Though his first Duke basketball team won an ACC championship, head coach Jon Scheyer built the second edition of the Blue Devils since Mike Krzyzewski’s retirement to, in his words, “play differently.”
Roster construction is a big part of the reason why. The No. 9 Blue Devils don’t have an elite, 7-1 shot-blocking and rebounding presence like Dereck Lively this season — he’s now in the NBA.
Lively’s absence was glaring when the Blue Devils saw Arizona secure 12 more rebounds in a 78-73 Wildcats win at Cameron on Nov. 10. But Scheyer — and his players — refused to let that be the norm.
The Blue Devils won the rebounding battle, 35-33, four nights later, when they beat Michigan State, 74-65, at Chicago’s United Center in the Champions Classic. Duke followed that up three nights later, albeit against overmatched Bucknell, by gaining a 46-27 rebounding edge in a 90-60 win.
Teamwork, Scheyer said, will be the key for Duke not only in rebounding, but in half-court offense. To reach this season’s potential, the Blue Devils need to win the rebounding battle, collect plenty of assists and keep their turnover number low.
“I think that’s how we can play,” Scheyer said.
Pulling down the boards
Team rebounding is important. Scheyer and the Blue Devils need all five players securing rebounds, rather than counting on one player to grab 10 or 12 every game.
One example? Jared McCain’s 10 rebounds against Bucknell. The 6-3 guard led the Blue Devils in rebounding that night. He also scored 17 points. The fact that happened in the game following his scoreless performance against Michigan State only adds to the importance of his performance.
Duke’s offense will run better when the guards rebound well on the defensive end, too.
“That really was the start of our fast break, our guards getting in there and rebounding,” Scheyer said.
Through the admittedly small sample size of the first four games, prior to Tuesday night’s game with La Salle, Duke’s offensive efficiency is 116.6 points per 100 possessions, according to KenPom.com. At 1.17 points per possession, Duke is No. 13 in the country.
Last season, Duke produced 1.13 points per possession, No. 40 nationally.
In this season’ loss to Arizona, when the Blue Devils didn’t rebound well, they only produced 0.96 points per possession. That improved to 1.09 points per possession against Michigan State. It zoomed to 1.32, as is to be expected, against Bucknell.
Rebounding, from all over the court, gets it going. But strong ball-handling and passing convert those situations into points.
For the season, Duke is in the 97th percentile nationally in points per possession in transition situations, according to Synergy Sports.
“When your guards are making great decisions and they’re playing unselfishly, really good things are gonna happen,” Scheyer said.
Though Kyle Filipowski is a preseason All-American after leading Duke in scoring (15.1 points) and rebounding (8.9) last season, this year’s Blue Devils are showing depth on offense to go with their team rebounding approach.
Filipowski scored 25 points in Duke’s loss to Arizona. But, in the win over Michigan State, freshman guard Caleb Foster led the Blue Devils with 18 points as four players reached double figures.
Against Bucknell, sophomore forward Mark Mitchell tallied a career-best 20 points after he’d scored 13 against Michigan State.
“We have a lot of different players on this team, a lot of different scoring power,” Mitchell said. “We can hit you in different ways on different nights. I think (Bucknell) was just my night and any other night could have been someone else’s.”
Facing Arizona and Michigan State, two teams ranked among the nation’s top 25, back to back in early November gave the Blue Devils a quick reality check on where they stood as a team.
After completing the Blue Devil Challenge multi-team event with Friday’s home game with Southern Indiana, Duke heads to No. 20 Arkansas on Nov. 29 before opening ACC play at Georgia Tech on Dec. 2.
The Blue Devils are showing signs that, with further development, their different style of play this season could be even better than what last year’s team showed in Scheyer’s first year.