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Aaron Schoonmaker

Duke finding stability in starting five

Posted February 26

— 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.”

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  • mittnfriends Feb 26, 8:57 p.m.

    RANDDJACOBS - I believe you have the most pertinent statement here - if Marshall can be some type of factor here down the stretch, Duke will be hard to beat. On top of that, they seem to be doing a good job at getting the ball into and attacking the middle of not only zone defenses, but defenses in general. Hood and Parker are both lethal when they get the ball free throw line extended.

    A month ago, I was thinking Duke wouldn't have much success in the post season, but with the emergence of Plumlee and their growth in reading defenses I have a sense of optimism.

  • mike honcho Feb 26, 8:21 p.m.

    It was just VT....it wasn't even a week ago the Heels dismantled them and needed a bail out by... View More

    — Posted by HEELSrocknU

    It was only an eight point victory and Duke dominated for 30 minutes of a 40 minute game.
    Tired legs caught up with Duke and UNC rightfully took advantage of it. Duke will have some well rested legs come March 8th and I expect a much different outcome in Cameron.

  • vt94hokies Feb 26, 8:04 p.m.

    UVA and UNC are playing the best of all in the ACC right now. I did say Right Now. Duke lives on the 3, and it may catch them soon. UVA will beat Jim Blowheim, excuse me; I meant Jim Boeheim this Saturday.

  • mike honcho Feb 26, 7:06 p.m.

    I was at the game last night and Sulimon's on the ball defense is truly impressive. Cook is in a funk right now and is beaten off the dribble by everyone. I really like MP3's energy off the bench, 7 foot and athletic, theres has to be minutes for him. Duke's scoring has dropped off some, thats due to the energy they are expending on the defensive side.

  • Toddler10-21 Feb 26, 4:03 p.m.

    Duke fan told me that he isnt worried about but one team, Fla. Reminded him of the ECU and Vermont game. Agree they are not that good.

  • jdpridg Feb 26, 3:18 p.m.

    Duke is peaking at the right time, and it looks like the hockey style substitutions are a thing... View More

    — Posted by Gunnstigator

    In most other conferences, that sub style would have worked. It goes a long way towards wearing your opponent down while keeping your players fresh. The problem that K didn't think about was the fact that most (not all) ACC teams are better conditioned and can keep players on the floor longer.

  • HEELSrocknU Feb 26, 12:20 p.m.

    It was just VT....it wasn't even a week ago the Heels dismantled them and needed a bail out by the refs to Cuse over the weekend. This team is not that good.

  • Toddler10-21 Feb 26, 11:20 a.m.

    Agree. Cook can score, but cant play defense. Thornton plays ok defense, but cant penetrate, but will hit a open three. Suliamon is a off guard, not a point. If parker and Hood leave (which I don't think so) Duke will be the same next year. Lack of depth.

  • heelsforever Feb 26, 9:16 a.m.

    26-3? Who edited this garbage?

    — Posted by dooksucks001

    Nothing personal, Kay pulled the Jedi mind trick on Aaron hoping that the rest of the world would believe it.

  • dooksucks001 Feb 26, 8:46 a.m.

    26-3? Who edited this garbage?

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