DURHAM — During a recent press conference, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski cut a question short after disagreeing with its premise.
Rasheed Sulaimon is playing great basketball right now
Hes playing well, Krzyzewski interrupted. Hes not playing great.
Good (or well, depending on the grammatical context), but not great would be an apt description for No. 8 Duke (19-5, 8-3 ACC). Thats where the team stands immediately before the first annual matchup with rival North Carolina (16-7, 6-4).
Krzyzewski isnt down on his team he made sure to note that he felt his guys have done an unbelievably good job overall. Still, there is room for improvement.
No one on our team is playing great, Krzyzewski said. Like, Jabari had a great game (Saturday at Boston College, with a career-high 29 points and 16 rebounds). Great is...dont use it too loosely.
Despite the preseason No. 4 ranking and comparisons to Duke national championship squads, Krzyzewski said he didnt try to look too far ahead with this team.
Sometimes when were doing a TV game and the TV people will come in before the game and they ask a few questions. One of the questions that I always say, dont ask that question: Is your team where you want it to be right now? Krzyzewski said. I dont know. No, wed like to be undefeated. Wed like everyone healthy, and Id like more hair and a little smaller nose, too.
With our group this year, they dont have an accomplishment background. Who is Rodney Hood going to be? What are the things that Jabari is going to have to go through, who will be able to help him on the court? All those things.
Hood has been Dukes most complete player, taking into account both offense and defense. Parker has been as good as advertised, as he leads the ACC in rebounding (8.5) and ranks second in points (19.2) per game. Sulaimon has emerged as a reliable point guard and perimeter scoring option and Amile Jefferson has been able to pull down rebounds (his 8.0 rebounds per game in ACC play ranks fifth in the conference).
In Krzyzewskis eyes, the perimeter depth is the strength of this years team. All of the guards Quinn Cook, Tyler Thornton, Matt Jones, Andre Dawkins and Sulaimon have started. And Hood is an All-America candidate at small forward. That group, along with Parker, forms the most potent 3-point shooting offense the Blue Devils rank first nationally with their .420 shooting percentage from long range.
As UNC coach Roy Williams pointed out, the Tar Heels dont have a single player shooting that well from behind the arc, and five Duke players make a higher percentage of 3s than Marcus Paige, the Tar Heels best option from deep (36.7 percent).
Duke needs to shoot well, though, to offset other weaker areas.
We can lose easier than last years team because, one, we dont have a lot of depth in the frontcourt. Were not this big and strong team, Krzyzewski said. There are more opportunities to lose with this team. When youre coaching, youd like to reduce the number of ways you can lose. And Im not sure even as we get better that were going to be able to.
Duke has the most efficient offense in the nation. Thats the task UNC faces Wednesday: Slow down the nations best 3-point shooting team, one that values every possession (14.2 turnover percentage, seventh-best nationally) and boosts two potential lottery picks who can play all over the floor.
On Wednesday, you guys will be able to feel it in the air, its Duke-Carolina, Cook said. I just think its a cut above all rivalries.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley