Today’s Article is By Rowan Shiell
If anyone knows Coach Krzyzewski, it would be the folks over at Duke Basketball Report, who have done an excellent job reporting on Duke Basketball over the years. That is why in the lead up to the Louisville game Al Featherstone had some strong words for the masses trying to lend their voice on how to “fix Duke” after two losses:
“He’s not going to abandon the man-to-man and play zone. I know that there is a segment of Duke fans who have raised a pro-zone chorus in recent days. Without being insulting, allow me to say, they don’t know what they are talking about.”
Fortunately Rick Pitino must be a subscriber to this site, or knew Coach K well enough to think like this to the detriment of Louisville. Absolutely no one was expecting a Zone Defense from Duke, at least not all game. Coach K has flirted with the Zone occasionally only to revert back to “Man-to-Man” at the slightest blip.
Playing Louisville “Man-to-Man” would have played right into their strengths. Terry Rozier and Chris Jones would have been unstoppable. Beating their defenders off the dribble is their forte, and NC State and Miami exposed Duke as having no rim protector. Plus, Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones can’t keep their assignments in front of them, according to Eamonn Brennan.
The Zone Defense is still a work in progress because, at this point in the season, it is hard to just perfect a play overnight. Plus not all teams are going to shoot as poorly as Louisville did.
“This was the most open we’ve been and we just could not knock down the shot,” Rick Pitino said. “I have said that we are a little offensively challenged from the perimeter, so we’ve got to be meticulous with our paint touches because we’re not a great shooting team.”
Duke didn’t shoot that great either, but it was good to see Tyus Jones in an aggressive mode. He scored 10 Points and had 8 Assists, which meant that Duke didn’t stick to that stagnated offense of feeding Jahil Okafor in the Post and standing around. In the 1st Half they tried that, and it might have kept the Cardinals in the game, with Okafor struggling under Louisville’s pressure, if Amile Jefferson hadn’t showed up.
The lanky 6’ 9” Forward seemed to have a knack for doing the things the team requires of him. Sometimes it is Rebounding, other times it is Defense. Against Louisville it was scoring.
Jefferson scored a season high 19 Points, missing one Shot out of 7 attempts, and was 7-of-9 from the Free Throw Line. He also tied a season high 31 minutes. He previously had as many minutes against Connecticut, which was another tough victory.
“Coaches put in some new stuff coming into this game and we followed it to a T,” Jefferson said. “We ran a new offense, we had new plays. We did a lot of things differently and it really helped us out today.”
This game showed that Jefferson and Okafor can make a lethal combination in the Paint, and hopefully these new plays will become implemented in Duke’s attack going forward. They didn’t just take advantage of just any Frontcourt. Louisville has one of the best defensive Frontcourts in the ACC.
The Junior’s Offense was a welcome addition seeing as the 2nd and 3rd leading scorers, Quinn Cook and Justice Winslow, both had an off night. That’s not to mention that Rasheed Sulaimon, who normally is the sum of the Bench scoring, went scoreless.
One game does not mean Duke’s woes are over, but they held a dangerous opponent to 29% scoring on the road, on a night when they themselves shot 26% on Three Point Shots.
The most telling quote after the ‘Slump’ came from the Duke Captains. Quinn Cook said:
“The beginning of season we had a chip on our shoulder. We got tired of hearing about certain teams. We got tired of hearing about certain players, and thought we had something to prove. But with the success that came, winning all those games, we lost that edge.”
Early success can make a body become complacent, and that didn’t just stop with the players. When you start the season with a relatively new team, there is no scouting report, or it is done mostly on assumptions. The more games played, the better the Scouting Report. Suffice to say that by the time conference games begun Duke was an open book.
Their strengths and weaknesses were completely transparent yet they were just soldiering, mistakenly thinking that they could continue to win doing the same things.
These two losses may turn out to be a merciless blessing in disguise because they are now open to making necessary adjustments.
“We needed to do something new, we needed a fresh start after those two losses,” Jefferson said. “We said we were 0-0, and we weren’t going to worry about what happened and just start over. We did a lot differently, and it really helped us.”
The ‘new’ Blue Devils are now 1-0 for anyone keeping score.
“We’re a really young group. A veteran group — you’re not playing well offensively, you already know to hunker down,” Coach K said. “We’ve had to go through losses, and we may have to go through more losses, in order to learn that. But we’re learning it.”