Duke Now

Can Duke overcome its rebounding struggles against Georgia Tech?

Duke forward Wendell Carter Jr (34) and teammate forward Marvin Bagley III, left, double team UNC forward Luke Maye and block a second-half shot Thursday. North Carolina defeated Duke 82-78 in Chapel Hill.
Duke forward Wendell Carter Jr (34) and teammate forward Marvin Bagley III, left, double team UNC forward Luke Maye and block a second-half shot Thursday. North Carolina defeated Duke 82-78 in Chapel Hill. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Much has been made about Duke’s man-to-man defense, and the inability at times for the Blue Devils to stay in front of the player they’re supposed to be guarding.

But Duke’s defensive rebounding, or lack thereof, has been its biggest flaw recently.

In the Blue Devils’ 82-78 loss to UNC on Thursday, the Tar Heels dominated on the offensive glass. And it greatly contributed to Duke’s second straight loss.

UNC had 20 offensive rebounds, 12 of which came in the second half. If you compare that to Duke, which had 27 defensive rebounds, UNC rebounded 42.5 percent of its misses.

“It means you’re on defense for a long time,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Thursday. “You play defense, and you’re on defense again.”

That stat alone will not win Duke games.

Duke is one of the best rebounding teams in the country. It averages 42.5 rebounds per game, which is ranked No. 4. That is primarily because freshmen forwards Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III are among the best offensive rebounders in the country. It’s also one reason why Duke has been so good.

In defensive rebounding percentage, however, the Blue Devils rank No. 217 out of 351 teams.

On Sunday, Duke faces Georgia Tech, ranked 163 in the country in rebounds and averaging 34.1 per game. The Yellow Jackets average only 10.25 offensive rebounds per game, but rebound 31.1 percent of its misses, which is slightly above the 28.9 percent Division-I average. Bagley will miss Sunday’s game due to a mild right knee sprain.

So far this season, teams are rebounding 29.8 percent of their misses when playing against Duke, according to kenpom.com, an advanced analytics site.

In recent games, Duke has struggled to prevent its opponents from crashing the glass. When Duke played Wake Forest on Jan. 23, the Demon Deacons grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, which turned into 17 second chance points. Duke won that game 84-70, but largely because Wake Forest turned the ball over 21 times.

In Duke’s 81-77 loss at St. John’s on Feb. 3, the Red Storm had 16 offensive rebounds.

Against UNC, Krzyzewski tried to solve the issue late in the game by playing 6-11 forward Bagley, 6-10 forward Carter and 6-11 center Marques Bolden all at the same time. It was the first time, Krzyzewski had implemented such a lineup.

“We tried to look at that at practice,” Krzyzewski said. “We would have looked at that earlier if Marques (Bolden) wasn’t hurt for that long, not a long look, but something that might be a little different for us.”

When asked whether he would continue that lineup, Krzyzewski said, “we’ll see.”

“We are trying a few different things,” he said.

UNC has the third highest offensive rebounding percentage in the country (38.4 percent), and Duke had acknowledged how good of a rebounding team UNC was prior to the game. But nothing the Blue Devils tried seemed to keep the Tar Heels off the glass.

UNC didn’t convert many of its offensive rebounds into points, scoring only 12 second chance points. But it forced Duke to stay on defense more often, and prevented Duke’s opportunities to score. UNC shot the ball 18 more times than Duke did in the second half.

On one possession with 2:13 left in the game, Duke trailed by 8 and needed a stop and a bucket. Duke got the stop it wanted after UNC took 24 seconds off the clock, but didn’t rebound the basketball.

Instead, UNC senior guard Cam Johnson tipped the ball out to junior guard Kenny Johnson. UNC ran 22 more seconds off the clock before turning the ball over. By the time Duke got the ball back, there was 1:24 left in the game.

Duke senior guard Grayson Allen said the guards have to do a better job of rebounding the basketball, too.

“A lot of their offensive rebounds were guys crashing from the perimeter,” Allen said. Our bigs are doing a really good job of fighting down there, but all those loose ones that get tipped up has to be the perimeter coming to get those.”

Jonathan M. Alexander: 919-829-4822, @jonmalexander

Duke at Georgia Tech

When: 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: McCamish Pavilion, Atlanta

TV: ESPN

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