Duke and North Carolina Making Adjustments After Slow ACC Starts

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 19th, 2014

After the second weekend of conference play, the ACC’s historically best two programs were in trouble. North Carolina was all alone at the bottom of the standings with an 0-3 record, and Duke wasn’t in much better shape at 1-2. Since then, both schools’ Hall of Fame coaches have made some changes to try and turn things around. At least for one week, each coach has managed to stop the bleeding. Duke has now won two straight games — over Virginia (69-65) and N.C. State (95-60) — since Mike Krzyzewski made some lineup and style changes; and North Carolina got its first ACC win Saturday over Boston College (82-71) in the Tar Heels’ only game of the week, featuring a starting lineup change from Roy Williams. Below we will look at the problems that each team was confronting, what the coaches did to address those issues, and consider the results and future expectations as a result.

Duke

Problems. The Blue Devils’ defense simply has not been good enough, ranking outside of Ken Pomeroy’s top 100 in adjusted efficiency for much of the season. Opponents were scoring easily in the paint — perhaps not surprising with Duke’s lack of interior size. But even worse was Duke’s inability to counter that deficiency with good perimeter pressure, and the lack of player communication and teamwork in defensive help situations. Offensively, the Blue Devils were not playing well as a unit, often falling into the habit of one-on-one play with little ball movement.

Coach K is Playing More People to Keep Young Duke Team Fresh.(Photo:cbssports.com)

Coach K is Playing More People to Keep Young Duke Team Fresh.(Photo:cbssports.com)

Adjustments. Krzyzewski and his staff decided to not only make a change in the starting lineup — inserting freshman Matt Jones – but they adjusted the entire rotation. As the TV commentators noted in each game, it was as if Duke was making hockey-style line changes in the first half. Both games followed the same pattern. About three minutes after the tip, five new Blue Devils checked in. A few minutes later, all the starters returned. Soon after that, it was another complete change. At that point in each contest — roughly 10-12 minutes in — all 11 scholarship players had logged at least three minutes of action. While the five-at-a-time substituting did not continue into the second half, Krzyzewski kept using his bench, with no player seeing more than 30 minutes in either contest. There was also a subtle stylistic change on each end of the court. The Blue Devils extended their defense further out than they had been, and they played more of a motion offense instead of mostly using set plays.

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Truth or Myth: Reviewing Roy Williams’ Key Lineup Decision Last Year

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 17th, 2013

On February 13, 2013, North Carolina’s season was in limbo. That evening the Tar Heels would take a 6-4 ACC record into Durham against a highly favored Duke team, while coming off their worst performance of the conference season, a 26-point blowout loss at Miami. But for Roy Williams’ team, that UNC-Duke game was the debut of a new smaller lineup featuring P.J. Hairston starting in place of big man Desmond Hubert. Although UNC would lose that game by five points, 73-68, the new lineup had bigger Duke looking slow and confused for much of the night. From that point, the Tar Heels ran off  six straight conference wins, finished third in the league with a 12-6 record, and went on to make the ACC Tournament championship game before losing to top-seed Miami for the third time. National media types lauded the lineup change as a brilliant coaching move by Williams, while many local media and Tar Heel fans were left asking what took so long for the head coach to make the move in the first place. Before we turn our full attention to the upcoming season, let’s look back at some of the truths and myths concerning that North Carolina lineup decision as well as address some reasons as to why the move wasn’t made sooner.

PJ Hairston and Friends Survived the Villanova Comeback

Inserting PJ Hairston Was The Key Lineup Change Last Season

Truth or Myth #1 – The Lineup Change Had a Tremendous Positive Impact

This would be a big affirmative. UNC’s record improved from 6-4 in the ACC before the switch to 8-3 afterward, including the games in the ACC Tourney. But more than that, North Carolina just looked like a much better team and the stats back that up. Basically the net effect of the lineup change was to remove 20 minutes from post players Hubert, Joel James, and Brice Johnson and redistribute them among the perimeter players, with Hairston picking up more than half of what was left. As expected from a decision to take away significant minutes from big players, defensive efficiency was most negatively impacted.

In comparing the Tar Heels’ last 11 ACC games with the first 10, defensive two-point field goal percentage rose three percent and opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage rose seven percent. But the new and much quicker lineup forced more turnovers and defended the three much better. The net result was that the defense got slightly worse, allowing 1.02 points per possession (PPP) compared with 0.98 PPP in the first 10 ACC games, but the flip side is that the Carolina offense really took off. The smaller unit cut turnover percentage down by three percent, improved their effective field goal percentage by three percent, and raised the team’s overall PPP from 1.02 to 1.12.  They clearly were a much better overall team after the switch — even more than the improved record indicates — especially when you consider that the only three ACC losses after the switch were to either Duke or Miami, two of the top 10 teams in the country last season.

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