“Talk.” “Get back in transition.” “Crash the defensive glass.” “Play hard together for 40 minutes.”
Those were among the words written on a whiteboard in Duke’s locker room before its game against Louisville. The Duke players had all signed their names at the bottom of the board, vowing to do those things in a game.
“We did that today,” said Duke senior guard Grayson Allen, who scored 28 points Wednesday in Duke’s 82-56 win over Louisville.
Duke’s players started signing their names on the whiteboard prior to their 74-52 win over Virginia Tech on Feb. 14. Sophomore forward Javin DeLaurier said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski asked the team in a meeting what they thought was most important in the game plan. The players gave their thoughts.
“At the end of the meeting, he said ‘if you guys mean those things, come up here an sign them. Make it part of your word,’” DeLaurier recalled. “And that’s something as a team we felt was important.”
Since losing two straight games – at St. John’s on Feb. 3 and at North Carolina Feb. 8 – Duke has won four straight, and now sits in second place in the ACC standings.
Here are five takeaways from Duke’s win over Louisville on Wednesday:
1. Duke’s defense is on a role
After giving up only 56 points to Louisville Wednesday, Duke has held three consecutive ACC opponents to under 60 points. That’s the first time Duke has done that since the 1980-81 season.
It started Duke’s home win over Virginia Tech on Feb. 14.
The Blue Devils followed that up with a 66-57 win at Clemson on Sunday.
A large part of Duke’s recent improvement in defense is the coaching staff’s decision to use zone defense as its primary defense. The Blue Devils mix multiple zone defenses, which has thrown off their opponents.
When asked why Duke plays well in the zone, Krzyzewski said his team is communicating and moving more.
“We don’t have as many perimeter guys, because even Jack (White) and Javin wouldn’t be perimeter guys,” he said. “But we have length and we have fairly good lateral movement form each kid and we will end up playing some man, too, but the stuff that we’ve done in man, the drills and that, have helped us in zone. But we talk better in the zone, we’re more unified in the zone.”
According to kenpom.com, an advanced analytic site, Duke has the 27th best defense in the country.
2. Grayson Allen has been hard to stop
In Duke’s last four games, Allen is averaging 23.8 points, 4.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game. He is also shooting 46 percent from the floor overall, 41 percent from behind the three-point line and a perfect 21-for-21 from the free throw line.
Duke has been without freshman forward Marvin Bagley III, its top scorer, in those four games. And Allen has stepped up big.
“He’s a four-year player that you would expect to play the way he’s playing and he stepped up in the absence of their lead scorer,” Louisville interim coach David Padgett said, “and he’s really taking over their team and he’s just a great college player and tonight he really showed why.”
Allen has done this while also being Duke’s primary ball handler. Freshman point guard Trevon Duval has played more off ball in the last four games, and has performed well.
3. Bagley’s return date uncertain
Krzyzewski said Wednesday night he isn’t sure when Bagley, who suffered a right knee sprain in Duke’s game against UNC on Feb. 8, will return.
“It’s a day-to-day thing,” he said. “Marvin has a problem, or else he would play. He’s getting better. The thing is, it’s not a structural problem. But if we weren’t concerned about him having more injury, he would play.”
In the game against UNC, Bagley jumped up to grab a rebound with about seven minutes left in the first half. When he came down and passed the ball, cameras showed him running with a slight limp.
Bagley played all but one minute of that game. He hasn’t played since.
“One, he’s not ready, but he’s getting closer now,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t know when it will happen. But I’m not going to push him.”
4. Wendell Carter Jr. is doing it all
Freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr. has been one of Duke’s best players this season. On Wednesday against Louisville, he did it all, performing on the defensive end and offensive end. He finished the game with 18 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocks.
Carter has a lot of responsibility in the back end of Duke’s zone defense. He’s the last line of defense. When opposing players get past the guards, Carter must be there to challenge shots. And more times than not, he is.
The double-teams that would once find Bagley are now finding Carter.
“Wendell has really been fantastic, not good,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s had a great year, but these last few weeks he’s stepped it up even more.”
5. Duke playing with more energy
The Blue Devils’ are playing with noticeable more energy than they did against St. John’s and UNC. They are talking more on defense, getting more deflections. The bench is also playing much better than it had earlier in the season, when there was almost no production.
The absence of Bagley has forced players to step up.
Duke is playing its best basketball right now. The return of Bagley, who has been one of the best players in the country, will only help.