Duke finding stability in starting five
Posted February 26
Durham, N.C. — It is hard to believe that a team that holds a 23-6 record and top-10 ranking would struggle with stability, but that has been the case for the Blue Devils this season. However, following an 18-point win over lowly Virginia Tech Tuesday night, head coach Mike Krzyzewski said he believes the team has found it.
Duke marched out a starting five of Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Rasheed Sulaimon, Tyler Thornton and Amile Jefferson for the fourth consecutive game and seventh time in the last nine games. Impressive considering they have used seven different starting lineups on the year, have had a player leave the team, and at one point, benched a key member in their now-starting rotation.
“I like our starting unit, they have developed good chemistry,” Krzyzewski said.
The starting unit has been able to do a number of things over the course of the last few weeks that have given Duke an identity. To name a couple, they are scoring less, but defending more and they are getting out to early leads and controlling the pace in a clamp-down style.
Over the last five games, Duke has not scored more than 69 points, but has gone 4-1. In the five games prior, Duke didn’t score less than 78 but also went 4-1. How? In a word, defense.
In the most recent five-game stretch, they have forced their opponent into double-digit turnovers four times, upping their season average in forced turnovers per game to 12. The five before, they forced 10 or less three times. On the flip side, they are protecting it. The back-court combo of Thornton and Sulaimon combined for 12 assists and zero turnovers against Virginia Tech.
On Tuesday, they opened the game in a full-court press and were able to build a 24-4 lead midway through the first because of their pressure. Of the start, Krzyzewski said, “Sometimes it’s not a good thing to get a lead like that because the guys start to let up.”
While that gripe might be valid, it is better than having to explain being down 24-4. Because of the fast start, Duke was able to go deep into their bench and play 10 guys in the first half. They took a lead to the break for the seventh time in the last eight games.
Another stability factor is finding the guys that can and want to play.
Quinn Cook, who started the first 20 games of the season for Duke at the point guard position before giving way to Sulaimon in the role, looked disinterested at times Tuesday. Multiple times he had his head in his arms while sitting on the bench. When he got on the court, he was beaten off the dribble multiple times and scored just three points, committing two fouls in 11 minutes without registering an assist.
Andre Dawkins, Josh Hairston and Matt Jones, all of whom have made multiple starts this season, were similarly quiet in nine, two and four minutes, respectively.
“We started out so great and we didn’t get that push from the bench,” Krzyzewski said. “We need to get Andre shooting again. During this period, Andre has not been a big factor and he should be a bigger factor. Quinn should be a bigger factor.”
After wrapping up a stretch Tuesday in which Duke played five games in 11 days, Hood admitted that it took a lot out of the team. They return to the court March 5 in their last tune-up before UNC on March 8. For the Blue Devils, their newfound stability could not come at a better time.
“What’s good is that a lot of our guys are playing well, we are getting better,” Krzyzewski said. “And the main thing is we are healthy.”