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Duke may be exploited

Fifteen wins and no losses has lifted Duke to the No. 2 ranking, but the team’s résumé isn’t jaw-dropping.

The Blue Devils strength of schedule is 36th in the nation, behind Kansas, Wake Forest and Arizona, which have all SOS rankings in the top 10. Duke has only beaten one current top-25 team, when it roared back from a 10-point halftime deficit against Oklahoma.

With the failures of other top programs, Duke probably deserves of the No. 2 ranking at this point in the season. But many of the big problems with the team have gotten worse—especially the lack of frontcourt depth—even though they have yet to be exposed.

Shavlik Randolph, who is currently recovering from mono, was ineffective on both offense and defense at the beginning of the season when he was healthy. Having Patrick Johnson, Lee Melchionni or even DeMarcus Nelson guarding forwards and centers on the interior is not a recipe for success. There is not even a body on the bench like Michael Thompson, Nick Horvath or a healthy Reggie Love who can keep a post player away from the basket.

Now a captain for the second consecutive year, Daniel Ewing hasn’t become Duke’s go-to player. Although the senior has put up very solid numbers and has had several big games, including one great performance against Michigan State early in the season, he has not elevated his game like other players on the team. J.J. Redick has improved his all-around game and has become more than just a pure shooter for the Blue Devils. Sean Dockery has developed an outside shot and has contributed much more in the set offense. Even Melchionni has found a niche.

Ewing definitely has the talent and the opportunity to be a star for Duke on a daily basis. But he has a tendency to be very passive and often settles for the outside shot. Ewing is the best on the team at driving to the basket and finishing at the rum. This ability is his most valuable asset to an offense that has Redick and Melchionni on the perimeter.

A final problem yet to be exposed is late-game clock management. Last year in the finals of the ACC Tournament against Maryland the Blue Devils had a late lead and ran a stall offense in which the guards would run the shot clock down under 10 seconds before attacking the basket, and it cost them the game. Krzyzewski has employed the strategy consistently in the past and it has often triggered heart failure for fans.

The Blue Devils have a potent offense and they should not make drastic changes to it with a late lead. Duke should avoid hoisting quick shots, but that doesn’t mean the team should stall its motion offense until only a few seconds remain on the shot clock.

With the brutal part of Duke’s ACC schedule looming, we will soon find out how well the team can play past these challenges.


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