As the games for Duke continue to get tougher, the lack of production from Duke’s bench continues to be more glaring.
And the questions will continue. Why hasn’t Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski used his bench more?
The answer has been the same throughout this season. For one, Duke isn’t a deep team, Krzyzewski has often said. The other is because Krzyzewski says the best players ought to be in the game.
“You know what,” he said before pausing. “If we want to win something really big, your best players have to play a lot of minutes and I think that’s what the regular season is about. Preparing for, and hopefully we’re in it in March.”
On Saturday, in No. 4 Duke’s 65-63 loss to No. 2 Virginia, Duke’s bench played a total of six minutes.
Ken Pomeroy, the creator of kenpom.com, an advanced analytic site, tweeted that that was the lowest by a team in a game this season.
All six of Duke’s bench minutes against Virginia came in the first half from two reserves – sophomore forward Javin DeLaurier and freshman guard Alex O’Connell. Both DeLaurier and O’Connell, who played at the same time, had plus/minus scores of -5.
Duke’s five starters – freshman guard Gary Trent Jr., freshman forward Marvin Bagley III, senior guard Grayson Allen, freshman forward Wendell Carter and freshman guard Trevon Duval – played every minute of the second half.
Trent, Bagley and Allen played all 40 minutes of the game.
Duke (18-3, 6-3 ACC) plays at home against Notre Dame (13-8, 3-5) on Monday, a quick turnaround from Saturday’s tough game. But Krzyzewski was adamant Saturday, that his team didn’t lose to Virginia because it was tired.
“We’re in really good shape,” Krzyzewski said. “There were so many timeouts or stop actions, during the second half, that I don’t think...I’m sure that fatigue was not a factor.”
Duval, who played 37 minutes, said the same.
“I didn’t feel tired at all,” he said. “Our adrenaline was really going. Everyone just wanted to win, so fatigue was not in our mind at that time.”
Duke also utilized a 2-3 zone defense that gave its players an opportunity to rest some, whereas if they were playing man-to-man defense, as they did in the first half, players would have to chase their man across the floor and run through the multiple off-ball screens Virginia likes to use.
Krzyzewski said Virginia’s offense wore his team down in the first half when they were playing man-to-man.
The zone seemed to work. In the second half, the Blue Devils outscored the Cavaliers 41-33 and shot 58.6 percent from the floor. And it did all of that without playing a reserve.
For Duke, the tougher and closer the game, the shorter the bench tends to be. Duke most often used a 7- or 8-man rotation. But recently it has been without one of its primary reserves, sophomore center Marques Bolden. Bolden warmed up with the team for the first time since he sustained a knee injury in a practice prior to the Blue Devils’s game against N.C. State on Jan. 6. DeLaurier, Duke’s other key reserve, has also missed a few games with a hamstring injury.
All of that and more, is what has likely contributes to Duke being ranked 336 out of 351 Division I teams in bench usage, according to kenpom.com.
Even when they do get a chance to play, Duke’s reserves have not been offensive threats. None of them averages more than 4.6 points per game off the bench. Their roles have served other purposes, such as hustling after loose balls, providing a defensive spark, adding height or just giving a player a chance to rest.
Duke’s 2014-15 national championship team wasn’t very deep either, especially after then-junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon was dismissed from the program. Duke primarily went 8-deep, and 7-deep on a few occasions.
Guard Matt Jones, then a sophomore, also started 14 games and became the leading scorer off the bench, averaging 6 points per game. Allen, who was then a freshman, played in 35 games of Duke’s 39 games, averaged 4.4 points per game. And center Marshall Plumlee, who was then a junior, averaged 2 points per game.
But Jones gave Duke significant minutes when he played, averaging 21 minutes per game. Minutes like that is what Duke’s current reserves will likely have to do in order for Duke to sustain a long run through the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
While Carter has learned to stay out of foul trouble recently, it has been an issue this season. He fouled out against Indiana on Nov. 29 and Wake Forest on Jan. 13.
Bolden will likely fill that void when he returns. And while Bolden and DeLaurier get healthier, they and O’Connell will need to give Duke good minutes off the bench as the season goes on.
Notre Dame at Duke
When: 7 p.m., Monday
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham