Duke Basketball: Blue Devils embracing program’s old-school defense

(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

Several years ago, the Duke basketball program seemed to have misplaced its in-your-face defense from decades past, but it obviously wasn’t lost forever; this team has found it — in the process of perfecting it — and it’s a constant thrill to watch.

Cutting off passing lanes. Applying full-court harassment. Trapping with double-teams. Smacking at the ball at every opportunity. Making the life of opposing offenses a living hell. Yep, that’s what playing old-school Duke basketball defense is all about.

Intense. All the time.

Although there have been flashes of it this decade, fans — including this one — who were spoiled by the program-defining defense of teams from yesteryear have noticed and griped about it not appearing on a consistent basis in recent years.

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But it’s back. And it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere — at least not this year. Also, in my eyes and based off statistics thus far, it’s better than ever before.

Long arms. Fast reaction times. Unmatched anticipation. Insane athleticism.

This crop of Blue Devils is led by four freshmen starters, along with an ever-improving supporting cast, who have all the necessary tools to scare the bejeezus out of all opposing offenses and become known as the best defensive team in program history.

After generating a whopping 16 steals during a 91-58 home win against the Yale Bulldogs on Saturday, Duke — ranked No. 3 in the country and now sporting a 9-1 record — has now had double-digit takeaways in four consecutive games for the first time since 2008.

"“Our defense is good,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “Our guys are really busting their butts on the defensive end, and that’s what we want.”"

I understand Coach K’s caution not to overhype the defense this early in the season; however, using the word “good” to describe it seems to be a massive understatement.

The team is averaging 11.1 steals per game, the most by any power-conference team at the moment and on pace to set a program record (10.5 by the national-champion 2000-01 squad is the mark to beat).

Also, the 7.5 blocks per game — the average fell a bit after only six against the Bulldogs — leads the nation and is on pace to best the program record (6.5 by the 2003-04 team).

And because of the way freshmen sensations Tre Jones, Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish continue to set the tone on defense early in games as of late, the frequency of must-see-TV moments from this squad is on the rise.

It’s simply becoming one fast-break dunk after another.

Jones brings the ball-hawking. Williamson’s relentless hustle and mere presence add the fright factor. Barrett supplies tenacity. Reddish helps with his ridiculous wingspan.

Though no matter who actually comes away with the steal, block, loose ball, or long rebound that leads to a transition opportunity, they are all four more than adept at finishing on the other end — often bringing the thunder as they do so.

What I’m still anxiously awaiting this season, though, is for this crop of Blue Devils to further mimic the program’s greatest defensive teams from years before the existence of the smartphone by breaking out the two-handed floor slaps. Although they haven’t done so yet, they are likely saving them for the biggest moments.

Stay tuned.

Next. List of celebrity Duke fans. dark

The floor slaps are coming, they’re going to be more emphatic than ever before, and they’re going to light a fire in the belly of every Duke fan watching (Tar Heels, this is your only warning).