Duke Basketball Season Preview
As much hype has followed Jabari Parker, my Duke MVP is Rodney Hood. He has proven he can be a solid college player during his freshman year at Mississippi State and will be a force for Duke this season. He can attack the rim as well as anyone in college basketball and will use his height to finish at the rim. What could put him over the top is increased shooting percentages and continued focus on defense. If he can continue improving his game while acting as a leader on the court and in the locker room, he will be a huge piece for Duke this season. Jabari Parker has gotten all the hype, and he deserves a lot of it, but I believe Rodney Hood will emerge as the best player for Duke this season.
For my MVP, I will break down the meaning. It is the most valuable player to the team. Trying to stay away from the obvious Jabari Parker answer, I will go with Quinn Cook. Point guards are the most important on every team, as they are the quarterbacks and playmakers on the floor. As Cook goes, I believe so will Duke. He facilitates the point guard extremely well and he has proven to help the offense. He is also the oldest player on the court at most times, so his experience in the past two seasons will be vital to the young Blue Devils. I will end with this, if you take Cook out of the lineup, Duke can be a good team, but they won’t have any rhythm or flow on offense.
After watching Duke play its first two exhibition games I am very tempted to change my initial pick of Rodney to Jabari, but I am sticking with Rodney. Jabari will be an absolute stud and I would not be surprised in the slightest if he turns out to be Duke’s best, but I think Rodney has a slight edge because of his defense. Rodney is long and can defend basically every position, and is great on the ball as well. Offensively he has a sweet jumper that he can hit from 30 and his ability to drive to the rim and score with ease makes him nearly impossible to guard.
Most Important Player
The most important player for me is the floor general Quinn Cook. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood will be key for Duke scoring and Amile Jefferson will be needed in the post, but Cook will need to show consistency at the point guard spot for Duke to excel. Duke flourished at the start of last season as Cook got off to a strong start. Duke began to taper off towards the end of the year as Cook's play began to become erratic. Cook will not be able to lean on three strong seniors this season and will be counted on to be a consistent player and leader for Duke. There is no other player on the roster that can do what Cook can do for Duke, and Duke will be expecting Cook to step up and fill his role.
Dan Labriola The most important player for this team that will need to fill a big role will be Amile Jefferson. Amile will be counted on to be the lone “true” big man to grab rebounds. His rebounding will be the key to Duke’s success, so he can’t really take a game off. With the spread of the floor, Amile can most definitely average near 10 points or even higher. I do see him averaging in double digits for rebounding and he will be very important to this team. He needs to fill the void left with the loss of Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee. His nonstop energy is contagious, but his rebounding will be the most important thing.
Amile received some quality minutes last year with Ryan Kelly’s injury and had some bright spots. He showed he works very hard on both sides of the floor and can be effective rebounding the ball, especially offensively. He will be Duke’s starting center at only 6’9” but has a wing span of 7’1” and added 25 pounds of muscle in the off season. He has shown this pre-season that he improved his post moves and with the added muscle he should be able to defend just about every center in the country. Expect big things from Amile this year.
Projected Starting Five
Quinn Cook, Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Amile Jefferson will be definite starters for Duke this season. I have been debating on this fifth spot for weeks and have changed my mind dozens of times who should be Duke's starting shooting guard. I believe Rasheed Sulaimon will take the role, but right now I believe Matt Jones is the best player for the spot. Jones provides Duke's great scorers the floor spacing and shooting ability to allow them to flourish. He also provides much needed perimeter defense that will be needed with a lack of a rim protector. With his hard work and great improvements, Coach K will be giving his team a great example of the benefits of hard work. Starting Jones would also allow Sulaimon to be the primary scorer off the bench, a great role for him. This is a difficult question, but one that may be ever changing throughout the year.
The starting lineup for Duke will be based heavily on what I saw in the two exhibition games. I will say the starting lineup will go as follows: Cook, Sulaimon, Hood, Parker, and Jefferson. Most people already have it down that Hood, Parker, Jefferson, and Cook are a shoe-in for the starting spot, leaving the 2-guard open for question. I went with Rasheed Sulaimon solely because he is the best player at that position. Sulaimon has shown that he is a very proficient scorer, can create a shot for himself, and can knock down a jumper very well. His defensive intensity has increased although we have only seen him in one game so far. The only reason that I could also put Thornton in that spot is because the defense against Drury and the fact that Sulaimon was ill and didn’t play. I still think Coach Krzyzewski will put the best lineup possible and that will be with Sulaimon at the 2.
PG- Quinn Cook
SG- Rasheed Sulaimon- this is the only debatable starter. Matt Jones has shown he is a great on the ball defender and has a deadly 3 point jumper. I like Rasheed over Matt because of his ability to drive to the basket and create for others.
SF- Rodney Hood
PF- Jabari Parker
C- Amile Jefferson
Most people focus on rebounding, but I think Duke's perimeter defense will be the biggest question. Duke has not had a good perimeter defense since their championship team in 2010, and that will need to change for Duke to be successful. They do not have a great rim protector, so it will be vital for Duke to keep teams out of the paint. Duke's use of the full court press should help this issue, but Duke will need to be on point in the half court. This will be a question worth monitoring all season, and will likely play a huge role in who receives minutes for Duke basketball this season.
Duke’s biggest question will be rebounding. Against Drury, their rebounding was dismal until Amile Jefferson dominated the boards by grabbing 16 of them. In the first half, they were simply getting outworked by a team whose tallest player was 6-6. That is simply unacceptable. Marshall Plumlee hasn’t developed enough to be a guy to come in and be able to rely on him to play well on both ends of the floor. It will have to be a team effort to rebound; it can’t just be like last season where Duke was able to rely on Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, and occasionally Amile Jefferson. It will be vital for guards to crash the boards when need be, as well as guys like Parker and Hood. Rebounding is the area that needs the most attention.
It’s too bad Mason wasn’t born a year later, because if that was the case Duke would be unbeatable this year. Unfortunately that isn’t the case, so Duke will have to rely on Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee to defend the post. Duke will not need much offensively from their centers because of the talent and scoring ability of the other plays around them. The defensive side of the ball is what scares me for Duke at the 5. I know Amile is long and stronger than last year but can he really bang with 250 pound 7 foot monsters he will occasionally face? Marshall is really slow on his feet and seems uncoordinated at times so if the opposing center has any sort of offensive ability I do not trust Marshall to be able to stop them. The only thing keeping Duke from holding the trophy in April is the center position.
Duke will be an extremely talented team, who will overcome some growing pains to prove themselves as one of the best teams in the country. They may lose some very winnable games due to their age, but they will be strong for the end of the season and likely clinch a top two seed in the NCAA tournament. I expect Duke to make a deep run, but match ups will play a huge role in their finish. Ultimately, I expect Duke's shortcomings in their size and defense to hold them back, but I would not be shocked to see them win their fifth National Championship. Expect some growing pains, but Duke will definitely give every team in college basketball a run for their money.
My prediction will be that this will be a very successful time (hopefully), but it won’t come easy. The way I see Duke basketball season is that they are serious contenders for 3 championships every year. It starts with the preseason NIT this season, where I do believe they most certainly can win. It is a tough field, but Duke can be a very good team. The ACC tournament is also tricky, especially with the new teams this season. I do see Duke making a splash in the tournament and if they rebound well, they can absolutely win the ACC Tournament. I will try to stay away from the NCAA tournament just because I am such a big Duke fan that I can’t pick against them.
Outside of the year Kyrie played for Duke I can’t remember a year when I truly believed that Duke was a lock for the final four. In my opinion college basketball has a big 4 this year with Duke, Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky. If Amile can play like an athletic Brian Zoubek, meaning he plays scrappy and gets offensive boards with second chance opportunities, I think Duke will at least make it to the Final Four. This Duke team is different than most, young and inexperienced but very athletic. I truly believe with conviction that this team will peak at tournament time and Duke will be the 2013-2014 national champions.