Duke got a win in its first game, but we need to know a lot more to understand how good the Devils can be this year.
It wasn’t on an aircraft carrier or military base, and no one was wearing camo, but Duke used a ground attack in the first half and an aerial assault in the second to put away Georgia State. In their first regular season game, the Devils looked reasonably good. There was a lack of flow to the offense, especially in the first half, but that’s likely due to Ga. State throwing multiple defensive sets at Duke. Once the Panthers settled into their matchup zone a remained there for most of the second half, Duke seemed to find a rhythm, started making shots, and put the game away.
It’s a little early in the season to glean a lot of answers from one game, so let’s go over some of the questions that remain for the Blue Devils this season, starting with everyone’s most important question:
• Will Mason Plumlee be a consistent offensive threat? The stat line from this game looks pretty good – 19 points on 8-12 shooting, 14 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 assists in 35 minutes. I’ll take that every game. With the size advantage he had in this game, though, he good have gone for 30. With the ball on the low blocks, Mason still looks schizophrenic. In the span of three possessions he will make a strong move to the basket (but not finish) on one, triple pump fake and travel on another, and impatiently force up a bad shot on the third. Duke’s chances this year hinge largely on Mason’s ability to emerge as a consistent and dominant threat offensively. Let’s hope he can. Let’s also hope Marshall Plumlee gets and stays healthy if nothing other than to spell Mason from time to time. 35 minutes is a heavy load to carry all season (not that K hasn’t ridden seniors that hard before).
• Can Quinn Cook settle into a productive point guard role? Quinn appears healthy and has some quickness returning, but he’s still trying too hard when running the show. Fran Fraschilla said Cook is a half-second slow in seeing plays develop. It looks to be the case, as he is rocketing all of his passes as fast as he can, as if trying to catch up to the play. His stat line from the game honestly shows a lack of involvement – 2 assists, 2 turnovers, and 2-4 shooting (all from 3-pt range). In 21 minutes a PG should have more assists and/or turnovers as well as get to the rim a few times. Frustration was evident on Cook’s face during the game. Here’s hoping the solution is simply time on the court.
• What kind of contribution will the freshmen make? And why didn’t we see Alex Murphy? We saw 2 of new guys against GSU, and we liked what we saw. Both Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson show some smooth athleticism that’s welcome on this team. Sulaimon’s role appears pretty set at the off-guard spot (thought Fraschilla mentioned him maybe moving into the PG role as the season progresses). He shot well and took mostly good shots, hitting 2-5 (2-3 from 3). He also tied Ryan Kelly for the team lead with 4 assists to only 1 turnover. Jefferson’s role is a bit cloudier, especially when Plumlee and Kelly both stay on the floor so much. Hustle, defense, and rebounding are the easy answers, but I’m hoping there are bigger plans than just a more athletic Josh Hairston. The biggest immediate question, though, is why didn’t Alex Murphy play? Krzyzewski said something like the game "didn’t get to where Alex could play" – whatever that means. We’re left to speculate if that means it was a teaching moment or what. Maybe K has found this year’s resident of his dog house. Time will tell.
• Will Seth Curry’s mystery injury be a problem all season? We don’t know what exactly is wrong with Curry, and it’s being said that he can’t hurt the leg worse by playing and simply must manage the pain. That doesn’t sound awesome, but Curry’s play didn’t appear to be affected in the first game. His shot was on (5-10 and 3-7 from 3) and he had one nice drive/spin move to the basket for an and-one. Maybe it will be a non-issue if it’s managed well.
There are some other questions, too, but we’ll leave them to another post – Did the entirety of last season’s thinly veiled chemistry issue move to New Orleans? Will Sulaimon lead the team in floor slapping? What does Marshall Plumlee’s game-face look like if his bench-face is so terrifying?
The season is finally here and with it the games that will answer all of our questions. The Devils are off to a good start and I am heading to Atlanta to see in-person the first test of the year against Kentucky. By the way, that UK vs. Maryland game was a zero sum for me: as I got less worried about the Kentucky game, I got more worried about playing Maryland…