On Duke’s Timely Defensive Turnaround

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 3rd, 2015


What was once thought to be Duke’s weakness has suddenly become its strength in NCAA Tournament play. In fact, the Blue Devils have been so defensively stifling that none of its four opponents in the South Region were able to crack 60 points against them. So what’s behind Duke’s big turnaround on that end of the floor? Let’s take a look at some key defensive numbers from the last two weeks and compare those with its previous 21 games — beginning with when conference play tipped off on January 3. Duke DefenseIn its four NCAA Tournament games so far, Duke has reduced its opponents’ scoring by a whopping 15.0 points per game and 16 percent fewer points per possession. Duke’s sudden surge of defensive stinginess is related to two improvements: 1) better success in forcing opponents to miss shots (from both two- and three-point range); and 2) keeping teams from getting to the free throw line. At first glance it would appear that a markedly slower tempo (four fewer possessions per game) might be helping the Blue Devils’ defense, but that assumption could be somewhat deceiving. NCAA Tournament opponents are attempting only one fewer field goal per contest and turnovers and offensive rebounds have remained about the same as they were before. That means that the slowdown is almost entirely caused by the Blue Devils move from rarely fouling to almost never fouling. Opposing teams are averaging fewer than 10 free throw attempts per outing in the NCAA Tournament.

So what is Duke doing differently now? The most likely reason for this significant improvement is probably a function of experience manifesting in such a young group. It shouldn’t be surprising that it would take four freshmen — even those as talented as these — some time to transition to the defensive side of the college game. The other big difference in Duke’s recent defensive play has been the notable lack of penetration by opposing guards, and most of the credit on that goes to senior leader Quinn Cook. In the two South Regional games last weekend, Cook faced off against All-Americans Delon Wright and Kevin Pangos. Below are the results of Cook’s defensive job in those two individual matchups.Cook DCook will once again have an opportunity to stymie a top-notch guard this weekend against Michigan State. Senior Travis Trice has been the driving force behind the Spartans’ impressive run to Indy, drilling 13 three-pointers and averaging almost 20 points per game along the way. If Cook gives Coach K another lockdown performance by holding Trice to fewer than 15 points on Saturday evening, it will be difficult for Tom Izzo’s bunch to find enough points from other players to conquer a suddenly very defensive Duke team.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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