Who will start at shooting guard?
This position has been moving constantly since Countdown to Craziness, at least in my mind. Many people assumed Rasheed Sulaimon would receive his starting role back from last season, but senior Andre Dawkins saw a majority of the time with the starters at Countdown to Craziness. Since CTC, Dawkins has not shot the ball well, and received very few minutes in Duke's two exhibition games, leading me to believe he will be coming off the bench. Freshman Matt Jones, who I thought may struggle to find minutes this season, has played admirably in the exhibition games so far. With Rasheed Sulaimon sitting out, Matt Jones looked like the best shooting guard Duke had. Finally, senior point guard Tyler Thornton could end up starting, as he did against Drury. Thornton is not explosive, but does all the little things to help Duke basketball win. Between the four players, Sulaimon is likely to take the starting role, but Matt Jones is making him work for it.
Will Duke rebound with Jefferson and Hairston playing "center"?
I, like may Duke fans, hoped to see Marshall Plumlee see an increased role this season. Unfortunately, Plumlee has played the least of Duke's three "big men" in their exhibition games. Plumlee may play scattered minutes, but that will leave undersized forward, Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston, to play center for a majority of the games. Jefferson has performed admirably so far, and has shown he is ready to be a starter for this team. He may be undersized, but with the help from Duke's forwards, Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker, Duke should be able to rebound while Jefferson is on the court. When Jefferson is out, likely for Josh Hairston, I question Duke's ability to rebound. Hairston is smaller than Jefferson and does not have the athleticism to make up for his lack of height. Hopefully Plumlee will be able to provide Duke valuable center minutes but until then, Duke will be scrapping for every rebound.
Will Duke's perimeter defense be improved?
Duke has a very athletic team, but that does not always transition into good perimeter defense. By using their athleticism, Duke will try and pressure full court as much as possible. This should help Duke against lesser opponents, but may not be as effective against the tougher competition. Without a true rim protector, Duke's perimeter defense will need to be much improved to prevent a significant amount of points in the paint. Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton are both good defenders, who will need to make sure they defend without fouling. Of the shooting guards, Matt Jones is being called the best defender, which will be extremely beneficial for his playing time. Sulaimon was not a great defender last season, but has continued to improve. Where Andre Dawkins may be losing minutes is on defense. With Duke having a solid scoring front court, any back court player will need to play good defense to stay on the court, and Duke will need that defense to be much improved in order to succeed.
How many players will be in Coach K's rotation?
Duke has a lot of depth this year, but Coach K likely will not play all 12 players. Coach K would love to play all 12 players, but that would require sitting out Cook, Hood, Parker, and Jefferson out for extended minutes. Quinn Cook, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Amile Jefferson, Rasheed Sulaimon, Tyler Thornton, and Josh Hairston appear to be the seven players with guaranteed minutes. With his recent performance, I believe Matt Jones has added his name to that group. After those eight, it is difficult to say who will play. I believe Duke will likely go with a 8 to 9 player lineup in most games, leaving Andre Dawkins, Alex Murphy, Semi Ojeleye, and Marshall Plumlee fighting for one spot. Andre Dawkins would appear to have the upper hand as a senior, but it is difficult to say. Duke's depth will force each player to step up, or they will quickly find themselves on the bench.
Does Duke have the leadership to overcome adversity?
Duke has an extremely young team, and that can sometimes be a recipe for disaster. Two years ago, Duke struggled to find a true leader and that lead to their exit in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Duke does have more potential leaders than that team, as they have four seniors on the roster instead of just one. The difficult part is none of the seniors are expected to have starting roles for this team, forcing them to lead from the bench. The key to Duke overcoming adversity may be in the hands of junior Quinn Cook and sophomore captain Rodney Hood. As point guard, Cook will need to be vocal and lead Duke through his consistent play. Cook started last season brilliantly, but stuttered down the stretch. He will need to play well all season for Duke to succeed. We already know Rodney Hood is a great player, but he will need to lead Duke at times. He played a large part in Duke overcoming a lethargic first half against Drury and that will have to continue into the season.