Duke turned season on its head with ‘disgusting’ defensive performance

If you’re a Duke fan who happens to have been in a coma for the last seven or eight years and you woke up in time to watch the Blue Devils close out their regular season in 2018, what you saw defensively might have confused you.

Mike Krzyzewski defenses play fundamentally sound man-to-man and have since he the West Point graduate returned to his alma mater as the head coach in 1975. However, after coaching Team USA with Jim Boeheim on his staff, Krzyzewski began experimenting with zone at Duke as a change of pace to keep opposing offenses honest.

But after a performance Krzyzewski labeled as “disgusting” in an 82-78 loss to North Carolina on Feb. 8, Duke needed a change and the zone became a fixture.

After playing man-to-man on 81 percent of possessions in the loss to North Carolina and a loss to St. John’s prior to that, they showed up playing zone in nearly 82 percent of possessions on Feb. 11 against Georgia Tech according to a recent column from Dan Greene of Sports Illustrated.

“For a week straight,” Duke sophomore forward Javin DeLaurier said, “all we did was defense.”

In the six weeks since, Duke has evolved into the ninth-best defense in the country based on adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.com. The zone has become the calling card and an enormously talented roster that looked like it could go to waste with the team struggling to begin ACC play is suddenly Vegas’ favorites to win Krzyzewski a sixth title.

But on Friday night, Duke’s zone will be tested in an entirely different way. Syracuse isn’t a particularly great scoring team, ranking No. 140 in adjusted offensive efficiency entering their Sweet 16 matchup with the Blue Devils. However, Boeheim’s influence over Krzyzewski warming to zone concepts theoretically give the Orange an advantage.

Syracuse still plays lights out zone of its own, ranking No. 5 in adjusted defensive efficiency entering Friday’s contest. Their offense has seen elite zone on a regular basis since arriving in central New York State. They’ll be as prepared for what Duke is going to throw at them schematically as any team can be, especially when you consider how unusual the film must look for regular Duke opponents.

While that guarantees them nothing, it has to provide some additional confidence for the No. 11 seed who had to play their way into the field of 64 and who most assume to be playing on borrowed time.

Yet, if you’re Duke, you know that Syracuse hasn’t seen a zone like yours. Despite how long Boeheim has been successful with the zone in his program, you won’t find many instances where he’s been able to pack as much NBA talent into that zone.

All five of the Blue Devils’ starters have the potential to be drafted as soon as next year. And they line up at 6-foot-3 (Duval), 6-foot-4 (Allen), 6-foot-6 (Trent, Jr.), 6-foot-10 (Carter, Jr.) and 6-foot-11 (Bagley III).

They move together like a team that’s been playing zone together at least as long as Syracuse has and they’ve got the shot-making ability at the other end to wear on Syracuse’s zone.

Ultimately, after all the talk about the defense, you have to wonder to an extent whether these two groups might cancel each other out. Meaning it will boil down to shot-making and keeping your opponents off the glass.

But for Duke, the season will be remembered by this switch to zone. And the end result will likely frame how the decision between man-to-man and zone will be posed moving forward.

The post Duke turned season on its head with ‘disgusting’ defensive performance appeared first on Diehards.

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