Last season, Louisville had a convincing win over Duke in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight, 85-63, on their way to a National Championship. Louisville used its superior athleticism to bother Duke’s slower paced team. This season, Duke will have that athleticism on their side. After coaching a much slower paced team, Coach K would really benefit from taking two key defensive strategies that Coach Pitino used against him last season. These strategies will be extremely helpful in allowing Duke’s new athletic team excel in the fast break and force turnovers.
The first strategy that Coach Pitino used effectively last season was Louisville’s match up 2-3 zone. This is similar to the Syracuse famous version of the zone, only players guard the specific player in their area, instead of the area as a whole. It allowed their ball hawking guards to stay on the perimeter, while allowing the bigs to stay in the paint. This works best with athletic teams because they can disrupt passing lanes with their speed and also shift quickly between who they are guarding. It also allows the fast paced guards to get steals or outlet passes and transfer quickly from defense to offense.
This zone would be perfect for Coach K’s Duke team next season. Although Coach K rarely leaves his man to man defense, this would be a defense to shake it up a little. Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, and Tyler Thorton are three athletic guards who will work well at pressuring players on the perimeter. They are all quick footed, can stay in front of most collegiate guards, and have the ability to force turnovers. Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, and Andre Dawkins are also great wings in this zone. They have the size to protect the paint, while also having the athleticism to guard on the perimeter. The outside shell will be perfect in forcing turnovers, getting rebounds, and preventing penetration.
This zone will be most effective in limiting pressure on Duke’s lack of quality centers. Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee will need to protect the rim from drivers, but it limits the amount of post up opportunities for the other team. Both have the height and long arms to disrupt players attacking the rim. If Duke pressures correctly, life will be made easier on Duke’s bigs. They will also receive extra rebounding help, with the weak side wing player able to help the center crash the boards. This zone is obviously most effective with a solid defensive center, like Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng, but it could go a long way to minimizing Duke’s paint mismatch. This zone will greatly increase the amount of turnovers Duke forces while helping Duke’s bigs in the paint.
The other strategy Coach Pitino used to perfection last season, especially against Duke, was his use of the full court press. This something Coach K has used before, and is much more likely to use at points this season. Coach K did attempt to use it last season, but Duke’s seniors did not have the speed to use it. Seth Curry was slow-footed due to his injury and Ryan Kelly is not athletic enough as a power forward to press effectively. Duke is much more athletic this season, which should allow them to attack the other team in the full court.
Louisville used their zone effectively using their insanely quick guards, and their athleticism at the forward spots. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith have the speed to bother any guard, and keep them in front. They gambled a lot and lost at times, but it led to a lot of turnovers. What made the press so effective was Louisville’s forwards double teams, especially coming from Chane Behanan. Whenever the ball handler rushed or turned his back, Behanan was there to double team. The guards are important, but the athleticism of the forwards is just as important.
Quinn Cook, Tyler Thorton, and Rasheed Sulaimon have showed flashes of being really good defenders, but they have the potential to be great. They do not have the ability to force turnovers that the Louisville guards did, but they can speed the game up for the opposing guards and create opportunities for the forwards. Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker’s full court athleticism will allow them to pressure the ball on double teams and steal cross court passes. Duke may not have the ball hawking guards Louisville had, but their forwards are more athletic than Louisville’s. It will make the use of a full court press, but nearly as effective.
Duke may not create tons of turnovers off the full court press, but it will be a great way to speed the game up and make the opposing team feel uncomfortable. Duke will likely struggle in slow paced games next season due to their lack of length. The ability to use the press even as a means to speed the game up will be huge for Duke. They may not use it as well as Louisville, but it could be a huge asset that can help them greatly.
I don’t think Coach K will ever institute Coach Pitino’s full game pressure defense, but he will definitely benefit from using some of his strategies. The match up zone will help cause turnovers and limit the amount of pressure of Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson. The full court press will also force turnovers and allow Duke’s athletes to get into the open floor. Duke has more athletes this year then they ever have, and it is up to Coach K to use them effectively. I trust the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history to deliver with a different, but very talented team.