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Some Exciting Statistical Nuggets About Duke’s Defense

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It’s very early but this is encouraging and insightful.

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Yale v Duke
DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 08: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils goes up for a dunk against the Yale Bulldogs in the second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 8, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

A few key traits of this year’s Duke squad are strikingly reminiscent of previous Blue Devil units, among them the high potency of its offense.

As Mike Krzyzewski noted recently, there’s a direct relationship between aggressive defense, the turnovers it causes, and easy baskets in transition. While such defensive tactics were once characteristic of Krzyzewski’s squads, that hasn’t been the case much in this decade.

Lack of experience playing man defense proved especially noticeable when the Devils deployed multiple freshman starters. Those teams relied more heavily on defensive alignments meant to contain opponents, whether via zones or sagging man-to-man. The approach worked to keep the Blue Devils competitive, but denied their transition offense some of the kindling it needed to ignite.

This season lack of combustion hasn’t been much of a problem. Through their first 10 games the Devils forced an average of nearly 17 turnovers and scored 92.9 points, with a clear relationship between the two. Against Yale, for instance, Duke held a 14-point advantage in points from turnovers.

Also working in Duke’s favor – all four freshman can create their own shots. This is a far rarer trait than one might imagine, especially watching how easily R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Cam Reddith and Tre Jones score inside and out.

We should of course note that 10 games do not a season make. Everything from injury to lack of comity can disrupt a team, and none of those outings have come against ACC opposition. Especially against ACC opponents who’ve already faced the Devils once and have them closely scouted.

So we offer the following statistical glimpse not as definitive, but merely as suggestive and intriguing. For instance, who knew that at 92.9 points per game, Duke currently – and quite prematurely -- matches the ’73 N.C. State squad for the best scoring offense in ACC history? Or that the top four Duke squads in scoring, all trailing the ’19 unit, made the Final Four?

Most Points Per Game by Duke Team
(2019 Through 10 Games)
Pt Avg. Games Season
92.9 10 2019
92.4 25 1965
91.8 39 1999
90.7 39 2001
89.1 38 1990
88.9 35 2002

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