Let’s cut straight to the chase, Duke’s defense over the past six games has been the worst it’s been throughout any point of the season, dropping from a top-20 ranking for 44th according to KenPom.
It’s March and we’re still having to second guess if this team wants to lock in defensively.
Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard.
This sentiment is exactly why the Blue Devils failed against Virginia Tech; They just didn’t have the fire that’s been instilled in the program since the WOJO slapping the floor moments of the 90’s Duke teams. Hustle plays defense, guards penetration into the lane and communicates on back-door layups and motion offense. These are all the things Duke lacked in the ACC championship game. It’s something that has been lacking through the back end of the season.
After back to back Saturday losses and the lack of a vocal leader, the Blue Devils find themselves looking for an identity in March.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Who is Duke’s consistent vocal leader on the court?
- Who holds the guys accountable when things go a-wire?
- Who is the pit-bull on both ends who that can get you a bucket and take pride in playing defense 94 feet in your face?
This team has all the characteristics, when fully locked in, to win it all. Unfortunately, this Duke team, when not focused defensively, could also lose to Cal State Fullerton.
Duke is 2-2 in their last four games, but the stat that sticks out is steals and perimeter defense. In the two losses versus Virginia Tech and UNC, Duke only forced eight turnovers…combined. In addition to not forcing turnovers, Duke allowed over 40 percent shooting from deep in double-digit defeats. When the Blue Devils aren’t hitting shots, there is limited offensive motion, a lot of “ball watching” and tons of jacked up three-point attempts.
We could sit here all day and point out the cons on every team in America. The issue here is the lack of consistent defense among a team that has five potential first round draft picks.
We’ve seen instances in the last four games that teams with great guard play force Duke to play small, which takes ACC DPOY Mark Williams out of the game – forcing Paolo Banchero into pick and roll matchups. The guards spread Duke apart and attack off the dribble, or pick and pop with a stretch four. The miscommunication on the perimeter has been egregious. With all that said, it’s always about effort. Not getting back on defense, or putting your head down after a miscue are counterproductive. Don’t worry about making mistakes, play ball, play together, hold your teammates accountable, and have the next play mentality.
March Madness is all about guard play. The floor general sets the tempo. Duke needs both Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels to lead by example. That starts defensively, allowing your defense to get in synch with the offense.
If Duke locks in on defense and plays with pride they will do big things this tournament. It’s never been about the back of the jersey, always the front. That’s Duke basketball.