Duke’s Lineup Change: Beginning of Something Special?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 23rd, 2017

With Duke down 11 points after a listless first half against Miami on Saturday night, acting head coach Jeff Capel decided some personnel changes were in order. Starters Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Harry Giles began the second half on the bench as Duke turned around the game — and maybe its season — with an overwhelming comeback performance to beat the Hurricanes by 12 points. Capel is now 2-2 in his new role, and it already appears that he is willing to shake things up to get his team’s attention. Capel was asked about the lineup change afterward, saying, “We just went with guys that we felt were going to give us energy.” It was something of a gamble for the interim coach — benching two of the team’s three top scorers and an elite freshman — but the results, both from a viewers’ as well as a statistical perspective, were dramatic.

Senior Matt Jones led Duke in its big comeback win over Miami. (Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports)

To begin the second half against Miami, regular starters Amile Jefferson and Jayson Tatum were joined by senior Matt Jones and freshmen Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden. As a result, the tone of the game immediately changed. Over the first five minutes of the half, the Blue Devils converted five steals into 12 points, the beginning of a 20-0 run that shocked the confident Hurricanes and ultimately finished off the game. Jones was the catalyst, setting the pace defensively and scoring all 13 of his points in the first eight minutes. Jackson was also effective in finishing with 10 points and four assists versus zero turnovers. And with eight points, four rebounds and some impressive defense against Miami’s guards on the pick-and-roll, it was the breakout game from Bolden that Duke has been waiting for. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have Jefferson back (especially on the defensive end) after missing the last two games with a bruised foot.

It will be interesting to see if Capel decides that the second half lineup change was a one-time shock to his players’ comfort zones, or if he plans to continue with it against NC State tonight in Cameron Indoor Stadium (7:00 ET – ESPN). If he does, he will be sending a clear message to the starters that defensive energy is where playing time will be found. Saturday night may have represented the first time this season that Duke used defense as its starting point for success. The greatest personnel dilemma that Capel (and eventually, Krzyzewski) must solve for is that Jackson and Jones have already proven to be the team’s best perimeter defenders while Allen and Kennard are the superior offensive players.

The point guard position is also an important component of that problem. ESPN‘s Seth Greenberg recently commented that “the pieces don’t fit” when Allen, Kennard and Tatum play together, and it’s no stretch to agree with him. Rarely does Duke’s offense look fluid with that lineup, resulting is a lot of one-on-one play with little ball movement. So maybe the answer lies with greater defensive/offensive balance and chemistry; giving Jackson more time on the floor as the primary point guard; starting Jones as a defensive glue guy; and rotating Allen, Kennard and Tatum in and out of the rotation without playing them together. It will be a while before we know if Saturday’s second half performance turns out to be the turning point in Duke’s volatile season, but at least it showed that the potential for defensive improvement is still there.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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2 responses to “Duke’s Lineup Change: Beginning of Something Special?”

  1. Ron says:

    The slobber fest over the dookies here at RTC continues. An entire article on one win over Miami.

    Another sad morning at the RTC offices though as Duke loses at home to an ACC team that lost by 50+ to UNC.

    Where is the article about Chemistry problems at Cameron or Duke no longer having the advantage of home-cooking without K berating the refs? I’ll probably have to look elsewhere.

  2. Josh R says:


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