DURHAM — If Mike Krzyzewski only likes to judge a team based on its past two to four games as he suggested after Dukes 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 Dukes turnaround couldnt have been better Saturday starts what likely will be the regular seasons toughest week.
First up is a noon date with Florida State (13-5, 4-2 ACC) at Cameron Indoor Stadium. After that, theres 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 lets not get too far ahead.
Its 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 teams leading scorer (despite coming off the bench), and when hes 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 Cooks thoughts were already on the Seminoles in the direct aftermath of Dukes 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 Cooks 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 doesnt expect the large-scale substitutions with four and five players to become a permanent fixture.
Thats not like what were going to do all the time or throughout a ballgame, he said, But were subbing more because were trying to pick up full court. Were going to get tired. We get tired. Hopefully the team were playing against gets tired. Our bench, its fresh. It makes a team go into their bench.
Regardless of the reasons for Dukes uptick, its hard to argue with the results. And, for the Blue Devils, they couldnt have come at a better time.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley