Coaches Q&A Part III: Philosophy & Strategy

The third part of our question and answer session with coaches Wojo and Collins deals with on the court strategy and the program's overall philosophy on the offensive and defensive ends.

This season there was not much released in terms of player's injuries until they were reported after the season – and that caused a lot of speculation and hand wringing by the fan base. Meanwhile other schools are issuing press releases when a player may be considered questionable for an approaching game. Is there a reason that Duke doesn't publicize those kinds of instances?

We have always felt that there is no advantage to publicize nagging injuries throughout the year. We don't want that to be an excuse for the players or for our team as a whole. Every team deals with bumps and bruises throughout the rigors of a long and physical season. If a guy is healthy enough to be on the floor, we don't view the injury as an excuse for potential shortcomings. The only need for us to announce injuries is when a player misses game action.

Which box score stats (other than points, of course) do you think are the best indicators of putting Duke in a position to win? Which stats are you willing to concede for some greater purpose? (For example, is it more important to contest shots even if that means being in a worse position to box out on rebounds?

This is one of the best questions we received.

First, we always look at our assist-to-turnover ratio. One of the reasons we struggled at times this season was because our turnovers far exceeded our assists. That is not typical of the Duke teams of the past. We also look at free throws attempted as those often indicate the more aggressive team. Traditionally, a staple of our program has been aggression and working hard to be the aggressor. We try to have a goal of making more free throws than our opponents attempt. Defensively, we look at offensive rebounds allowed, turnovers forced, and field-goal percentage defense, particularly from the three-point line. The three-point shot has become such an integral part of the college game, and we pride ourselves on defending it well.

Why doesn't Duke play zone? Does the roster makeup ever warrant that change?

There is no question that a zone can be useful in a number of situations throughout a basketball game. We used the zone at times this year -- both the 2-3 and the 1-3-1. However, over the past 27 years, the foundation of our program has been man-to-man defense. It is the foundation of what we try to do as a program, and we believe it reinforces the toughness, discipline and intensity that are staples of Duke Basketball. In fact, throughout most of this season, our defense was our team's main strength and we allowed fewer PPG than any Duke team in the Coach K era.

For most of the year, we were among the nation's leaders and were tops in the ACC in scoring defense at around 60 PPG allowed. This type of defense will continue to be the foundation from which future Duke teams are built. In sports in general, it is human nature to call for change or "doing the opposite" after losses.

However, to be successful over the long haul, you have to be able to hang your hat on certain constants and for us, it is our man-to-man defense.

Do you think the last few year's teams have been overly worn down come March? If so, what do you attribute this to (e.g. lack of depth from early defections/transfers; disproportionate injuries; insufficient conditioning)?

We go into every game looking to give our team the best possible chance to win. Coach K has and always will play the players and groups that best give us that chance. In watching the national championship game, Florida took the same approach and successfully won the title with a seven-man rotation for the second straight year. We would love to play as many players as possible to help us reach our goals. The more competition within the team and better players we have, the better it will be for the team.

Regarding the comments that Coach K's teams get worn down in March: we have won seven of the past nine ACC Tournaments and have advanced to nine of the past 10 Sweet 16s. More recently, in the past four years, we have won a pair of ACC Tournaments and advanced to one Final Four and three Sweet 16s. Over the course of 22 years, Coach K has led us to 10 Final Fours, has won 23 more NCAA Tournament games than any active coach and is the NCAA Tournament's all-time wins leader with 68 wins.

All of these games were played in March and April. Certainly, every team has to deal with the rigors of a long season and its share of bumps and bruises, but the excitement of March and April has always been a terrific energizer for our team and probably most every team in the country.

For four seasons Duke had Shelden Williams and JJ Redick – two All-Americans that thrived in a half court oriented game. Now, with those two gone, will Duke look to return to the kind of fast paced offense of the pre-Redick era?

Our program has never been content with a lower-scoring and slower game. To the contrary, we have always prided ourselves as being among the nation's leaders in both scoring and scoring margin. Over the past 10 years, we have ranked among the top two scoring teams in the nation four times. Until this year, we had been among the top 10 scoring teams among major conference programs nine years in a row, including No. 3 last year. We have also led the nation in scoring margin four of the past 10 years and have been in the top 10 in scoring margin nine straight years prior to this year. We will continue to pride ourselves on these types of scoring stats and will place this emphasis on each one of our teams. The pace of play, our ability to score, and our defensive aggressiveness are dictated to an extent by the abilities of the guys on our team.

Our highest-scoring teams have been those with five and six future NBA players and several lottery picks. Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick were both lottery picks and their jerseys were retired this year. Both of those guys stayed four years, graduated from Duke, won 116 games, won three ACC Tournaments, two ACC regular-season titles, reached a Final Four and four Sweet 16s, helped us earn three NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds and were ranked No. 1 in three separate seasons. Shelden, a two-time National Defensive Player of the Year, is our all-time leader in rebounds and blocked shots. J.J., a two-time National Player of the Year, is the ACC's all-time leader in scoring and made 3's.

Anyone who thinks this pair restricted others or our offense in general has a limited understanding of the game. They should take note that guys like Luol Deng, Chris Duhon, Dahntay Jones, Shavlik Randolph and Daniel Ewing all became NBA players as teammates of Shelden and J.J.

Around the 11 minute mark if Duke has a lead they have gone to a foul line extended set while running time off the clock. It's been called "stall ball" by the fans and has seemed to allowed teams to make serious runs to get back into the game. What are the benefits of this strategy? Is there a point where running the clock down becomes more important than getting points on each trip? Are the runs we've seen made a product of poor execution or the other team just "getting hot"?

Over the course of almost three decades, the two-third motion has been a very effective offense for our basketball program, and it has been a part of many of our program's wins. It can be used to shorten a game, to spread the court, to open the basket area for drives and for a number of other reasons. We don't recall any Duke Basketball team in history using the two-third motion as a means to shorten the game with more than 10 minutes to go.

When and how (or does) Duke determine which players should be the "primary" scoring threats or "go to guys" for the season? Who is the staff expecting to fill those roles next year?

The play and effort of our players in practice and games determines the "primary scoring threats" and the "go-to guys."

A coach wants his "go-to guys" to be those players that have the best chance of producing scoring opportunities. We have never known a coach on any level, in any sport, who didn't strive to put his or her team in the best possible position to win each and every game. Obviously, to do that, you play your best players.

Coach K has done a better job than any coach in developing these types of players. He has produced more individual National Players of the Year than any coach in history (seven), more lottery picks than any coach in history (14), five more first round NBA Draft picks than any active coach (20), six more National Defensive Player of the Year honors than any coach in history (nine) and nine more All-America selections (AP, NABC, UPI/TSN, USBWA) than any program in the nation since 1985.

Be sure to check out Part IV of our interview with Coach Collins and Coach Wojciechowski as they tackle your questions regarding the dynamics of the coaching staff and hierarchy at Duke.


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