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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2007

    Discussing Duke's Defense

    In this thread, we started a discussion about Duke's late-season defensive woes. I figured some other people would want to discuss Duke's use of zone, and not just in a single-game, UVA-thread context. So I took the liberty of starting this thread for talk about Duke's D.

    I had some theories after the NCSU game, but I wanted to watch us against UVA before commenting. Here's what I think is going on with Duke's man-to-man.

    -We're struggling at the point of attack. That's hardly newsworthy -- we know Paulus is not a particularly good defender. The other problem is that Nolan Smith's defense is not what it was earlier in the season; you have to think his knee injury is part of the problem.

    -This leads to dribble penetration for opposing point guards. Still, that's nothing new. Part of Duke's strategy of intense perimeter ball pressure has always allowed for point guards to penetrate. Jason Williams got beat off the dribble. Wojo got beat off the dribble. Even Tommy Amaker got beat off the dribble. The key was always turning that brief penetration into fool's gold. That's not happening now.

    -Why isn't it happening? The first problem is the interior help defense. As Stacey Dales explained before the game, Duke wants its wing defenders to stay home on the perimeter shooters, leaving the interior guys to help stop the dribble. That's nothing new, either. That's what allows us to defend the three-ball so well. And it's why we've always given up our fair share of dump-offs to big guys for easy layups/dunks, as well as offensive rebounds (when the help defender leaves his man unchecked on the weak side). Still, in the past we'd more than made up for these trade-offs. We'd cut off the penetration with quick help; often that was enough to force a turnover or a rushed shot. Teams have always tried to spread the floor and attack off the dribble against Duke; our rotations were just always tight and we tricked players into settling for bad shots.

    -Part of the difference this year is that Duke doesn't have a shot-blocker. Sometimes Duke has had great shot-blockers (Shelden, Battier, Brand). Sometimes Duke has had good shot-blockers (McRoberts, Parks, etc.) But these guys not only swatted their fair share, they altered enough shots to make guards think twice when entering the lane. This year, Duke doesn't have a pure shot-blocker. So it's not as intimidating to drive into the teeth of the D.

    -Duke's other weapon of choice in terms of help D has been drawing the charge. And we've done that well this year. But the problem is, you're relying on bang-bang calls to make that work. And if you try to draw the charge and the play continues, you've basically taken yourself out of the play.

    -So, early in games, teams have attacked the basket, and they've also taken advantage of the mid-range game Duke has always left open. The problem is that they are getting to the rim too easily, either straight off the drive or off one pass. Our bigs aren't helping and recovering quickly enough.

    -This is starting to influence the wings. Duke's denial on the wing is incredible, and when we follow that gameplan, we're tough to beat. But when teams are getting to the rim, the tendency is to try to do something about it. So, for instance, against UVA you saw Duke's wings start to leave their guys to help the bigs after a pass or two, and that led to kick-outs for open threes. That's REALLY bad. That happened against NC State, too, and I have to think that's part of what Coach K was rerefencing when he talked about guys not doing what they were being told to do.

    -Against UVA, that led to the zone. If we weren't going to follow our game plan, K seemed to say, "well, we might as well do something totally different." I can't stand zone defense, and UVA did a terrible job of attacking it (the short corner was open all night, for instance). In the long run, Duke's not going to succeed by playing a lot of zone.

    -So, then, how do we fix our man-to-man? First, we must do a better job of getting back in transition. UVA and NCSU both got way too many early buckets on the break. Part of that is due to the nature of Duke's offense. Because we send players to both corners and spread the floor, guards are often caught too deep to get back in time.

    -In our halfcourt D, we have three choices. 1) We can put less pressure on the point guard. We'd get beat off the dribble less, but it would also enable teams to run their offenses much more effectively. 2) We can deny the wings less. This would allow us to help off the dribble and in the post better, but we'd give up many more three pointers. 3) Or, we can just be really disciplined.

    -In other words, we have to do what we do. That means keep up the pressure on the perimeter and keep bringing quick help with the bigs. If an opponent is getting a lot of easy baskets early, we have to stick to the game plan. The wings have to continue to stay at home. The emphasis goes to the big guys to show and recover correctly. Remember, the other team still has to operate really efficiently to just get the two points we're forcing them to take. They have to beat the point guard off the dribble, hit a pull-up or a drive and do it before help arrives. Or they have to draw the help D, throw a pass quick enough that the big man can't recover and accurate enough that it leads to a bucket. And the recipient still has to score.

    -In short, if Duke plays its defense the right way, with the proper commitment, we should force enough turnovers and dumb shots to negate the easy buckets we give up. If Duke doesn't follow instructions, then K is going to be forced to do stuff like switch to a zone to make up for players' mistakes. In the long run, against top teams, that will not be a good thing. So, even though Duke might not have vintage interior defenders, the system works well enough that our outstanding -- and improving -- offense should overcome whatever points we give up by playing the right way.

    Sorry for the length of the post, but I've been thinking a lot about this lately and wanted to give people the best answer I could after the discussion got started.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Orange County, NC
    Damn Jumbo! I mean, what else is there to say. Couldn't agree more though. I think you pretty much summed it up. A very good job I might add.

    I wasn't thinking zone tonight but as soon as K made the switch the only word that entered my mind was 'genius'.

  3. #3
    Jumbo,

    That is a great assessment, and I agree with most of it except the last paragraph about commitment. GP can play as hard as he wants ( and does 95% of the time ), but he is just physically limited. When the defense breaks down at the point or GP has to switch, we are on our heels, particularly with no enforcer. If Mike does not see the value of zone, in certain situations against certain teams after this game, he never will. Maybe he has seen the light, but I have thought that before. I know, HOF coach, 800 wins, etc, but the game changes and even the greatest have to adapt and adjust based on your personnel. Doc

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Quote Originally Posted by doctorhook View Post
    Jumbo,

    That is a great assessment, and I agree with most of it except the last paragraph about commitment. GP can play as hard as he wants ( and does 95% of the time ), but he is just physically limited. When the defense breaks down at the point or GP has to switch, we are on our heels, particularly with no enforcer. If Mike does not see the value of zone, in certain situations against certain teams after this game, he never will. Maybe he has seen the light, but I have thought that before. I know, HOF coach, 800 wins, etc, but the game changes and even the greatest have to adapt and adjust based on your personnel. Doc
    Doc,
    Thanks. When I'm talking about "commitment," I'm not really talking about Greg. It's about sticking to our help scheme, and understanding that we're going to give up some easy baskets as a result. That happens. As long as we force some turnovers and avoid giving up threes, we'll come out ahead in the long run.

    I think I hate zone more than Coach K. It's not that I don't see some value in it. It's just that I think everything a zone does (which is essentially putting players in positions to help one another) can be accomplished through good, active, intelligent man-to-man. The best man-to-man D often looks like a zone because players are so in tune with one another and where the offense is operating. If we play our man D to the best of our ability (even with Greg gettng beat off the dribble a lot), it should be more successful than any zone.

  5. #5

    Great Post

    Great post, if I may say so as my first post.

    Doctorhook, I think the point about commitment, (and I don't intend to speak for Jumbo) was that we know that Paulus is going to get beat sometimes (or maybe even frequently), but if the other players understand and maintain their commitments in a disciplined way, we'll be able to make up for those mistakes. It's not the breakdown from Paulus, but the breakdown after the breakdown, if I'm understanding correctly.

    This is very nuanced understanding of our defensive issues. Good job.

  6. #6
    Jumbo,

    I understood that you did not mean just Greg, I just used him as an example. As you pointed out, we often overplay the ball, particularly at the point, try to get the turnover, but even if the guard gets by, we should switch, defend, take the charge, block the shot. Unfortunately, Z and Lance can be decent defenders, but they are not enforcers, regardless of how disciplined, well coached or committed they are. I would hate to see us play zone this much on a regular basis, but some situations just dictate the zone. Doc

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Quote Originally Posted by Philadukie View Post
    Great post, if I may say so as my first post.

    Doctorhook, I think the point about commitment, (and I don't intend to speak for Jumbo) was that we know that Paulus is going to get beat sometimes (or maybe even frequently), but if the other players understand and maintain their commitments in a disciplined way, we'll be able to make up for those mistakes. It's not the breakdown from Paulus, but the breakdown after the breakdown, if I'm understanding correctly.

    This is very nuanced understanding of our defensive issues. Good job.
    That's exactly what I meant, and I appreciate the kind words.

  8. #8
    So are you saying that Paulus sucks? I think someone should start a thread about it.

    Just kidding. Right on, Jumbo. I was considering starting a thread earlier this season about our notable lack of a shot-blocking presence and the effect it's having on this team. I have thought for a while that it's one of the big problems with having Lance and, to a greater extent, Kyle guard the opposing team's 5. As much as people say good riddance to McBob, the dude was a very good shot blocker and defensive player (this is not to open the can of worms of whether we're better off without him). I think the lack of shot blocking is one of the reasons for our woeful 2 pt fg % defense according to KenPom, and there's not much we can do about it at this point. Even in the limited minutes Big Z plays, it doesn't appear that shot blocking is his forte.

    But I think, Jumbo, that you've done a great job articulating the problem much more systemically. Here's to hoping that we can accentuate the strengths enough to compensate for the weakness. At the end of the day, we should be able to do just that against practically every team in the country.

  9. #9
    Art,

    No one said Paulus sucks, and he plays his ^$%^$%^$% off. He is just physically limited and is only able to defend at a certain level. Against many of the players he defends, he is just at a big physical disadvantage. Doc

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Jumbo View Post
    -Against UVA, that led to the zone. If we weren't going to follow our game plan, K seemed to say, "well, we might as well do something totally different." I can't stand zone defense, and UVA did a terrible job of attacking it (the short corner was open all night, for instance). In the long run, Duke's not going to succeed by playing a lot of zone.
    I'm going to slightly disagree with you here. The Zone is an effective tool, that some schools have been able to use exclusively and successfully. I think you're a bit unfairly biased against the zone. Could duke succeed by playing a lot of zone? Sure, i think it could.

    The reason why the zone is not a total solution for us is that it's not K's standard D, and therefore the team doesn't practice it as its main defensive weapon. So the zone has some weaknesses when we use it, there's no question about it. Which is why i think you dislike it a bit more than you should jumbo.

    Still, whether he learned it from boeheim in Team USA or somewhere else, K's been more willing to switch up the D and use the Zone as another weapon in his arsenal, just like he's used the run and gun this year.

    Should it be a primary defense? Nah. But when the opposing team is beating our Man, switching to the zone, especially after a Time Out, can be extremely effective. I'm not sure we should use it like we did today, where we kept using it because UVA never seemed to adapt to it. But bringing it out from time to time is extremely effective, and even if we use it for one possession to create a stop we can create a shift in momentum.

  11. #11
    *Nods*. Agree 100% again. I mentioned this in a post about a week or two ago, but I think we as fans need to recognize that the offense is going to carry this team. We have more offensive talent than defensive talent, and specifically, we can't be a "great" defensive team because we lack a shotblocker and have some issues on the point. Especially in Duke's style of defense, those things hurt. I've mentioned that Duke's "recent" defensive slippage hasn't really been all that recent. We're really talking about since the midpoint of the season or the start of the ACC slate that Duke's defense hasn't been operating as efficiently as earlier in the year. This is due to Duke now playing ACC teams, which are better than non-conference foes, and also because as the season wears on, offenses tend to become more in-sync and can better take advantage of Duke's holes on defense. Duke was overachieving defensively early in the season, but the more games you play, the more the tendency is to return to your base talent level. Which for Duke is "good" not "great" (on defense).

    I agree with your take of Duke just needing to be Duke -- staying home on shooters, relying on bigs to rotate -- and accepting that, because of the aforementioned missing pieces, we will give up some easy baskets, especially to good offensive teams. We can't be "great" defensively but that doesn't mean we should change our style because that would only lead to us slipping from "good" to "mediocre." Duke needs to be Duke defensively and let the offense carry the team.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Quote Originally Posted by loran16 View Post
    I'm going to slightly disagree with you here. The Zone is an effective tool, that some schools have been able to use exclusively and successfully. I think you're a bit unfairly biased against the zone. Could duke succeed by playing a lot of zone? Sure, i think it could.

    The reason why the zone is not a total solution for us is that it's not K's standard D, and therefore the team doesn't practice it as its main defensive weapon. So the zone has some weaknesses when we use it, there's no question about it. Which is why i think you dislike it a bit more than you should jumbo.

    Still, whether he learned it from boeheim in Team USA or somewhere else, K's been more willing to switch up the D and use the Zone as another weapon in his arsenal, just like he's used the run and gun this year.

    Should it be a primary defense? Nah. But when the opposing team is beating our Man, switching to the zone, especially after a Time Out, can be extremely effective. I'm not sure we should use it like we did today, where we kept using it because UVA never seemed to adapt to it. But bringing it out from time to time is extremely effective, and even if we use it for one possession to create a stop we can create a shift in momentum.
    My distaste for zone has little to do with Duke. It comes from my own preferences when playing/coaching. Zone is fine as an occasional change of pace. But I always realized how much more effective man-to-man could be when played at a high level. Top-notch man is better than any top-notch zone because, as I mentioned, it incorporates the principles of zones while maintaining significant advantages.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Quote Originally Posted by Troublemaker View Post
    We're really talking about since the midpoint of the season or the start of the ACC slate that Duke's defense hasn't been operating as efficiently as earlier in the year. This is due to Duke now playing ACC teams, which are better than non-conference foes, and also because as the season wears on, offenses tend to become more in-sync and can better take advantage of Duke's holes on defense. Duke was overachieving defensively early in the season, but the more games you play, the more the tendency is to return to your base talent level. Which for Duke is "good" not "great" (on defense).
    Yes. Yes, yes, yes. I forgot to mention that in my original post, but that was one of the theories I alluded to in my original thread. I think part of Duke's problems on D can be related to ACC teams getting a second look at Duke's D and understanding how to attack it better. But that doesn't explain the Wake game, for instance. So I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment about offenses being more in sync later in the season. Most teams know how to run their stuff better, players are more familiar with their teammates and they've faced a greater variety of defenses than early in the season. In short, they're prepared for just about anything and more comfortable executing.

  14. #14
    Excellent analysis Jumbo as usual. Another aspect I see is that in games where the Duke defense doesn't look so good we seem to have alot of bad switches that result in mismatches inside (usually with Paulus) that teams can exploit. I've always thought that our good perimeter switches bothered teams but if we are communicating well we should never get stuck switching big to small on the high screens. I even remember El-Amin hurting us badly in the '99 title game when Brand kept switching instead of hedging/recovering.
    I would be interested in other opinions. Finally, this thread is so relevant because great team defense is our only sure path to championships.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Jumbo View Post
    Yes. Yes, yes, yes. I forgot to mention that in my original post, but that was one of the theories I alluded to in my original thread. I think part of Duke's problems on D can be related to ACC teams getting a second look at Duke's D and understanding how to attack it better. But that doesn't explain the Wake game, for instance. So I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment about offenses being more in sync later in the season. Most teams know how to run their stuff better, players are more familiar with their teammates and they've faced a greater variety of defenses than early in the season. In short, they're prepared for just about anything and more comfortable executing.
    I like using a football analogy for this stuff. Duke's aggressive overplaying man defense is like an aggressive blitzing man defense in football. Early in a football season, an aggressive blitzing defense can force a lot of turnovers and sacks if offenses aren't in sync yet. So, just by the very nature of playing that aggressive style, a defense can receive results above its talent level and be successful early in the season. But as the season progresses, the offense becomes more in sync, the pass protection schemes start to pick up the blitzes, the QB and receivers get their timing down on patterns and start to complete passes downfield, etc etc. Now, if the defense has shutdown corners, a great defensive line, and great all-around talent, then it'll continue to play great regardless of opposing offenses becoming more in-sync. But if there are some pieces missing, then playing defense becomes more of a tradeoff on a play-to-play basis; sometimes the blitzes will work, sometimes the defense gets burnt.

    The same thing's happening basketball-wise. Early in the season, offenses weren't in sync enough to properly attack Duke; our aggressive defense was getting the turnovers without getting burnt. Now, later in the season, offenses have defined their roles, point guards are comfortable running the team and penetrating, players know how to move off the ball when the PG penetrates to get into position for a dumpoff or offensive rebound, the PG knows exactly which spot on the floor to get to for the dumpoff angle, etc etc. If Duke were to have Amaker on the ball and Shane rotating on the inside, then it wouldn't even matter that the offenses are more in sync. But we don't so we're experiencing a tradeoff.

  16. #16

    agree

    Quote Originally Posted by Troublemaker View Post
    I like using a football analogy for this stuff. Duke's aggressive overplaying man defense is like an aggressive blitzing man defense in football. Early in a football season, an aggressive blitzing defense can force a lot of turnovers and sacks if offenses aren't in sync yet. So, just by the very nature of playing that aggressive style, a defense can receive results above its talent level and be successful early in the season. But as the season progresses, the offense becomes more in sync, the pass protection schemes start to pick up the blitzes, the QB and receivers get their timing down on patterns and start to complete passes downfield, etc etc. Now, if the defense has shutdown corners, a great defensive line, and great all-around talent, then it'll continue to play great regardless of opposing offenses becoming more in-sync. But if there are some pieces missing, then playing defense becomes more of a tradeoff on a play-to-play basis; sometimes the blitzes will work, sometimes the defense gets burnt.

    The same thing's happening basketball-wise. Early in the season, offenses weren't in sync enough to properly attack Duke; our aggressive defense was getting the turnovers without getting burnt. Now, later in the season, offenses have defined their roles, point guards are comfortable running the team and penetrating, players know how to move off the ball when the PG penetrates to get into position for a dumpoff or offensive rebound, the PG knows exactly which spot on the floor to get to for the dumpoff angle, etc etc. If Duke were to have Amaker on the ball and Shane rotating on the inside, then it wouldn't even matter that the offenses are more in sync. But we don't so we're experiencing a tradeoff.
    I agree. Duke's defense is high risk / high reward. And I think it meshes with K's overarching philosophy: he wants his guys in attack mode, dictating instead of reacting to the offense. Earlier in the season, when Duke was on a roll headed into the UNC game, we played a series of teams with young backcourts. I think this skewed things a bit, as we were creating a ton of turnovers and getting a lot of easy buckets as a result. Then we got UNC w/o Lawson. The high risk part means that if the other team is patient and avoids a TO early in the shot clock, there's a good chance that they can catch a Duke defender out of position and therefore get a high percentage shot. Duke pushes teams out of there normal sets/cuts but if our opponents don't panic they'll get some easy 2pt shots for sure. The zone does provide a nice wrinkle; most coaches are probably intensely game planning on how to get inside Duke's man defense, and VA looked lost out there tonight. It's not like they've never seen a zone, but I think it just changed their whole rhythm. Personally, I think K needs to make some adjustments depending on the opposing team --- meaning for certain stretches of the game. Wake just seemed to be coming right down our throats the entire game and Duke just never could throw them off their rhythm.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Los Angeles

    Welcome!

    Welcome Philadukie!! Glad to have you join us.

    I know there is work to do on the man-to-man, but having the 2-3 zone in our pocket (with great results most times) keeps the opponents off balance -- and gives our guys a chance to take a breath.

    Switching things up just adds another dimension. Like it.

    Play D. Play D. D=O.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Fairfax County, Virginia
    Jumbo - A truly excellent evaluation; thank you.

    Philaduke - Welcome.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Washington, DC

    great post, Jumbo

    One of the reasons I read this board is for analysis like this.

    One of the thing I get out of this, which is something I have kind of thought.

    That is, even when our defense is working optimally, we will give up easy baskets, and it will look bad. It part of the design of the defense. I know it effect me as a fan, wondering how our defense gave up such an easy basket.

    I guess the key points is that, certain easy baskets are a given in our defensive scheme, and some (wide open perimeter shot, e.g) portend larger defensive problems .

  20. #20
    Hi,

    Clearly, Duke will always be primarily an MtM team under Coach K. There are probably very few serious Duke fans who do not love MtM and appreciate the advantages.

    Unlike many here, I do not have disdain for zone. As a business leader, I recognize the need to adapt, evolve, and be open to new ideas as my circumstances change (and they always do). I cannot fully express how impressed I have been with K's willingness to incorporate limited zone in this year's playbook due to our team's limitations.

    IMO, we should be praising K's select zone utilization and expressing more positive views about zone. At least twice this season, it has completely changed the outcome of a game at a relatively early stage. Last night's MtM was resulting in a game that appeared headed for a tough battle that may have went to the last shot with our team leaving everything on the court. That's not the game we needed right before Saturday's battle!
    K's willingness to adapt kept that from happening.

    Best regards,
    Jeffrey

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