Duke basketball: How defense will determine Blue Devil success

Duke basketball (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) /

As the Duke basketball offense comes along, a sensational defense is vital.

The Blue Devils started out the year with their defense ahead of their offense. Over the last three games, though, Duke basketball has looked like a much improved offensive team. Matthew Hurt has emerged as a legitimate No. 1 scoring option, and the freshmen seem far more confident and comfortable on that end of the floor.

Since entering conference play, No. 19 Duke (5-2, 3-0 ACC) has looked like a different squad.

However, the Blue Devils do not have the firepower to simply overwhelm opponents with their scoring this year. That was evident in them eeking out wins against winless conference opponents. Duke has taken advantage of a weaker schedule to start out the season. Notre Dame, Boston College, and Wake Forest are a combined 0-12 to start out conference play.

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Going into Tuesday’s 7 p.m. matchup at No. 20 Virginia Tech (9-2, 3-1 ACC), the Blue Devils are averaging just over 75 points per game, which is good for 121st in the nation. I do believe they will become a better offensive team as the season goes on. We have to remember that they have played just eight games and have played the last three without star freshman Jalen Johnson.

DJ Steward, Jeremy Roach, and Wendell Moore have all shown flashes of being reliable scorers to complement Hurt. As the season moves forward, these players are only going to get better on offense.

The Duke basketball players must hang their hat on defense to hang banners

This year’s Duke basketball squad has a different kind of makeup on the defensive end than recent ones in Durham. The Blue Devils do not have as much athleticism or as many shot blockers to protect the paint, but they are one of the best I have seen at applying pressure.

Multiple players can put pressure on the ball. Having good pressure on the ball allows the wing defenders to be more aggressive playing the passing lanes. Taking away passing lanes not only allows the defense to get deflections, steals, and forced turnovers but also completely disrupts the opposing team’s offense. It forces the offense out of the sets and actions it wants to run.

In short, the constant defensive pressure forces teams into more one-on-one basketball.

In Saturday’s win against Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons had just eight assists as a team. In the win against Notre Dame, the Irish had 12 assists as a team. It is difficult for teams to run an offense against Duke’s constant pressure and aggressiveness on the perimeter.

The pressure that the defense applies is designed to wear down opponents. The goal is for teams to get careless with the ball and overly aggressive trying to make something happen. This plays right into the hands of the Blue Devils, allowing them to come away with steals and draw charges.

As I mentioned earlier, Duke does not have the firepower to blow teams away, but it has shown that it can wear an opponent down over the course of 40 minutes.

Another factor that makes this a difficult team to score on is the Blue Devils can switch 1-5. This prevents opposing teams from taking advantage of ball-screen situations. It also helps decrease the number of miscommunications and defensive breakdowns. It is hard for opposing offenses to get crisp ball movement when a defense can constantly switch.

The only issue is that, at times, Duke is susceptible to dribble-drive penetration and points in the paint.

The Blue Devils will have to impose their will on the defensive end. Their halfcourt offense is still a work in progress, and shooting has been fairly inconsistent. At times this season, the best Duke basketball offense has come as a result of the defense. The ability to apply pressure and force turnovers allows the team to be at its most dangerous when running in transition.

Duke will certainly need to bring it on defense if it wants to beat Virginia Tech.

The Hokies are a potent offensive team. They are a guard-led team that likes to spread it out and look for a lot of drive-and-kick opportunities. The Blue Devils will have to be disciplined on their closeouts and prevent the Hokies from getting too many open looks from the 3-point line.

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