Duke basketball: Blue Devils gear up for big week

lkeeley@newsobserver.comJanuary 24, 2014 

  • No. 18 Duke vs. Florida State

    When: Noon

    Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham

    TV/Radio: ESPN, WKIX-102.9 FM

    Projected starting lineups

    No. 23 Duke (15-4, 4-2 ACC)

    G Quinn Cook, Jr., 12.8 ppg, 5.6 apg

    G Matt Jones, So., 2.7 ppg, 0.9 rpg

    F Rodney Hood, R-So., 17.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg

    F Jabari Parker, Fr., 18.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg

    F Amile Jefferson, So., 6.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg

    Florida State (13-5, 4-2)

    G Devon Bookert, So., 8.5 ppg, 3.0 apg

    G Montay Brandon, So., 8.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg

    F Robert Gilchrist, Sr., 4.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg

    F Okaro White, Sr., 12.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg

    C Boris Bojanovsky, So., 6.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg

    Player to watch

    Michael Ojo, center, sophomore

    Even when the 7-foot-3 Boris Bojanovsky leaves the floor, the Seminoles have the ability to stay big. Ojo, a reserve center, stands 7-1 and averages 13.2 minutes per game. Just another body Duke will have to account for.

    Laura Keeley

— If Mike Krzyzewski only likes to judge a team based on its past two to four games – as he suggested after Duke’s victory over UCLA last month – then he should be pleased with what he is seeing from his Blue Devils.

No. 18 Duke is on a three-game winning streak, putting distance between its present and its 1-2 start to ACC play. The timing for Duke’s turnaround couldn’t have been better – Saturday starts what likely will be the regular season’s toughest week.

First up is a noon date with Florida State (13-5, 4-2 ACC) at Cameron Indoor Stadium. After that, there’s a quick turnaround for a game Monday at No. 20 Pittsburgh, which is second in the ACC. Then comes the highly anticipated trip to ACC heavyweight and No. 2 Syracuse (its university bookstore began selling “Beat Duke” T-shirts in November).

But let’s not get too far ahead.

It’s hard to know quite what to make of the Seminoles. They have size in the post (7-foot-3, 240-pound center Boris Bojanovsky and 6-9 forwards Robert Gilchrist and Okaro White start in the frontcourt). FSU is tied with Clemson for most blocked shots in ACC play, averaging 6.4 per game. Guard Ian Miller is the team’s leading scorer (despite coming off the bench), and when he’s on the floor, 26.3 percent of the Seminoles’ offensive possessions end with him, a team high. But FSU has lost twice to Virginia, and its best win is over Clemson (which looked much more mortal after a 33-point loss Tuesday at Pittsburgh).

Guard Quinn Cook’s thoughts were already on the Seminoles in the direct aftermath of Duke’s 67-46 win Wednesday at Miami, as he talked in the locker room about the need to move on quickly and begin preparation for the next game. The Blue Devils, in Cook’s mind, are among the most-talented teams in the country, but they know hard work will beat talent. Over the course of the past three games – wins over Virginia, N.C. State and the Hurricanes – Duke has brought both.

The winning streak coincided with a complete overhaul in playing style for Duke. Gone were the set plays it had run most often, and in their place came a more free-flowing motion offense. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood – the two centerpieces of the Duke offense – began playing less frequently, as Krzyzewski lengthened his bench to the point where the past three games have featured numerous line changes, with five new players entering a game at once.

The player that has benefited the most from the change is Rasheed Sulaimon, who is playing most often with the reserves – Tyler Thornton, Andre Dawkins, Josh Hairston and Marshall Plumlee. With that group, he can be the main scoring option, and he is averaging 21 minutes, 14.3 points and four assists over the past three games (compared with the 6.3 points and 0.7 assists he averaged in 23.3 minutes per game in the first three ACC contests).

At least eight players have played more than 10 minutes over the past three games, and the expanded depth has allowed the Blue Devils to bring back some of the full-court pressure that was planned in the preseason. Duke is averaging 8.7 steals per game over the past three contests, and opponents in that span are averaging 13.3 turnovers.

Still, Krzyzewski doesn’t expect the large-scale substitutions with four and five players to become a permanent fixture.

“That’s not like what we’re going to do all the time or throughout a ballgame,” he said, “But we’re subbing more because we’re trying to pick up full court. We’re going to get tired. We get tired. Hopefully the team we’re playing against gets tired. Our bench, it’s fresh. It makes a team go into their bench.”

Regardless of the reasons for Duke’s uptick, it’s hard to argue with the results. And, for the Blue Devils, they couldn’t have come at a better time.

Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley

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