Defense Is "All In The Family"

Duke's defense has come under fire from fans and analysts alike as the Blue Devils have gone through the season. But as Coach K points out, there's one constant with this team to this point: Winning.

Is it possible that we're all just too close to Duke?

Football and basketball programs like to refer to themselves as families, and fans, students, and alumni consider themselves part of that family.

Of course, no one fights like family. You don't complain about how much your co-workers nag you. That's your spouse. You don't notice all the times the guy up the street forgets to do some household chore. That's the kids. No one irritates you more than a sibling.

Being part of the Duke family this year, people have picked up on all the faults. "Why do you always let guards penetrate into the lane like that?" "Would it kill you to give a consistent performance?"

It's easy to catalog all the bad habits and little failures and lose sight of the big picture.

"The main recurring issue that we have is that we're winning," coach Mike Krzyzewski said on this week's ACC coaches teleconference. "To me, that's the most fundamental issue that we're talking about."

Of course, two days earlier, Krzyzewski was adamant that winning wasn't enough. He was furious after a win over St. John's because the team didn't play the way they should.

Still, his point on the teleconference holds up. He's the coach. He can and should obsess over the details and try to fix any flaws he notices. But how about the rest of us? Are we being too hard on the team?

After all, family members can nag over the small things, but they'll also be the first people to notice a lump that might be cancer, or a diet that might lead to heart problems.

Out of all the complaints about the team, the one issue that might be the biggest threat is Duke's defensive performance. The Blue Devils are second to last in the ACC in scoring defense and dead last in field goal percentage defense.

Krzyzewski brushed off the concern in the teleconference, saying, "Look, overall, we've had to play pretty damned good defense in order to have the record we have against the competition we've had. I don't care what stats are out there."

Obviously, trying to defend against the nation's toughest schedule will impact a team's statistical line. Belmont is averaging 80.6 points per game, which makes their 76 points against Duke in the opener a little easier to take. Davidson is averaging 79. The Blue Devils held them to 10 below that. Kansas' 61 was 14 below their season average.

We looked at the last three years, to see just how much better this year's Duke opponents have been offensively, and how much of the defensive struggles can be blamed on that. The answer? Not much.

Here's a look at shooting percentage.

In Duke's 21 games, their opponents have shot .439 against the Blue Devils. Those 21 opponents have shot .451 for the season. So Duke's D held them to 12 percentage points below their season average, or 2.7% better defense than an average opponent.

How does that measure up?

Opponents' FG%
Opponents' FG%
v Duke
Duke D Was...
2.7% Better
8.3% Better
10.6% Better

Duke is facing better shooting opponents this year, but only a few percentage points better, or less than one extra made shot a game. Meanwhile, their shooting percentage against Duke is 30 points higher than in recent seasons, which translates to a couple extra baskets.

Scoring average is equally grim.

Opponents' PPG
Opponents' PPG
v Duke
Duke D Was...
2.1% Better
8.2% Better
14.7% Better

This year's opponents are about as high-scoring as last year's, and are LOWER scoring than the national championship year. Meanwhile, they score about as well against Duke as against anyone else, while the last two teams have shaved 7 to 10 points off their average opponent's output.

In other words, Duke isn't a bad defensive team. They're a slightly above average one. That just pales in comparison to what they've done in recent years.

"We're not going to be this juggernaut defensively, but we have to keep striving to get better," Krzyzewski said. "I hope our only lapses are when we have double-digit leads. That's a good spot."

A good spot, but many members of the family can't help but notice, it's not as good a spot as we're used to.

The Devils Den Top Stories