The Blue Devils capped off a five-game, 11-day stretch with Tuesday’s 66-48 win over Virginia Tech. Now, even though only two games remain in the regular season, Duke needs a breather. It was evident when the Blue Devils took the court for warmups before playing the Hokies.
"When we came back in [the locker room], the coaches got us pretty good because we didn’t look like we were ready to go out there and fight," forward Rodney Hood said. "We’ve got to be prepared for that. In the ACC tournament, you can play three or four games in three or four days, so it’s no excuse to be tired. I think it’s taxing on us, but we have to be ready and get rejuvenated for the next week."
While the Blue Devils refresh physically, it will also finally give them time to reflect inward. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he’s spent so much time preparing for opponents, he could use some time to look at his team before making a postseason push.
"We’re always preparing for another team, so you don’t take as good a look at you," he said.
Duke will get a week off before facing Wake Forest on March 5. Senior guard Tyler Thornton said that he’d never experienced anything like the grueling stretch that included emotional games against Maryland, Syracuse and North Carolina.
Sophomore guard Rasheed Sulaimon admitted fatigue was a bit of a factor, as Duke shot just 38 percent against the Hokies. They’ll get plenty of rest the next two days, with Krzyzewski saying the team will have only a short meeting on Wednesday and take Thursday off before returning to practice on Friday.
"After this stretch we have off, hopefully, we’ll have our legs back where we can start knocking down those shots like we were in the beginning of the year," Thornton said.
Krzyzewski said he’d take a second look into his rotation. Sulaimon has started the past four games in place of Quinn Cook at point guard, and it appears he’ll stay in the starting lineup.
Krzyzewski said the starters have developed a really good chemistry, and now his challenge will be how he handles bringing players off the bench.
Early in conference play, Krzyzewski’s solution was to use a lot of players and make hockey-style line changes. Heading into the postseason, that’s a thing of the past.
"We’re not going to just sub five guys," Krzyzewski said. "There’s got to be a rotation, especially after these next few games. You get to tournament play, Jabari [Parker] and Rodney [Hood] have to be out on the court. Like, what are you resting them for?"
While Krzyzewski managed the five-game stretch, he was forced to use center Marshall Plumlee more to help keep players fresh. The 7-foot sophomore has earned more time moving forward after several solid appearances, including five rebounds and three blocks against Syracuse.
It’s the veterans who haven’t performed as expected.
Andre Dawkins had scored double figures in four of five games before the stretch of games started. He hasn’t in the five games since, scoring a total of 19 points. Cook’s shooting has been inconsistent but his defense stellar.
"We need to get Andre shooting again," Krzyzewski said. "During this period, Andre has not been a big factor, and he should be a bigger factor. Quinn should be a bigger factor."
Duke needs a consistent third scorer to emerge from Sulaimon, Dawkins and Cook. The later into March the Blue Devils get, the more teams will key on stopping Parker and Hood and dare other players to carry the offensive load.
"We’re the main two ingredients in our offense," Parker said. "If we get that extra boost, that extra weapon out on the floor, like an Andre, like a Rasheed or even a Quinn, the sky is the limit, and [opponents] are forced to look at other people, too."
Offense hasn’t been an area the Blue Devils have struggled in this season, even when a third scorer has been lacking, but Cook said that rebounding and defense needs to be the focus in the last two regular-season games.
"Those two things win championships," Cook said. "The offense will take care of itself. If we keep playing defense and rebounding -- all five guys rebounding -- I feel that we could be special."