DURHAM — Duke has spent the past seven days resting, healing, studying and toward the end, waiting.
After a week off from competitive basketball, its time to get back at it, as the Blue Devils travel to Wake Forest for a 7 p.m. Wednesday start. This is the final week of the regular season tournaments, both ACC and NCAA, await.
This season has been more of a roller coaster than is typical for Duke. There was the preseason No. 4 ranking; the near loss to Vermont; the blowout against UCLA in Madison Square Garden; the 1-2 start to ACC play; the end of the AP top 10 streak at 122 weeks; the win against Virginia;the second-half collapse against North Carolina and the win against Syracuse.
As the season enters its sixth month (practice began in September), Duke is back at No. 4 in the national polls, with an overall record of 23-6 and a 12-4 mark in ACC play, good for either the No. 2, 3 or 4 seed in the ACC tournament.
In line with the up-and-down nature of this season, it took until game 26 the Feb. 18 win at Georgia Tech for the Blue Devils to settle into a regular starting lineup.
Now that coach Mike Krzyzewski has selected Rasheed Sulaimon, Tyler Thornton, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson as his starting five, he seems ready to ride that combination the rest of the way.
I like our starting unit, he said after last weeks win against Virginia Tech. Theyve developed a really good chemistry.
What Duke needs to work on between now in the NCAA tournament is its substitution rotation.
We need to get Andre (Dawkins) shooting again, Krzyzewski said. During this period, Andre has not been a big factor, and he should be a bigger factor. Quinn (Cook) should be a bigger factor. And Marshall (Plumlee) has emerged.
And how do we rotate? Were not just going to sub five guys. Theres got to be a rotation, especially after these next two games you get into tournament play, Jabari and Rodney have to be out on the court. What are you resting them for? So we have to get into figuring that out.
Cook started the first 20 games but just two of the past nine. He has been in a shooting slump for the entire ACC season.
He has let emotions get the best of him at times, too, most notably when he threw a water cup after being removed from the Maryland game and when he was the only Duke player on the bench not standing and cheering at points during the Syracuse game.
Dawkins has been erratic throughout his career. He averages 14.7 minutes per game in ACC play, but he has played no more than 10 minutes in five of Dukes past six games. He also hasnt scored more than six points in a game since Dukes first meeting with Wake Forest on Feb. 4.
Most notably, he didnt play at all in the second half of the North Carolina game, when Duke couldnt buy a basket. As a team dependent on shooting well from 3-point range to win games, getting Dawkins going could be an X-factor in postseason play.
Plumlee has trended in the opposite direction, seeing his role grow as he averages 15.7 minutes over the past three games (and that included cramps that limited his minutes in the second half against Syracuse).
Plumlee addresses the teams biggest weakness rim and paint protection and is focused solely on defending, blocking shots and rebounding, just what Duke lacks when hes out of the lineup (Jefferson does an admirable job under the basket, but hes just 6-foot-9, 210 pounds).
The Blue Devils are still in the hunt for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, so its not like they have large-scale issues. Figuring out the rotation could be the difference between an early round exit or a trip to the Final Four.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley