Duke re­gain­ing de­fen­sive swag­ger

The Herald Sun - - Sports - BY STEVEWISEMAN swise­[email protected]­sob­server.com

The words orig­i­nated with leg­endary Tem­ple coach John Chaney, were de­liv­ered by Hart­ford coach John Gal­lagher Wed­nes­day night and rep­re­sent Duke’s goal each sea­son.

“John Chaney’s great line was, ‘They don’t hand out any NCAA watches in Novem­ber or De­cem­ber,’” Gal­lagher said.

He was talk­ing about his Hart­ford Hawks, who play in the Amer­ica East Con­fer­ence. To reach NCAA tour­na­ment glory, they have to get by league foe Mary­land-Bal­ti­more County, which made March noise of its own last year.

A loss to Duke in De­cem­ber does noth­ing to hurt Hart­ford’s chances.

But Gal­lagher’s com­ment al­ways ap­plies to Duke, which sets out each sea­son aim­ing to be the last team stand­ing the Mon­day night in April when the NCAA ti­tle is awarded.

Ranked No. 3 in the na­tion, the Blue Dev­ils beat Hart­ford 84-54 to im­prove their record to 8-1.

When the fi­nal chap­ters are writ­ten about this year’s Blue Dev­ils, not many words are likely be used to chron­i­cle this game.

It’s a mid-week, non-con­fer­ence game in De­cem­ber that the Blue Dev­ils, after strug­gling to sep­a­rate from the Hawks, even­tu­ally won hand­ily.

Zion Wil­liamson’s off-the­back­board pass to R.J. Bar­rett for a dunk will be the last­ing mem­ory for most fans.

But since the sub­ject is cham­pi­onship goals, a point Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made after the win should have more stay­ing power.

Once again, Krzyzewski has a team that can de­fend. Come March and April, that’s a trait that will be ex­tremely im­por­tant.

“We’ve played re­ally good de­fense in my 39 years here, man,” Krzyzewski said. “We’ve played great de­fense over the years. This team can play great de­fense and it can block shots. And that helps. Or pres­sure shots. We have to keep build­ing on it.”

Shut­down pres­sure de­fense hasn’t been the hall­mark of Krzyzewski’s lat­est Duke teams, even though last year’s team fell just a win short of the Fi­nal Four and the pre­vi­ous year’s team won the ACC Tour­na­ment.

Ad­vanced statis­tics pro­duced by Ken Pomeroy mea­sure de­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency, or how many points a team al­lows per 100 pos­ses­sions.

Duke’s 2015 NCAA cham­pi­onship team’s de­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency was 92.0. Over the last three years, the num­bers have been 100, 98.6 and 93.6.

After Wed­nes­day night’s win over Hart­ford, Duke is at 90.8, sev­en­thbest in the coun­try.

For all of Wil­liamson’s high-fly­ing dunks, Bar­rett’s con­sis­tent scor­ing and Tre Jones’ slick pass­ing at point guard, it’s the de­fen­sive pro­file the fresh­men-laden Blue Dev­ils are com­pil­ing that should go far in de­ter­min­ing their March suc­cess.

“Our de­fense al­ways leads to our of­fense,” said Bar­rett, who fin­ished with 27 points and 15 re­bounds. “When­ever Tre starts pres­sur­ing the ball and get­ting steals, it’s tremen­dous.”

Duke strug­gled to score against Hart­ford’s zone de­fense Wed­nes­day night. The Blue Dev­ils shot only 40 per­cent in the first half, miss­ing their first 10 3-point­ers, and their 33 points marked their low­estscor­ing half of the sea­son.

Still, the Blue Dev­ils never trailed. Though the Hawks climbed within five points early in the sec­ond half, they never had posses­sion with a chance to tie or take the lead.

That’s be­cause the Blue Dev­ils clamped down on de­fense.

Hart­ford shot 32.8 per­cent, mak­ing just 8 of 27 3-point­ers for 29.6 per­cent. The Hawks com­mit­ted 21 turnovers.

“If we get stops we can go in tran­si­tion,” Jones said. “That’s how we can go on those runs that we go on.”

Duke recorded 15 steals and blocked 10 shots, which only strength­ened its place among the na­tion’s best in those cat­e­gories. Duke en­tered the night av­er­ag­ing 7.4 blocks per game, No. 1 in the coun­try, and 10 steals per game, sixth in the na­tion.

With jump shots not fall­ing against Hart­ford, Duke’s de­fense al­lowed it pull away with stops that turned into tran­si­tion bas­kets in the sec­ond half.

“It knocked them out of their rou­tine,” Krzyzewski said. “In the first half we didn’t pres­sure and we didn’t deny and they were able to get into a re­ally good rou­tine be­cause they are well coached and they are good. We played a faster tempo that was dic­tated by our de­fense and it turned out well.”

If Duke keeps play­ing de­fense this well, or even bet­ter, things fig­ure to turn out well come spring­time in Min­neapo­lis at the Fi­nal Four.

CHUCK LIDDY [email protected]­sob­server.com

Duke for­ward RJ Bar­rett goes in for a dunk Wed­nes­day dur­ing a game against Hart­ford at Cameron In­door Sta­dium in Durham. Duke won 84-54.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.