The biggest challenge facing Duke basketball after long layoff

Duke basketball (Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball (Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Duke basketball team may have a tough time shaking off all of the rust.

I don’t want to make the lame joke of “We haven’t seen Duke basketball play in a year” since 2021 is just four days old. While it is true that the Blue Devils have yet to play in this new year of 2021, it seems like forever ago that we last saw them play.

The Blue Devils have not played a game since Dec. 16 when they went on the road to play Notre Dame. Since that time, Duke has taken its holiday break and seen two conference games get canceled.

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No. 21 Duke is finally set to return to action on Wednesday against Boston College *crosses fingers*. The Blue Devils have encountered some tough luck in playing games this year. They have played the second-fewest amount of games in the ACC this season (five), just behind Wake Forest, which has only played four total games.

While having a long layoff has been good for Duke to get some rest and allow for Jalen Johnson to heal, it has completely robbed this young team of something it desperately needs. This Duke team has talent, but the Blue Devils sorely lack experience. Hopefully, this is a team that can get better as the season goes along, but it is hard to do that without getting a lot of playing experience.

Watching the Notre Dame game, it was noticeable that most of Duke’s younger players were far more comfortable than they were a few weeks earlier against Michigan State and Illinois. Those experiences, despite coming in losing fashion, were great learning experiences for Duke’s younger players. They need to mess up, make mistakes, and see what works and what doesn’t work.

These moments are extremely valuable when it comes down to the end of the season when the stakes are the highest.

The biggest challenge for the Blue Devils as they return to action will be finding their rhythm on offense. We are now in early January, and Duke still doesn’t have a true identity and set rotation. These things are typically figured out in the non-conference schedule and early parts of the season.

It is especially difficult for the Duke coaching staff. With only five games being played so far, the staff still doesn’t know who they can trust, which lineups work best, and who to have in at the end of games. Ideally, these are things you want to know before you get into the heart of your conference schedule.

Worries regarding Duke basketball shooting after this long layoff

The Blue Devils have struggled to find consistency this season shooting the ball. Matthew Hurt has shot the ball well, and DJ Steward, Jaemyn Brakefield, and Jeremy Roach have all shown the potential to be reliable 3-point shooters. But this is not a great shooting team.

The long layoff has provided guys with more time to get in the gym and put up shots, but there is a big difference between shooting in an empty gym versus shooting in a game against a real defense.

In order to have real confidence as a shooter, you have to experience the results of making shots in the game. Just because you can hit shots in practice, it doesn’t necessarily translate directly to the game. It may take the Blue Devils a few games to fit their rhythm and timing on the offensive end.

This year, Duke has already struggled to find a rhythm on offense. Pair that with a three-week layoff, and it could lead to some difficulty scoring the ball consistently.

The main positive about the long layoff is that Duke should be fresh, ready to go, and full of energy. I am sure that the players are anxious to play and cannot wait to step on the floor. I am sure we will see the Blue Devils playing extremely hard with a lot of energy and enthusiasm when they take on Boston College.

This layoff has also provided the Duke basketball team with time to better its chemistry and should allow guys to feel more comfortable playing with each other and gaining clarity on what their roles will be moving forward.

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