While Duke’s performance was far from perfect, they looked much improved against Alabama in route to the title game against Arizona. I was left shocked wondering how they were able to improve their defense so significantly between the Vermont and Alabama games. Duke will always lack size but they will be able to succeed playing with the defensive intensity that they had against Alabama. It was just the start but Duke showed very promising signs on the defensive end.
I was unsure about the lineup changes before the game, starting Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston over Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson, but they worked to Duke’s advantage during the game. They may have hurt Duke offensively, as Duke got off to a very slow start, but they helped set a much stronger tone defensively. I expect this starting lineup to stay together, especially against an explosive offensive team like Arizona.
I believe Duke’s defense was helped greatly by Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston getting extended minutes. Their increase in minutes may have come because of foul trouble to Rodney Hood but it was great to see. Duke is not as good defensively with Jabari Parker playing center and Josh Hairston played extremely well their against Alabama. I would like to see Jefferson receive more than ten minutes each game but it was a step in the right direction for Duke establishing their big men defensively.
It was very encouraging to see Duke’s offense succeed with Rodney Hood playing limited minutes due to foul trouble. The only critique of their offense has been their overreliance on Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker. Parker upped his game with his fellow star on the bench but Duke also received many contributions from the rest of the team. Quinn Cook scored an impressive 17 points, although it was accompanied by just two assists and four turnovers. Matt Jones contributed his career high 13 points on just five attempts from the field. This type of balanced performance will help Duke going forward as they try to become less reliant on Parker and Hood.
The game was not completely perfect. Duke struggled to handle the press from Alabama and it helped Alabama get back in the game. Rasheed Sulaimon has not looked like the confident freshman he was last year, scoring just 16 points in Duke’s last five games. Duke performed well with limited minutes from Hood but he needs to avoid foul trouble and stay on the court. Overall, it was a great performance and Duke will need to keep up their defensive pressure to win Friday against Arizona.