The #1 Duke Blue Devils will take on the #8 Michigan Wolverines Sunday afternoon in the NCAA Tournament’s second third-round. Both teams are coming off opening round ass-whoppings. Duke crushed Hampton 87-45, while Michigan surprised us all by rolling Tennessee by 30, 75-45. Of course that game may say something more about Tennessee than it does about Michigan. Of course that was then and this is now.
It’s an intriguing match up simply because Michigan runs both a not-often-used offense and defense. On offense they run a weave offense, while on defense they’ll thrown a 1-3-1 zone.
KEYS TO SUCCEED
SLOWING DOWN A WEAVE
Basically, the Michigan offense consists of three perimeter guys, with a fourth guy often standing above the free throw line. The idea is for the three perimeter guys to dribble around the three-point line, handing the ball off (or faking it). The key is the person handing the ball off will also be screening/picking off the defender trying to follow the person he’s handing the ball to.
As for the big men, like I said, one will live on top of the key. At anytime, he can step in and screen. The fifth big man will hang in the paint. While he can certainly post up at any time, typically this person will flow away from the ball, living on the weak side. If any of the perimeter guys are able to find a hole and drive, that post-player will be open for a pass (if his defender comes off him to help) or he’ll be in a good stop for a backside offensive rebound.
That’s the details, so how does Duke defend it.
1. PATIENCE MAKES PERFECT
Michigan is one of the top teams in the nation in turnover percentage (#16 in fact). Now I’m not saying the Wolverines are going to go into a stall offense, but the point is to just keep doing the same thing over and over until someone makes a mistake. They weave right, they weave left, they go back right…all while waiting for an opening. If a defender goes under the screen, they’ll launch a three. If the defender gets stuck behind a screen, they’ll penetrate in. If the defense has stayed into position, they’ll just do it again…weave right, weave left, weave back again.
In reality, Duke is a near-perfect team to defend the weave. Between Smith, Curry, Irving, Singler and even Dawkins, all five can simply rotate with the weave. This is idea because the weave is successful when a team loses patience and eventually makes a mistake dealing with one of the screens.
In Duke’s case, if Smith’s man hands the ball off to Curry’s man, Smith will just stay with the new ball handler, while Curry will stay put.
3. WEAK SIDE HELP
Inside, the trick will be weak side help if someone is able to drive inside. Both Plumlee’s will always look to help and block. This is why someone like Singler will be key, since he (and Curry) will have to slide down and disrupt any attempted pass to the #5 guy.
4. OWN THE BOARDS
Obviously winning the rebounding is key in any game, but in this case, Duke has a solid advantage. With Michigan’s #4 living up near the top of the key, the boards are vulnerable to them. In fact, Michigan is ranked #323 in the nation in offensive rebounding. Of late, Miles, Mason and even Singler have dominated on the boards. They can and should in this game.
5. DARE DARIUS
I’m talking about Darius Morris, the Michigan guard. He leads the team in points and assists 15 ppg, 6.7 assists. When I say dare, I’m talking about making him shoot the ball deep. The fact is, he’s a great scorer, but he only shoots 25-percent from three. He’s only taken 60 all year. He does almost all his damage with the dribble penetration. Duke will be able to throw both Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving at him, both excellent defenders. Look for them to cut off his lanes and dare him to throw up jumpers.
BEATING THE 1-3-1
I posted this last year and I’m basically going to re-post it again (but update it a bit).
1. PLAY DEFENSE AND PUSH
Without Irving in the game, this won’t be easy for Duke because nobody is a pusher. When an opponent misses, Duke typically holds and slows the game down. They’ll need to do some running. The best way to defeat any zone is to never let it set up. This is why Kyrie Irving is key. He is the one guy who can receive an outlet pass and push it faster than the defense wants him to.
2. BALL FAKES
The trick to the 1-3-1 is rotating from side to side and from the mid-court to the corners. If you pass the ball around the key right-to-left, the whole zone shifts with it. The Blue Devils will need to take their time and work the ball around and then BAM, hit them with a ball fake and deliver it back, shoot up or pass it inside. Make them bite and the shots will be there.
3. CORNERS ARE THE KEY
Against the 2-3, the corner is the place to avoid. Against the 1-3-1, the three-point shot from the corner is where you’ll find the hole. The trick is to not just stand there, but to slide to the spot, ready to receive a pass, ready to shoot. You can do this either on the ball fake or doing a little inside-out action. If the wing player is even slightly up to high, the only player capable of getting a hand in the face will be the sole guy defending the baseline. That player is typically the smaller of the forwards. Duke is set up perfectly for this because three players are lights out from this spot (Dawkins, Curry and Smith), not to mention, both Kelly and Singler can do it to if they are hot.
4. SCORE IN THE POST QUICKLY
Whoever is in the post, the man fronting them will be smaller. Sometimes that player is the smaller forward and in some cases a guard. Michigan can do this because if the ball does get inside, then another player collapses from the backside, thus doubling the big man. Of coure the one open spot will be the weak side baseline. While neither Plumlee is a great post-scorer, they are both good at being sneaky and hanging around the baseline. I would expect a good shooting night from both.
5. WALL UP THE BOARDS
Block out. Block out. Block out. With the 1-3-1, you have one player standing up at the top of the key, three players stretched out at the free throw line, with one small guard underneath. This leaves two Duke players underneath for rebounding. Sounds like Duke has the advantage, right? Maybe, but think about it. Once the shot goes up, assuming Smith, Curry, Singler (and Irving when he is playing) are circling the three-point line, Michigan has four guys to Duke’s two nearest to the basket. This just means that Duke’s two big men need to block out, grab that board and kick it back out quickly, while the Wolverines are inside the paint.
Now can Duke do all this? Sure. I actually think this year’s squad is a better fit to handle it. There are so many shooters and with Irving on the court, there might be little Michigan’s D can do to stop him. However, keep in mind, when Duke faced Michigan two years ago twice, it wasn’t always successful.
Duke beat Michigan in Madison Square Gardens, but lost to the Wolverines in Michigan. In those two games, the Blue Devils only shot 11-52 from three (21%). However, they dominated inside, hitting 44-62 from two-point range (71%).