The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Coach K sends message to struggling Rasheed Sulaimon by benching him

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Rasheed Sulaimon and Mike Krzyzewski (Getty Images)

The longer sophomore guard Rasheed Sulaimon remained on the bench during Duke's win over Michigan on Tuesday night, the more questions arose about his status.

Did Sulaimon suffer an undisclosed injury during practice? Was he being punished for breaking any rules? Is he just in Mike Krzyzewski's doghouse?

Krzyzewski didn't go into much detail after Tuesday's game about why Sulaimon didn't play a minute, but his brief explanation makes it clear he intended to send a message to the struggling sophomore. Said Krzyzewski when reporters in Durham asked him about Sulaimon, "He has to play better than the guys who played tonight."

Spending an entire game on the bench is the culmination of a stunningly poor start to the season for a player who started every game for Duke as a freshman and was expected to be one of the team's best players this season.

Sulaimon has been lackadaisical on defense at times, has averaged 4.5 points per game less than he did a year ago and has shot only 36.2 percent from the floor. In the four games prior to Tuesday night, he sank only 3 of the 20 shots he attempted.

Though balky knees and sagging confidence certainly appear to have affected Sulaimon so far this season, another factor is that he simply doesn't fit as well with this year's roster as he did a year ago. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood now provide the slashing ability from the wing that Sulaimon delivered last season, and the Blue Devils need elite shooters and tough defenders around them more than they need another wing who can attack the rim.

The good news for Duke is shooting guard is by far the team's deepest position. If Sulaimon doesn't respond well to his benching or can't emerge from his early-season funk, Andre Dawkins is available to provide outside shooting, Tyler Thornton can bring defense and energy and freshman Matt Jones offers a little bit of both.

Thornton and Jones were masterful in denying the ball to Michigan star Nik Stauskas on Tuesday night, while Dawkins came off the bench to bury a pair of key second-half threes as the Wolverines were mounting a mini-rally.

Sulaimon, meanwhile, watched it all from the bench, an unlikely spot to be in for a guy of his talent. Perhaps it will be a motivational tool for him to make sure he never has to take another DNP in the box score again.

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