Mar 24, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Rasheed Sulaimon (14) celebrates making a three pointer during the second half against the Creighton Bluejays during the third round of the NCAA basketball tournament at Wells Fargo Center. Duke defeated Creighton 66-50. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Duke Basketball: What We Learned This Weekend

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The Duke Blue Devils basketball team is entering the 2013-14 season with the highest of expectations; with most picking them to reach the Final Four or beyond.

We received our first public look at the team on Friday, as Mike Krzyzewski’s team took part in the annual ‘Countdown to Craziness’. While the dunk contest and presentations/introductions – complete with lights shows, music and projections – were pretty freaking cool, most of the focus was given to the Blue-White scrimmage; our first real chance at getting a feel for this year’s squad.

The Blue Devils didn’t disappoint. Here is what we learned.

 

The tempo has been turned up a notch or twelve.

The overall athleticism of this year’s Duke squad has improved drastically from a year ago, and it showed. Fast breaks were common. Guys were consistently looking to push the ball. The court felt wide open. The insertion of Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker has transformed the starting lineup into an uber-athletic force, and with the exception of two or three players, nearly the entire rotation has the ability to thrive in an up-tempo style.

To me, this is probably the biggest news to come out of the scrimmage. Last year’s team started to make a habit out of coming out flat and lethargic down the stretch, often leading to them scrambling to erase a deficit or extend their miniscule lead. A faster, more energetic team, in theory, should fix this problem. This isn’t to say we’ll see them going a million miles an hour every game – even the best of squads are prone to the occasional off game – but they have plenty of high-energy guys, all of which they can plug in in the event of a couple guys coming out flat.

 

Jabari Parker is going to make an immediate impact.

The last elite-level recruit we saw come through Durham, Austin Rivers, was a bit of a letdown. After watching Parker run around for an hour, I don’t see a scenario where he is anything but stellar. Parker showed rebounding skills that were far superior to anything they had last season (yes, that includes Mason Plumlee), and his ability to run the court had every body in CIS giddy.

The freshman plays incredibly selfless, which only aids his ability on both the perimeter and in the paint. Anyone who defended him appeared to have no clue what move he was going to make next, and that is an incredibly dangerous advantage to have.

 

A lot of different players can score a lot of different ways.

Aside from PF Josh Hairston and PG Tyler Thornton, it appears everyone in Duke’s Mariana Trench-deep rotation can put the ball in the hoop in a variety of ways. Five different Blue Devils finished with 15+ points – with Parker leading the way with 24 – while four more players finished with 9 points. Fellow freshman Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye looked strong. Andre Dawkins seemed to pick up right where he left off two years ago, knocking down a 3-pointer on the wing the first time he touched the ball. Rodney Hood was every bit as good as advertised in a 17-point performance. The main returnees from last year, PG Quinn Cook, SG Rasheed Sulaimon and F Amile Jefferson all turned in superb efforts, as well. Thornton was the only player to finish without a point, but his value was never tied into his ability to score the ball, anyway.

One note I want to make is that the Blue Devils didn’t shoot the 3-pointer well (6-26), but that is more of a result of the early stage of the season, rather than a reflection of what to expect moving forward.

 

Figuring out the rotation is going to give Krzyzewski the world’s most gratifying headache. 

Sulaimon, Jones and Dawkins all performed admirably at shooting guard. Parker, Hood, Plumlee and Jefferson are all going to command plenty of minutes. Ojeleye showed enough immediate promise that I expect Krzyzewski to give him an early look. Josh Hairston will probably find plenty of minutes somewhere in the rotation. Thornton, a team captain, can’t be the Swiss army knife of a player he is if he doesn’t pull in some minutes. Last, but certainly not least, we have Cook, who should also receive 30+ minutes of playing time a game.

It is quite the problem for Krzyzewski, but it is the figuring out which delicious item from the menu you want of problems. It is a good problem to have, and I’m sure Coach K will have a hell of a good time sorting it out.

 

Summary

There is plenty we still don’t know about this team. The defense is still a bit of a mystery, but they figure to be much more versatile this year. The added athleticism will allow them to keep up with the quicker, up-tempo teams that seemed to give Duke fits last year, and I actually have the combination of Parker, Hood and Jefferson pegged as more reliable rebounders than last year’s front court combination of Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee. Offensively, we don’t know who is going to be the guy in big situations, and we won’t understand the exact formula of the offense until we see them all play on the same team.

That being said, Friday was a pretty big indicator that fun times are ahead in Durham. They’re going to play fast, hard, selfless basketball, and watching them grow over the course of the year should be a treat.

Seriously, is it November 8th yet?

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