ACC Basketball

BIG QUESTIONS FOR 2013-14: Duke

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Who can fill the five hole?

Heading into the 2013-14 season, the Duke Blue Devils arguable have the best starting four in the ACC. Quinn Cook will be one of the conferences more stable point guards, Rasheed Sulaimon was one of the better freshman and is expected to make the kind of jump forward that will allow him to go the NBA early. Yet, these two aren’t even the best the Blue Devils have to offer. Duke’s two best players will be new faces, transfer Rodney Hood and freshman Jabari Parker.

However, the last time I checked, you need five players to start.

With the departure of Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, Coach K has a large hole to fill in the paint. Right now, Duke has just one player over 6-9 on the roster and that’s the third Plumlee, Marshall. At 6-11, 235, Plumlee has the size and unlike his brothers, he’s better suited for the back-to-the-basket game. However, he’s just had foot surgery and will be out for 3-4 months. This is going to hamper both his strength training and basketball development, a development that has already looked rocky. You see, despite having a redshirt season, Plumlee looked like a chicken with his head cutoff during the few minutes he got on the court this past season. Asking him to be a starter this coming season would require one hell of a leap in ability…and that’s before the surgery.

After Plumlee, Duke has a trio of 6-8 guys, senior Josh Hairston and sophomores, Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy. Of the three, Hairston was the more reliable defender last year, but that’s not saying a lot. He’s not a shot-blocker, he can’t move anyone off the block,  instead he led the team in charges taken. On top of that, Hairston has failed to create a single offensive move after three years in Durham. He’s capable of launching 15-18 foot jumpers (or what I call, the worst shot in basketball), but typically his few points comes from opportunistic rebounding.

Alex Murphy was a fan favorite prior to the 2011-12 season and many expected him to start at the small forward spot. However, by season’s end, most people expect him to transfer. Personally, I think he’ll stick it out. Overall, Murphy has good size and great energy, plus he’s an underrated athlete, but during his freshman campaign, he preferred to live on the three-point line (where he hit just 21%).

Between the trio of 6-8 guys, Amile Jefferson was my personal favorite. He’s the most athletic and always seemed to find himself in the right spot for easy passes or offensive rebounds. However, his skinny frame made him a huge liability on the defensive end and once Ryan Kelly returned, Jefferson found himself mostly on the bench.

In the end, none of these four are a great option, but the reality is, with so many great players on the wing and at the guard spot, Coach K is not going to be asking a lot from his big man, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Whoever plays will need to set good screens and dominate the glass for offensive rebounds. The problem will be defensively. Plumlee is the only one who has the size to not get pushed around, but who knows how healthy he’ll be.

I’ve been preaching Tarik Black for a while now. If Duke can land him, he could provide a solid 20-25 minutes (assuming of course the Duke coaches can keep his head in the game). If Black never enters the picture though, then look for Josh Hairston to start the season in the 5-spot. However, when Plumlee is healthy and ready he should take over the starting spot at some point. Either way, both will see heavy minutes in the paint, with Jefferson and Murphy sneaking in there if foul trouble becomes an issue, as well as subbing in for Parker.

BIG QUESTIONS FOR 2013-14

Boston College: Do the Eagles have the best backfield in the ACC?

Clemson: Who replaces Devon Booker and Milton Jennings inside?

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