Consistently a powerhouse in arguably the strongest division, and with a championship victory to conclude the 2014-2015 season, it’s hard to badmouth Duke Basketball. It’s a dynasty. And believe me when I say this: Coach K knows it. But aside from the legacy and Blue Devil mystique, there were some notable problems with last season’s team.
Getting off on the wrong foot (literally) comes the devastating injury to Amile Jefferson. Duke needed big plays from the front court, and with Jefferson done for the season only 9 games in, problems were sure to ensue. Jefferson was a double digit scorer at 11 a game, and perhaps more crucially was a big body down low, averaging 11 boards and a single block. This is simply a mishap, and I respectfully, and obviously, detach this from any controllable problems; that being said, injuries are somewhat common, and great teams find ways to play through them more often than not.
Feeding off of Jefferson’s injury comes the play of Marshall Plumlee. It wasn’t bad by any means, but the title of this article is why we didn’t win the national championship, not why we weren’t solid. We WERE solid, and I applaud Plumlee for keeping us that way, he just didn’t have the impact of a Jefferson, or especially an Okafor. Plumlee averaged 8 points a game, and almost 9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, and to reiterate: this was fine, just not stellar. Perhaps what was missed the most for this past year’s Duke Team was front court scoring. Plumlee averaged an underwhelming 8 as mentioned earlier, and Ingram was more dangerous playing as a guard, and this goes to contrast the winning formula put together by the championship team, which included 17 alone from Jahlil Okafor, and a not-too-shabby 6 from Jefferson off the bench.
Supplementing the scoring problem was the lack of production on the glass. Duke outrebounded opponents healthily during the 2014-2015 season, averaging 39 a game for themselves, and only allowing 32, and while they kept the pace up amongst themselves, they forgot a YMCA basketball fundamental: boxing out. Duke went from a positive 7 on the boards, to almost negative 1; this translates to second chance points for the opponents, and a lack thereof for themselves. Though we all love and thank the Plumlee family for the great service of their young men, it simply wasn’t enough last year, and while I won’t say Marshall disappointed, he didn’t pleasantly surprise the Blue Planet family.
This may come as the classic problem facing any reigning champ in any collegiate sport: loss of personnel. Duke lost its 5 leading scorers from the previous season, and then its 6th with Jefferson down in game 9, and surprisingly offense WASN’T the issue. Duke maintained its points per game, actually bumping up its 79 a game to 81, but the loss of Okafor, Cook, Jones, Winslow, and Sulaimon hurt badly on the defensive end. Duke let up an additional 8 points a game, and as aforementioned really took a turn for the worst in terms of rebounding. Allen and Ingram stepped up and scored big, but defensively just couldn’t offer the presence brought the year before. 6 big holes were left, and the Blue Devils just couldn’t plug them this past season.
These are the reasons that held Duke back from a repeat, but I’m hopeful for this upcoming season (as are most of the analysts) and grateful for a fantastic recruiting class and yet another year of Coach K’s tutelage.
Duke University ’20