From the stands: Duke v. Stanford

The Blue Devils completed a grueling early season gauntlet consisting of five games in eight days by beating Stanford in the final of the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament on Saturday. Over the last week a lot of questions have been answered. Here’s what we saw from the stands…

RECAP

After fighting off a physical Temple team on the previous night, Duke again relied on their defense, shutting down a Stanford team who had won their semifinal game with a tremendous perimeter shooting display.

Against Duke, however, the Cardinal were chased off the line or otherwise heavily challenged on most shot attempts. It resulted in Stanford shooting just 3-of-14 from behind the arc and just 36.1 percent overall from the field. Winning with defense was a marked change from a season ago, and Coach Krzyzewski seemed pleased that his team managed to sustain the effort and execution on that side of the floor.

“It was a really good performance for us without it being pretty offensive. I liked the personality of our team,” said Krzyzewski.

On the offensive end of the court Duke was once again led by Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor, and Quinn Cook. Okafor had 10 points and 12 rebounds and dominated the closing minutes while Winslow added 14 points and nine rebounds, while eventual tournament MVP Quinn Cook had 18 points.

So what did we learn?

1. THESE LEADERS ARE CAPABLE

A season ago Duke struggled to find leadership on the court. Certainly the Blue Devils had players willing to step into captainship roles, but when things didn’t go as planned, the Blue Devils were often a team that struggled to be on the same page.

Not so through five games according to Krzyzewski.

“Our guys followed the lead of Quinn,” said the Duke coach. “He was a great leader for us and so was Amile. Amile was a warrior. We subbed him out because they were small and against the zone, Justise (Winslow) was a little bit better in the middle.”

Cook took home MVP honors while Jefferson played well early on before being subbed out, finishing with nine points and seven rebounds in just 24 minutes. It’s a continuation of a trend this season - one that didn’t exist a year ago. Specifically, Duke’s elder statesmen are important rotational contributors who are capable of making things happen.

Both players have started all five contests with Cook leading the team in scoring, minutes, and three point shooting. Jefferson has added 8.4 points and his 7.6 boards per game are second best behind Okafor in total, while he leads the team with 19 offensive boards in five games.

Much of the Blue Devils’ success will be determined by the freshman class, but as the last three games against strong competition have shown, when things go sideways, the captains are capable of making plays and even bailing out their younger teammates when needed.


2. JUSTISE WINSLOW MAY BE THE TEAM’S BEST PLAYER, BUT…

Winslow certainly looked the part against Stanford by guarding everything from the point guard to the power forward position. He also knifed into the lane seemingly at will, and either finished at the rim or got to the free throw line (where he hit just four of 10 attempts).

The two nights in New York were good enough for CBS to write this gushing piece on what he brings to this team. And the premise is correct. There aren’t many teams in the country with a player like the 6-foot-6 freshman, which means he’ll be a season long matchup problem as teams begin to scout the Blue Devils.

But why is he so successful? From our point of view it’s a combination of his own prodigious talent and Okafor’s mere presence.
Notice how the lanes were open all night? It’s because Stanford was following Okafor around he Barclay’s Center. Did you see that Winslow pulled in nine total rebounds? That’s because he’s strong, super athletic, and also because, on several Cardinal misses, Okafor was playing volley ball in a crowd, allowing Winslow to grab the batted ball.

Duke has so many new faces in key roles from a season ago and the team is learning how to play with one another, but when asked why Winslow is so good and what he does so well, Okafor was stumped.

"To say what he does best? That's kind of hard. He does everything well," said Okafor.

That’s true, and it’s due in part to Okafor commanding so much attention from opposing defenses and leaving his teammates in isolation situations or, at times, completely unguarded.

A season ago Duke didn’t have nearly this much depth nor did the Blue Devils have reliable second tier options after Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. And, of course, Duke didn’t have a center either. A year later and Duke has added as good a big man as the program has ever had, and as dynamic a wing.

And their games compliment each other in about as perfect a way as possible.


WHAT’S NEXT

Duke will return home for a pair of games that should provide very little in the way of challenges. On Wednesday they’ll take on Furman before hosting Army on Sunday.

After those two contests, things get much tougher as the Blue Devils will tackle the toughest game on the schedule by heading to Madison to face No. 3 Wisconsin on their home court.

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