Committees aren't very sexy. No one wakes up the morning raring to go to that big committee meeting. Kids don't dream of serving on committees.
But sometimes committees get the job done. Before the beginning of the 2007-'08 season, Mike Krzyzewski stated that Duke would need to use a committee approach in rebounding. You may have notice that Duke doesn't have a dominant post presence this year. Josh McRoberts was second in the ACC in rebounding last season, while Shelden Williams led the league in both 2005 and 2006. Christian Laettner, Cherokee Parks, Elton Brand, and Carlos Boozer also have been big rebounders for Krzyzewski's Devils.
None of Duke's big men have that kind of rebounding prowess. So, Duke is compensating by sending more players to the glass. In Krzyzewski's words, "Bobby Hurley didn't need to rebound. Greg Paulus does. It's out of need."
How is that working? Well, certainly DeMarcus Nelson has responded to the challenge. The senior wing leads Duke in rebounding at 5.9 per game. College basketball is full of big men who would kill to rebound that well. Interestingly, Nelson has accomplished this without a single double-digit rebound game. One would have to go back to George Moses in the middle 1970s to find a Duke player in Nelson's size range who was as effective on the boards.
The rest of the perimeter players sometimes need a gentle nudge. Krzyzewski says "When we get outrebounded, it's because our perimeter players forget. We need to have everybody getting rebounds, including our point guard, especially defensive rebounds. It needs to be part of everyone's stat line. It's been a point of emphasis all year and now we just need to remind them."
Jon Scheyer agrees. "Rebounding is a huge part for us. DeMarcus is always on the board but Gerald and I need to do more. A lot of times, our big guys are blocking out and keeping their big guys off the boards and we have to take advantage of that. Five guys to the boards is a big part of what we do."
Scheyer had a 12-rebound game against Pitt, while Henderson has gone as high as 8 on two occasions this season. Even Paulus had 6 against Miami. In fact, Duke had 6 players pull down from 4 to 6 rebounds against the Hurricanes, practically a text-book definition of collective rebounding. Henderson is averaging 4.9 rebounds per game, with Scheyer at 4.1. Kyle Singler's 5.7 leads the big men.
There are some advantages to having guards pull down rebounds. Paulus notes "We realize that when the guards rebound, we don't waste that few extra seconds starting the fast break. A ball-handler already has the ball, so we can take off right away." Singler adds "spreading the floor sometimes makes it easier to get to the ball. I don't always have to fight my way through traffic. Our style makes it easier to use our quickness."
For the season Duke is averaging about two rebounds per game more than the opposition. That's not an awe-inspiring stat but it should be noted that Duke was outrebounded for the 2006 season, when Williams led the league at 10.7 per game.
Duke has had success in the past playing without a dominant rebounder. The best example is the 1986 team, which featured 6'10" freshman Danny Ferry and 6'8" seniors Mark Alarie and Jay Bilas sharing the two inside positions. Alarie led Duke with 6.2 rebounds per game, followed by Ferry at 5.9. But perimeter players David Henderson, Johnny Dawkins, and Billy King added over 11 rebounds per game, enabling Duke to outrebound opponents by 6 rebounds per game.
There are other examples. Duke won 24 games in 1997 with no one pulling down more than Greg Newton's 6.1 per game, while the 26-7 2003 team was led by Shelden Williams with a modest 5.9 per game. But that 2003 team had Dahntay Jones, Daniel Ewing, and Chris Duhon combine for 12 rebounds per game. So it can be done.
This isn't to say that Duke's bigs are absolved of responsibility for grabbing rebounds, nor is it to say that bigger, stronger teams won't be able to bludgeon Duke inside. In fact, I suspect the light-blue guys down the road may try such a tactic Wednesday. But Mike Krzyzewski's teams have consistently shown an ability to use what they have to their advantage. So don't be surprised the next time you see a Duke guard grab a defensive rebound and start a successful fast break. It's part of the plan.