Duke Basketball: Fixing the Blue Devils Woeful Problems


After another blown lead and lack of intensity and enthusiasm in the second half, can Duke figure out their problems in time for March?

There seem to be more things wrong than right today in the Duke basketball world, having fans starting to worry about the Blue Devils.

  1. Someone must assert themselves as a leader. 

Coming into the season, Grayson Allen was pegged as the leader of this young Blue Devils team. Allen has tried to take the reigns of the Blue Devils, but it’s hard for him to assert himself as a leader especially when he isn’t shooting and when his shot isn’t falling.

If we use the 2015 team as an example, that team had so many leaders. If the team got down, it could rely on Quinn Cook or Tyus Jones to step up and hit the big shot to will the Blue Devils back into the game.

It also had leaders defensively in Matt Jones and Justise Winslow. Jones could take the opposing teams best player 94 feet and essentially remove him from the game. Winslow could guard virtually every position on the floor effectively.

It’s no secret that Duke’s best players are their bigs, Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. Since they can’t have the ball in their hands the whole way up the floor it’s going to be tough for them to be Duke’s big shot player. Someone in the backcourt, Allen or Gary Trent Jr., needs to seize control and consistently take and make the big shot.

At this point in the season, it doesn’t matter who steps up as the leader of this Duke team but someone must make their presences known, and they must do it fast.

2. Someone, Anyone, Please Play Defense

We have a month left in the season and we still do not know what type of defensive team Duke is.

Are they a man to man team? Zone?

Duke has played very well, in stretches while in a zone. But they have not been able to consistently play well, allowing offensive rebounds and wide open three-point shots.

Like the zone, Duke has also played well in man to man defense but once opposing teams get their bigs in ball screens, they forget everything about the basic fundamentals of defense.

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Going back to 2015, Duke was also a very bad man to man defense and then in a road game against Louisville after losing 2 in a row, Coach K threw a zone defense at Louisville, and it worked. K then went back and forth all season between a man and a zone until he felt comfortable in their man to man abilities.

Despite implementing a zone defense months ago, this team has shown no improvements in the zone or man, leaving everyone scratching their heads.

A lot of defense is wanting to do it, communicating, showing effort and passion and that is where Duke has to begin if they want to improve their defense.

3. Keeping the same intensity for 40 minutes 

The Blue Devils have lost three games where they led by double digits in the first half (NC State, St. John’s, UNC).

This may be the biggest head-scratcher. Duke gets a team on the ropes, and then they just take their foot off the gas and allow the team to creep back in.

This Duke team is so gifted offensively, you have to imagine that when they get up big early they don’t think other teams can score with them. But with a defense, that porous, teams know they can find the holes in the Blue Devils and get right back in the game.

But it doesn’t strictly boil down to that. Recently, teams have dominated the glass against the Blue Devils. Bagley III and Carter Jr. are two of the best rebounders in the country. However, just because they are bigger and stronger than their opponents doesn’t mean they automatically get the rebound.

St. John’s and North Carolina racked up 16 and 20 offensive rebounds, respectively. Both teams are extremely undersized compared to Duke. Allowing that many second and third chance opportunities are just unacceptable.

Although they are only freshman, Bagley and Carter need to keep working on the backboards and halt the opposition’s chances to 1 shot.

4. Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval

This is the head-scratcher of the season. Entering the season Duke was finally supposed to have their true point guard. However, it’s Allen that is playing like the point guard and Duval who is playing like the shooting guard.

This Duke team needs Grayson Allen to hunt his shot. They need him to drive to the basket and be the aggressor he was during his sophomore year. Yet Allen has turned into a facilitator, exactly what Duke needs out of Duval.

Duval and Allen have switched places. Duval is hunting for his shot, and that could have to do with him being a freshman. Trevon is very explosive driving off the dribble and that’s where he can get his shots.

Although Duval’s shot has improved since the start of the season, he is still a 25% 3-point shooter. He gets about two or three open 3’s per game, and he should continue to take them. However, the other shots that he is forcing, need to stop. Duval’s shots need to go to Allen. If this Duke team wants to make a run into early April, Grayson Allen will play a major role.

Duke has the players, the talent, the coach, and the pedigree to put everything together in time for the tournament.

Can they do it? Absolutely.

Will they? That’s something we won’t really know until they take the floor again.