Duke Now

Mike Krzyzewski’s defensive tweaks keep Duke opponents guessing

Mike Krzyzewski continues to add defensive wrinkles to his team. Against Clemson, there was the three-quarter court press that completely took the Tigers out of the game. Saturday against Syracuse, it was a man-to-man that was modified into more of a zone.

One of the Blue Devils’ main defensive goals against the Orange was to keep Michael Gbinije out of the paint. The Duke transfer torched the Blue Devils for 27 points at Syracuse, hitting from deep and in the lane. So to keep Gbinije in check, Krzyzewski changed Tyus Jones’ defensive assignment.

“After he was pressuring their point and as soon as they gave it up, we wanted him to try to cause a little bit of havoc in the middle, whether it be on (Rakeem) Christmas or on penetration,” Krzyzewski said of Jones.

“With the lineup that we started, we can switch (at positions point guard through power forward). So, the ball screens for Gbinije, if it’s a (power forward), you switch, and if it’s a double drag you could switch on it. It just worked out because of the smaller lineup we had. Jah (Okafor) did a good job on icing (forcing the ball-handler to the baseline) in the (center) ball screen. Our ball screen defense today was very good, but a lot of it had to do with switching and having a helper down there. Really, it is like zoning up. You’re zoning up down there.”

The result? Gbinije went 5-for-20 with 12 points. Some of those, as Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim pointed out, were just him missing open looks. But some of it was Duke’s defense, too.

Okafor did a nice job limiting Christmas’ touches in the lane, as Syracuse’s big man took just six shots (making three) and made three trips to the line (making five of six free throws as the Cameron Crazies sang Christmas carols). And Matt Jones helped force Trevor Cooney into several ill-advised shots on his 5-for-16 night. And, of course, Duke was able to give Tyus Jones a new assignment because they man he would have been guarding, point guard Kaleb Joseph, isn’t much of an offensive threat (0-for-4 from the field for zero points).

Duke’s defense has been quite effective at times this season, but a game like Virginia Tech happens often enough to give pause when trying to label Duke a good defensive team. Right now, Ken Pomeroy has the Blue Devils ranked 69th nationally in defensive efficiency – not near what Duke teams of old did on that end of the floor, but a definite improvement on their defenses of the one-and-done era.