Smaller lineup may produce big results for Duke

lkeeley@newsobserver.comJanuary 10, 2014 

  • No. 16 Duke at Clemson

    When: 2 p.m.

    Where: Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, S.C.

    TV/Radio: Regional Sports Networks, WKIX-102.9 FM

    Projected starting lineups

    Duke (12-3, 1-1 ACC)

    G Quinn Cook, Jr., 14.0 ppg, 6.1 apg

    G Rasheed Sulaimon, So., 7.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg

    F Rodney Hood, R-So., 18.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg

    F Jabari Parker, Fr., 19.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg

    F Amile Jefferson, So., 6.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg

    Clemson (10-4, 1-1)

    G Rod Hall, Jr., 10.4 ppg, 3.7 apg

    G Jordan Roper, So., 9.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg

    F K.J. McDaniels, Jr., 16.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg

    F Josh Smith, So., 2.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg

    C Landry Nnoko, 5.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg

    Player to watch

    Landy Nnoko, Clemson

    For the third straight game, Duke will have to contend with a team that plays a true center. Nnoko is 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, and he will present either Jabari Parker or Amile Jefferson with a matchup challenge.

— This scene was more familiar: Rodney Hood was seated in front of his locker, holding court with reporters after a Duke win.

Hood had just scored 27 points for the second straight game. The 27 he scored in the win over Georgia Tech came in a different fashion than the 27 he had scored in the loss at Notre Dame. Against the Yellow Jackets, for the first time this season, Hood spent extended time at the 4, or the traditional power forward position.

Hood proved to be an effective stretch 4, hitting five of his seven 3-point attempts. Four of them came late in the game, after Duke started using him in ball screens, where he would set a pick and then pop open behind the 3-point line for a quick bucket.

“With me at the 4, it causes teams a lot of problems,” Hood said. “Sheed (Rasheed Sulaimon) and Quinn (Cook) can get in the lane at will. Andre (Dawkins), of course, is a deadly weapon, so they’ve got to choose which one to leave. Tonight, they were leaving me. I made them pay.”

Clemson (10-4, 1-1 ACC) will be the next team to try and slow Hood and the No. 16 Blue Devils (12-3, 1-1). The two teams tip at 2 p.m. Saturday at Clemson.

The backcourt of Cook, Sulaimon and Dawkins has been rarely used this season, but that has been changing of late. The trio, along with Hood and Jabari Parker in the frontcourt, played together for 7:31 Tuesday – more than a third of the total time (21:04) they’ve played together all year (and that total represents 0.7 percent of the 3,000 minutes Duke has played in the 2013-14 season).

The lineup of Cook, Dawkins, Sulaimon, Hood and Amile Jefferson spent 12:14 together on the floor against the Yellow Jackets – that accounts for nearly all the time those five have played together this year (15:53).

When asked if he likes playing the 4, Hood said, “Yeah, if they keep leaving me (open) like that.”

“But it can be challenging at times, especially when you’re playing bangers like them,” he added, speaking of defending. “But on the opposite side, on the offensive side of the ball, it’s fun.”

The lineup featuring Hood (6-foot-8, 215 pounds) at the 4 and Cook (6-2), Dawkins and Sulaimon in the backcourt is smaller than an option that has Hood at the 3, Parker (6-8, 235 pounds) at the 4 and Jefferson (6-9) at the 5. Dawkins (6-5) and Sulaimon (6-4), though, aren’t small guards. Sulaimon, especially, is equipped to defend a small forward with his length and foot speed.

And while Hood spoke of the offensive advantages of the lineup, coach Mike Krzyzewski said he went to it in the second half primarily for defensive purposes.

The backcourt was able to better defend the perimeter, and the smaller lineup didn’t hurt Duke’s rebounding. The Blue Devils actually turned in one of their best rebounding efforts of the season, corralling 80.6 percent of the available rebounds on their defensive glass, and they posted an offensive rebounding percentage of 29.6 percent. The Yellow Jackets were forced into their third-lowest defensive rebounding percentage of the season.

It will be interesting to see if Krzyzewski starts playing the trio of Cook, Sulaimon and Dawkins together more as the ACC season continues. It worked well for Hood, who had been so upset after the Notre Dame loss that he had to pause and collect himself several times when standing in a hallway talking to reporters, holding in his emotions.

“I hate losing. It was just pretty much that I hate losing,” Hood said Tuesday, reflecting back on the loss. “Especially being at the head of the team, I feel responsible for every win, even though everyone has a part in it. I feel like I could have won that game, making a few defensive plays and especially that last play (a turnover on a drive attempt) played in my mind until this game. I just hate losing, pretty much.”

So does Krzyzewski. But he may have found a new winning combination.

Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley

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