Advanced statistics tell the story of Duke's defensive woes

lkeeley@newsobserver.comNovember 26, 2013 

— At ACC media day in October, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said his Blue Devils knew more about what they were doing defensively than what they would do on offense.

Six games into the season, the opposite is true.

No. 6 Duke (5-1) has the best, most efficient offense in the country. The Blue Devils rank first overall in Ken Pomery’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings (120.9, or the number of points scored per 100 possessions they would score against an average defense).

Duke’s average of 1.31 points per possession, per Statsheet, is No.1 in the country as well, and the Blue Devils’ true shooting percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers and free throws, ranks second nationally (65.7 percent, behind Evansville’s 67.2 percent).

On defense, it’s a different story.

Duke ranks 177th out of 351 Division-I teams in adjusted defensive efficiency (103.5). To put that number into context, the 2011-12 Duke team that lost to Lehigh ranked 81st nationally, by far the lowest of any Duke team since 2003.

The Blue Devils’ opponents also have a true shooting percentage of 53.5 percent, ranking the Duke defense 202nd in that category. And, as a reminder, these are the Duke opponents: Davidson, Kansas, Florida Atlantic, UNC Asheville, East Carolina and Vermont. The Jawhawks rank seventh in adjusted offensive efficiency --Vermont is the next highest at 124th.

The Catamounts nearly upset Duke in Cameron Sunday night, shooting 64.8 percent but coming up just short at the end, losing 91-90. There were no smiles as Duke left the court, and there weren’t any in the somber locker room, either.

“We’re in a -- we’re not in a good place right now,” forward Rodney Hood said then. “And we’ve got to change.”

There’s no time for change like the present, and the Blue Devils will face Alabama (3-1) at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday in Madison Square Garden (ESPN). The Crimson Tide rank 73rd in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Duke guards against 3-pointers well, as opponents are making just 27.1 percent of their attempts (good for 34th nationally). But that’s all the Blue Devils are guarding effectively; opponents are making 50.9 percent of their two-point shot attempts, and many of those are coming off of easy shots in the paint.

Again going back to the preseason, Krzyzewski talked about changes the Blue Devils planned to make on defense this year. The original idea of a full-court press has largely gone away (with the new emphasis on calling hand-check fouls, pressing is tougher than ever). It’s been mainly a half-court defense thus far.

“In the half-court defense, there might be more switching, which, if you can do it, switching is a good thing,” Krzyzewski said in September. “It’s a really good thing.”

Duke has tried to switch on most screens, and that hasn’t been a recipe for success. Too often, there hasn’t been any help defense, as a defender has been late on his rotation, especially on the weak side near the basket (Vermont exploited this often, and finished with 50 points in the paint, 55.6 percent of its total points). And without a strong post presence, opponents are scooping up an average of 11.7 offensive rebounds per game (ranking Duke 192nd).

“We have to protect the basket by any means necessary,” Hood said. “This is what we’ve got. We’re not going to get two 7-footers the next day. We’ve got to find out a way to get it done now.”

Jabari Parker leads the Blue Devils with an average of 8.8 rebounds per game. Hood, who spends some time defending small forwards on the perimeter, is next with 5.2. Amile Jefferson, who plays closest to the basket, averages four in 15.7 minutes.

For those hoping for Krzyzewski to ditch his man-to-man style and go zone, don’t --he shot that idea down quickly Sunday night.

“We are going to revisit my first three years here,” he said in reference to people doubting his schemes as he went 38-47. “Nothing will work if you don’t talk on defense.”

The good news for Duke is it’s early in the season, and there is time to get better. And Hood doesn’t see why that can’t happen.

“We’ve got to finish plays and we have to talk more,” he said. “I don’t think we’re a horrible defensive team.”

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