Duke's offense is known for its shooting – and that remains true this season. What's being overlooked this season is just how much of its offense is being generated from its own missed shots. The Blue Devils rank second in league play, behind only Carolina, in offensive rebounding. The Pack's five worst defensive rebounding games were Indiana, Syracuse, North Carolina, Stanford and at Georgia Tech. The trend is pretty obvious – the Pack rarely wins when teams are getting a lot of second chances.
Miles Plumlee is embracing his role as the new Brian Zoubek for this team, and his 22-rebound performance against Maryland over the weekend made him the best offensive rebounder in the country – he's grabbing 18 percent of Duke's missed shots when he's on the court. The Pack has to put a body on Plumlee on every shot and avoid trying to out-jump Duke for rebounds.
Interestingly, while Duke is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the conference it's also one of the worst defensive rebounding teams. That's an opportunity the Pack has to take advantage of to get some easy points. The Pack will undoubtedly want to prevent slow Duke's transition game, but its perhaps more important to send a few guys to the glass and try to get some second-chance baskets.
Forget all the other factors – if the Pack can't control the glass on Thursday then they won't win.
2. Defend From The Outside In
As previously mentioned, Duke is known for its shooting. The Blue Devils want to take a lot of 3s and they usually make a lot of 3s as well - in conference play the Devils get a third of their points from behind the arc. Only Boston College is more reliant on the 3-pointer.
The best defense against the 3-pointer is to simply not allow the 3-pointer at all. The Pack should be willing to give up drives by Austin Rivers or post-ups by Mason Plumlee if it means that Duke is attempted less outside shots. From a defensive standpoint, those are better shots than an open 3-pointer when you play Duke. It's a team that consistently puts four good shooters on the court and any one of them is capable of getting hot and single-handedly starting a run. The less 3s that the Pack allows to be shot, the less chance of one of those players catching fire for the Devils.
3. Don't Settle For Bad Shots
Conversely, on offense, the Pack has to be patient.
Early in the season the Pack appeared to be way ahead of schedule when it came to running the half-court offense. But as the transition game has blossomed, the Pack has begun to lose their discipline in the half court. In this last stretch of games, it's safe to assume that opponents will focus on containing the Pack's transition game and try to force them to play a half-court game.
So its imperative that the Pack remains patient in its sets, especially on the road against a team such as the Blue Devils. The Pack has to be willing to work the clock and wait for a good shot – getting CJ Williams and Scott Wood some early looks could help stretch out Duke's defense and make life easier for the Pack's big men to work against the Plumlee boys.
4. Protect Every Possession
For the first time in seemingly forever, Mike Krzyzewski's defense isn't generating a lot of turnovers. In fact, the Blue Devils rank 10th in the conference when it comes to generating turnovers on defense – opponents are coughing up the ball on just 17 percent of their possessions, the lowest figure in at least a decade for Duke.
The Pack has a tendency to get lazy with the basketball, and that simply cannot happen on Thursday night if they want to pull off the upset. Lorenzo Brown in particular has to maintain his focus and not make unforced errors that give away possessions. Winning the turnover battle, or at least keeping the turnover numbers close, would go a long way.
5. Withstand The Inevitable Duke Runs
The phrase ‘this isn't your typical Duke team' is getting thrown around way too much this year, as if this is the 1995 version of Duke. Like nearly every team in the country, Duke has flaws. But make no mistake, they are legitimately one of the 10 best teams in the nation.
They also remain capable of going on those ‘rip-out-your-will' runs that have helped them win a lot of games in Cameron. The key for the Pack will be to not lose focus, not lose composure and find a way to answer back. It's something they weren't able to do in their other road battle with a top 10 team, but the Pack has an opportunity to show that its learned from its experience in Chapel Hill.