Every season, it seems people like to pick on the weaknesses of Duke. Sometimes they’re justified; sometimes they’re not. This season, despite an 18-3 record after the Blue Devils’ close win over St. John’s on Saturday, there are myriad questions about Duke.
Which brings me to the question that matters come March: what is Duke’s ceiling this season?
Duke’s offense has improved in certain ways as the season has progressed, with Mason Plumlee becoming a legitimate presence the past couple of weeks. He had 23 points and 12 rebounds against Maryland, and 15 points and 17 rebounds against St. John’s. The benching of Austin Rivers before the Wake Forest game woke him up; he’s become a much more effective offensive player recently. Ryan Kelly is also averaging 14.7 points in his last three games. Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins can shoot.
It’s the weaknesses that worry people when it comes to the Blue Devils this season.
They can’t guard the perimeter whatsoever, and it becomes far more glaring when they play teams that can take them off the dribble. Fortunately for Duke, the ACC doesn’t have a ton of players who are consistent at beating defenders one-on-one. The Blue Devils allow too many open shots, they don’t force turnovers and they give up plenty of second chances.
Offensively, they don’t have anyone who can create their own shot, outside of Rivers. Tyler Thornton, Quinn Cook, Seth Curry and whoever else is running the point on a given night aren’t explosive playmakers, and Andre Dawkins is primarily a 3-point shooter. When the shot clock and game clock are winding down, there aren’t too many consistent options.
Moreover, is Plumlee going to be a threat night-in and night-out? He struggled mightily against Florida State, and his brother Miles has not been a factor on the glass on many occasions.
In the NCAA tournament, teams need guys who can guard the perimeter defensively and who can create shots in key situations on the offensive end. For the most part, Duke doesn’t have either one.
For Duke, matchups are going to be more of a factor for them in the NCAA tournament than most teams. If they go against a team that doesn’t have a ton of foot speed and quickness, they will be in much better shape.
Unfortunately for them, there aren’t too many elite teams that lack athleticism and speed. It’s tough to pinpoint an exact ceiling, but it’s likely short of the Final Four.
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