke early in the season. Most Duke fans, myself included, were hoping that Arizona and Kansas were just really good teams and that Duke’s defensive struggles would not carry over into conference play. Dukes worst fears were then realized on January 5th against Notre Dame when their 6-foot-11 center Garrick Sherman lead the Irish in an upset over the Blue Devils.
The obvious answer to Duke’s low post struggles would be to give either senior forward Josh Hairston or redshirt sophomore Marshall Plumlee more minutes. The major problem with this option is that both players have struggled mightily on the offensive end of the floor this season. It appears as though coach Krzyzewski would rather be a little undersized than to limit his team’s offensive capabilities and I would have to agree that this seems to be Duke’s best option.
The sad truth is that this issue does not appear as if it will be fixed this season. Plumlee and Hairston can still play key minutes down the stretch for Duke when they are in desperate need of a defensive stop, but giving them increased minutes throughout the game would be a mistake. The strength of this team is their offense and when in and playing to the strengths of your team has proven over time to be the right thing to do.
As for Jabari Parker I’m not sure the talented freshman did himself a huge favor by having such a fabulous start to his career. By setting his expectations so high he has opened himself up to unfair criticism every time he as an off game. Parker’s struggles through these first four conference games are of little concern to me personally because I firmly believe all he has to do to work his way out of this funk is not take as many forced three pointers and just have a better overall shot selection.
Every talented freshman in recent memory has “hit the wall” as some point or another during their first season. Kansas’s Andrew Wiggins seemed to hit his wall right out of the gate this season by struggling during the first month of his college basketball career. Wiggins is playing much better and is starting to live up to his own lofty expectations. If Andrew Wiggins can turn it around I see absolutely no reason why Jabari Parker can’t as well.
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