For a while Duke was utilizing a hockey-style line change approach when it came to substitution patterns. Often the team would make full five-for-five substitutions as they began to wear down the opposition. The rotation would inevitably shorten as the games moved into crunch time, but the minute distribution was certainly more spread out than it has been over the last two games against North Carolina and Syracuse.
Reserves Josh Hairston, Matt Jones, and Semi Ojeleye registered "DNP - Coach's Decision" stat lines against the Orange and Tar Heels, while senior sharpshooter Andre Dawkins recorded just 9.0 minutes per game. Against Maryland, only Jones saw action - getting four minutes. Furthermore, against Georgia Tech - and in a game that was never in any doubt after halftime - the three reserves combined for just 13 minutes.
The starting five appears to be set with Tyler Thornton having overtaken Quinn Cook as Rasheed Sulaimon's backcourt running mate. Rodney Hood is the team's small forward, while Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson alternate between the two forward positions. The big development in the rotation has been the emergence of Marshall Plumlee who played his two best games at Duke against the Tar Heels and Orange.
With Dawkins being the instant offense designee off the bench, it appears the deep Blue Devils are heading into March with a firm eight man rotation.
Plumlee's patience has been rewarded:
Last year Marshall Plumlee was named as the team's sixth man in the preseason by Krzyzewski. Then the center broke his foot and by the time he was fully healthy, the rotation was already established. Fast forward another year and Duke was once again waiting on the roster's only true center to "figure it out".
The last two games suggest that Plumlee may finally be ready to play meaningful minutes. Against North Carolina and Syracuse his stat line has been exactly what Duke has longed for: 17.5 minutes, 3.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks. That works out to 8.0 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks per 40 minutes.
So what has contributed to the change for Plumlee?
"A little patience – it's taken me a little too long to figure out how to show a little patience. But it's paying off and the coaching staff has been great working with me and helping develop me. And my teammates have been really supportive. I feel more comfortable in my role now than ever, and my teammates are just incredibly supportive."
Offensive woes overcome by defense:
Duke came into the season touted as an offensive juggernaut. At times the Blue Devils have definitely looked the part, but not over the past week. Entering the four game stretch Duke was averaging 82.2 points per game, but didn't crack 70 against the Terrapins, Yellow Jackets, Tar Heels, and Orange.
Against Maryland the offense began to sputter down the stretch, and the Terps had a chance to win at the end…but Duke got a stop. The offense was almost nonexistent after Duke built an 11 point lead in Chapel Hill and the Duke was unable to keep the Tar Heel backcourt of Leslie McDonald and Marcus Paige under control as they lead their team to the upset victory. Things changed for the better against Syracuse as Duke began the game shooting poorly as Syracuse took a nine point lead. However, the Blue Devils were able to lock down the Orange backcourt duo of Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney, holding the duo to a combined 3-of-18 shooting.
"The biggest thing is we didn't let our offense affect our defense," said Hood of his team's improvement from the game against Carolina. "We stayed true to our game plan and we protected the basket – I think that was the biggest thing – and we played together on the defensive end. That's got to be the start of something new. We've got to keep being consistent with that."
It's been a roller coaster of a week:
Following his team's second half performance against North Carolina, Krzyzewski pulled no punches in calling out his team's level of fight, saying they didn't have "it" against their arch rival. Whatever "it" was or is, the team seems to have found what their head coach was demanding.
""It" for us tonight was the toughness, to fight through everything, there is no alternative, and tonight we had "it"," said Krzyzewski. "I tell my players all the time, the people on this planet who have "it" are mothers. When something is happening with their kid, there is a sense of urgency that no one on this planet can get to. I tell my players your mothers have it for you, and you should have it for each other."
From his perspective, freshman Jabari Parker saw a much more mature team against Syracuse.
"It was a really tough time just trying to get focused because it was easy for us to feel bad for ourselves or feel some type of sympathy since we lost so bad," said Parker. "But we were men, we manned up, and we had to try and do what we had to do today."
Plumlee agreed, saying the last 48 hours have revealed this team's true character.
"I think it speaks to the discipline of our team and, when it counts the most, to band together like we did. I'm really glad that we showed some discipline out there tonight and some maturity and were able to come away with a W."
There are just two home games remaining for the senior class of Andre Dawkins, Tyler Thornton, and Josh Hairston. It may very well be the final two games in Cameron for Hood and Parker as well. Dawkins is the final holdover from Duke's fourth national championship team, while Thornton and Hairston are the last remaining pieces from a recruiting class that produced an NBA All-Star. Fans will have a chance to say good bye to each on March 5th against North Carolina.
Before the rematch, however, Duke must prepare to host ACC cellar dwellers Virginia Tech on Tuesday. The Hokies and Blue Devils have yet to play this season, though Virginia Tech has struggled to just a 2-12 ACC record. Should Duke win on Tuesday, they'll have eight days to prepare for Wake Forest on the road before hosting North Carolina on Saturday night.
Duke should be favored in all three games, and winning out would leave the team with a 14-4 ACC record which would likely result in the number three seed at the ACC Tournament.