Why Duke basketball starting five should change every game

Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

An ever-changing starting five both symbolizes and promotes the Duke basketball team’s primary strength.

Riding a seven-game winning streak since the home loss to Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 26, the 10-deep Duke basketball rotation has spotlighted the squad’s M.O.: unselfish play.

In part due to injuries, No. 2 Duke (13-1, 3-0 ACC) has rolled out eight different starting lineups from a collection of nine players (10 are averaging at least 13 minutes). Eight of the nine have seen at least three starts apiece.

And only freshman center Vernon Carey Jr., who ranks first in the country in player efficiency rating at 39.0, has been on the floor for every opening tip.

Granted, Carey Jr. and sophomore guard Tre Jones — who ranks first in the conference in assists per game at 7.2 and sat out two games with a mild foot sprain as a precaution in late December — should start every contest. Meanwhile, though, the other three gigs should solely depend on hot hands and matchups.

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After all, these Blue Devils seem to adapt to regular changes without confusion or fuss. Also, coincidence or not, the fact is the first time Mike Krzyzewski used the same starters across three consecutive games, the team’s lone hiccup ensued. Did complacency set in? Possibly.

Nevertheless, the 40th-year Duke basketball head coach again chose the same lineup the next time out, resulting in a worrisome start against Winthrop. Krzyzewski hasn’t started that same lineup — which included freshman forward Wendell Moore, who is now out indefinitely after breaking his right hand at Miami on Saturday — ever since.

However, entering the test at Georgia Tech (7-7, 2-2 ACC) on Wednesday at 9 p.m. (ACCN), the 72-year-old is again in position to make what could be a similar mistake after two straight games starting Jones, Carey Jr., freshman guard Cassius Stanley, junior guard Alex O’Connell, and freshman forward Matthew Hurt.

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Yup, it’s time for Coach K to mix it up once again. Though some past teams in Durham benefited from consistency, the current bunch seems to both enjoy and thrive off having a wealth of interchangeable pieces (five Blue Devils have led the team in scoring for a game, and none have done so twice in a row).

Therefore, Coach K should let his players continue to compete for starting jobs, thereby forcing them to be comfortable coming out of the gates regardless of which combination is on the court.

Furthermore, doing so would likely continue to fuel the fire from each game’s backups (the bench has averaged an insane 31.4 points across the past seven outings after accounting for only seven points against Stephen F. Austin).

In short, altering the lineup from game to game should help the Blue Devils embrace their unique identity: 10 regular contributors, including nine worthy starters and zero toxic egos, all equally focused on one April goal.

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