Two Games To Grow For Young Devils

Though his team has roared out to an 11-1 start to the 2006-2007 season, head coach Mike Krzyzewski knows there is still much work to be done. With games against San Jose State and Temple in the next week, it's the last chance Coach K has to tinker before the ACC season starts.

With an 11-1 overall record and a lofty #5 ranking in the latest polls, many analysts believe Duke has been exceeding expectations. After all, wasn't this group supposed to struggle mightily after losing All-Americans J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams? Still, as 2006 fades away there's Duke sitting among the nation's top five despite all the predictions of doom and gloom.

"This has been the most unique team I've coached," said Krzyzewski. "We haven't been able to segment the season or set goals with this group like we have with more predictable veteran groups in the past. Instead we've had to approach it on a day to day basis because we have so many young players. We didn't really set any goals or expectations because of that."

The amount of youth in the rotation has been well documented as the Blue Devils have routinely started at least two freshmen with another two coming off the bench. Only one scholarship player, DeMarcus Nelson, has played more than one full season. With so many unproven players stepping into crucial roles, Krzyzewski acknowledges he didn't really know what to expect when this group took the court this year. He has, however, been pleasantly surprised in one area.

"The level of defense this team has been able to play has been surprising. I haven't had a team play this well on the defensive end of the floor in over five years. For young guys to do that is beyond expectation, and shows that we want to play well. This group really likes one another, which makes it easier for them to buy into what we are trying to do as a team with everyone being in that frame of mind."

Still, it's unusual for a team to be so young and yet so proficient on the defensive side of things. So why is this group so stingy in that part of the game?

"I think they need it more. They know they are not there individually or collectively on the offensive end. They want to win, and that's what we do here. They've all bought in and they want to please when they are out there. Plus we are longer on the perimeter than we've been recently. We have more players who are interchangeable. We can switch guys around. I'm not talking about just being tall, we are much longer - we've got 6'4 and 6'5 on the perimeter instead of 6'1 and 6'2."

The numbers back up those statements as the Blue Devils are holding teams to just 53.5 points and 38.4% shooting from the field on a nightly basis. Most recently Duke shut down high scoring Gonzaga, limiting the Zags to just 54 points after they had averaged 88.7 against the three previous top 25 opponents - both are ACC bests.

On the other hand Duke has been less than stellar on the offensive end of the floor averaging an ACC low 68.5 points per game, something Krzyzewski and his staff have been working to remedy with two-a-day practices since the team returned to campus following the Christmas holidays and heading into the final two non-conference games of the season aside from a late February match up with St. John's.

"We have to use the next two games to get better on offense, and better on defense if we can. We need to keep that going into January and the ACC schedule. The ACC makes you grow, and you can choose to grow or you can get crushed with the level of competition you see on a game to game basis. That kind of thing puts hair on your chest and makes you become men. We've developed a good base, and we want to get a better base as we move through the next few weeks."

Duke hosts San Jose State on December 31st, before the Temple Owls come calling on January 2nd. Currently the Spartans are 1-10 on the season, while Temple is 5-4.

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